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Y Yl 1Y11WY11WY11WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWYIIYNYNY A tale of two J schools Columbia UT Austin I got a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1967 and have never regretted it. For one thing \(to journalism school in this country, and a Columbia degree is a handy credential to have when job-hunting. I also learned a hell of a lot. A year in New York City never hurt any aspiring, prairie Izzy Stone, and Columbia happens to have a superb faculty. I admit I’m a snob about journalism education. I consider Columbia and maybe Northwestern the only schools worth going to, and I don’t think an undergraduate degree in journalism is worth a pitcher of warm spit. I and most other editors I know would rather hire a reporter who knows something about something economics, history, literature, political science, physics, anything than a kid who can say “who, what, where, why, when, and how” but otherwise has an empty mind. Provided a kid is everything she needs to know about newspaper writing in six weeks. Qualities of mind are more important for a journalist than knowing a pica pole from a pig’s eye. Curiosity, scepticism, and persistence matter more than the ability to count *a headline. IFORGET which Nixon henchman it was, maybe Agnew or Bill Buckley, who, in the course of a diatribe about the Eastern, effete, elite media conspiracy, announced with an air of divine inspiration that the Columbia School of Journalism was the root of all evil. I think there was a time when most of the editors of The New York Times had Columbia degrees, and a sort of old-school-tie hiring network did exist. The grads of ’27 hired the grads of ’42, who in turn made it to the top and hired the grads of ’59. That’s no longer true. As has been pointed out elsewhere, if you want to get hired by the Times and are counting on old ties to help you, it’s best to be from Mississippi. In the on-going journalism education debate about trade schools versus professional schools, Columbia comes down heavily on the professional school side. If it’s a question of how-to versus what the world is about, Columbia operates in the more cosmic sphere. It is possible to get a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia without having the faintest idea of how to write an obit. On the other hand, you have a lot of ideas about how to run The New York Times. That makes young Columbia grads a pain in the hmm-hmm for their city editors in Keokuk and Jesus Springs, but I think it also makes them better journalists. Part of the reason Columbia is a good journalism school is because it’s a good journalism school, which is not tautology. Everyone in the business knows Columbia is good, and so it is able to attract good students and good faculty. Most Columbia students already have a few years journalistic experience before they go there. I believe I was, at 21, the youngest student in my class, and I had already survived three summers on the Houston Chronicle. I learned as much about journalism from my fellow students as I did from my teachers. We all knew how to spell before we got there, or we never would have been admitted. It was assumed that we knew how to handle correct, rudimentary English: our goal was to achieve style. We prided ourselves on Austin The best journalism teacher I ever had was Bill Rivers. I don’t remember much about the content of the course, except that it was a writing course and Rivers, a former hot-shot writer with The Reporter in Washington, D.C., personally graded and critiqued each of our amateurish efforts. The papers would come back attached to a typewriten sheet of observations and suggestions, sometimes as much as a page long, single-spaced. Sometimes there were footprints on the pages. Rivers is the only professor I can remember, in any department, who provided such detailed criticism of my work. I now edit and reject enough manuscripts to have some inkling of the discipline it took for him to wade through the work of the 30 or so of us in that one class. I get winded on about the second article. THE REASON there were footprints on some of the papers is that Rivers would sit in his little office and read a paper and then toss it on the floor, the best papers near his desk, the worst papers over by the far wall, the mediocre ones in the middle ground between wall and desk. Sometimes he’d have second thoughts abdut a particular paper and he’d walk across our pathetic efforts, pick one up and move it a degree closer to the desk or farther away. Hence, the footprints. Bill Rivers, alas, was a visiting professor. He stayed a year at UT and then moved on. He is now chairman of the communications school at Stanford University and one of the most respected and published scholars in the field of journalism education. The worst journalism teacher I ever had was Norris G. Davis. His field was libel law, and the story we all heard was that as a cub reporter on the Corpus Christi Caller he got the paper involved in a libel suit, got canned, and subsequently became an expert on the press and the law. The libel course wasn’t so awful, but the year-long senior class in public affairs reporting was beyond human endurance. He’d bring in a document, _like the Austin City budget. “This is a city budget,” he’d say. “If you were a city hall reporter, you’d have to know how to read this thing.” Then he’d read some of it aloud. Sometimes, mercifully, class would last only 10 or 15 minutes, as Davis had a lot of administrative duties. He was being tutored by DeWitt Reddick to take over the chairmanship of the department \(or Davis ascended to the deanship in 1965, when I was editor of The Daily Texan, and we had some misunderstandings. There was this was in Vietnam, you see, and I wasn’t sure the United States should be over there. I was doing such radical things as quoting George Kennan and John Kenneth Galbraith at length in editorials, and it was making people like Frank Erwin, then serving in dual capacities as a UT regent and national Democratic committeeman, uptight. It seemed to some of our sturdier alums that the UT paper was not suitably appreciative of Lyndon Johnson’s war. “After all, this is Lyndon Johnson’s University,” a man on the Texas Student Publications Board of Directors kept telling me. There was -and still is a TSP employee who reads all Texan copy before it is typeset. Normally he didn’t try to change things in a particular editorial \(although he did draw the line at a column ridiculing Santa Claus by Byron Black, the Ranger editor, and a series by an SDS type on CIA intervention