Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Stuck Inside the Pyramid with the J-School Blues Again

by Jordy Cummings

Ah, to be a J-school grad. Indeed, ’tis a world of wonderment, of knowing how to write an inverted pyramid without inverting the pyramid, of knowing how to write a hedder while the world heads right. Now don’t get me wrong, my degree will look good in between the Klee print and the Steal-your-face. What worries me, however, is what my j-school experience says about the state of journalism in the era of corporate media, the era of the bloody murder of Daniel Pearl, the era of Greta Van Sustren having to get plastic surgery to keep her career.

Many journalists tend to over-state the power of corporate consolidation, as if it were a cause and not a symptom. As easy as it is to complain about media-ownership being in fewer and fewer hands, conglomerates have controlled much of the mass media for nearly half a century. The current situation can be attributed to labor’s aquiescence with management–in other words, journalists have failed to organize in a sophisticated enough manner to defeat these forces.

To the current corporatist media mogul, the bottom-line is no different from the bottom line in a coal-mine. Coal workers, however, have more power to threaten that bottom-line, therefore creating an equilibrium in that industry. Thus the coal consumer is served well, while the consumer of cultural industry is treated with kid-gloves, to be protected against information that may threaten advertisers. Indeed, this has far more to do with the somewhat reactionary middle-class culture from which the mass-media picks its journalists than it does with horizontal integration.

Journalism schools at most elite universities have a self-contained process of selection, both in which students are accepted and cultivated and which professors are hired. Entry is not predicated on experience, rather it is predicated upon “good grades,” thus narrowing the circle to “mainstream” people, intelligent but without a broad perspective. The Mike Gashers and Norman Solomons of this world are rare, while mid-level hacks concern themselves with the thankless low-paid task of molding young naive minds into stenographers, in hope that a few will transcend this myopia.

This structure creates, however, a reactionary movement of students completely cut off from all political and social struggles, not to mention the slightest hint of countercultural adherence. What is left are genuinely talented and hungry young journalists who are forced to sacrifice their principles, or more often, a smug and cynical, thoroughly bourgeois polity. Thus, the censorship of any form of dissent – intellectual or political – is internalized among the new vanguard of the corporate media.. No legislation is needed when the propagandists are propagandized, so to speak. An illuminating example is my own experience attempting to experiment in what is supposed to be the avant-garde vanguard – the student press.

I traveled down to working-class Swanton, Vermont on the night of November 7, 2000, on which day there was a coup d’etat by the cowboy-faction of the American establishment. With a photographer in tow, I had a unique, gonzo experience getting chased out of American Legion halls for daring to question the authority of the Bush family. I was tarred with racist language while my obviously queer photographer was gay-bashed. Our experience was a microcosm for what was to happen to America – and indeed, has happened to America.

After writing what I dare say was one of the best things I have ever written and submitting it free of charge to the “progressive” student press, I was told by the editor of this apparently “progressive” student newspaper that my writing was “too experimental.” Too experimental for the student press? This in and of itself is an indictment of journalism in 2002, in which professionalism is a more important virtue than experimentation.

Frustrated with the structures of mainstream journalism, I turned to web-journalism, the left and the counterculture to publish my work and it has worked out fine and dandy, thank you very much. What worries me, however, is the impression created in the minds of the young and hungry j-school students that they have to sell out or shut up, and that the psychological profile of their readership is of more importance than writing something that has never been written before.

As it is, we’ree stuck inverting pyramids without inverting the real pyramid. What a shame.

Jordy Cummings lives in Montreal. He can be reached at:


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017