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: yorgos33ca@yahoo.ca


October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria