Loewenstein’s argument stunned media students and faculty all over the state. This was not an analysis of why much contemporary media is mediocre and how students should be trained in order to improve it. It was a baseless assertion that what today’s media professionals were producing didn’t require any training specific to the field. Maybe the news media didn’t need to exist at all, he seemed to say. Entertainment had taken over, and would suffice.
Students reacted to this news with tears and rage—and, for the rest of the semester, they went for broke in the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
“How dare you tell us that our hard work is ‘mediocre’ . . . and how dare you cut our voices short because you don’t wish for us to speak,” wrote Dani Porter, a Log columnist and journalism major.
Dawn Burns, also a journalism major, called Loewenstein’s proposal “demeaning and offensive.” “I know I have talent. It may be raw and it may not be up to the standard of someone on The New York Times, but that is what I am here for!”
In March 2011, more than a thousand people packed the college auditorium to argue against the cuts. But a frightened board of trustees, worried about the bottom line, rubber-stamped the Loewenstein decree. There were other cuts, too. Journalism was nothing special.
Less than a month after the de- mise of media education in Modesto, I walked into the offices of The Huffington Post in New York and saw some 250 young writers, editors, and technicians working. I had begun a new career as an editor on the site’s OfftheBus 2012 platform for citizen journalism. Everyone can and should do journalism of some sort, is the mantra. It’s not only a First Amendment right, but a First Amendment responsibility.
Back in Modesto, some media students are trying to carry on—as they should. Sidelined by academia, they’ve formed a club called Underground Media. Three holdouts from the former Log staff are talking about publishing online or as a smartphone app. I suggested a name for the new “newspaper”: The Skeleton Crew. But they haven’t published anything yet. One young writer told me that he was struggling with his story; that he didn’t know whom to question, or what, exactly, to ask.
I worry about their loss of career training. I question whether this generation will be able to perform the vital functions of a free press. But I also worry about whether people in places remote from the vibrant centers of the new media even know that media careers are still possible. Or that journalists, alongside citizens of all kinds, are reinventing the media and refusing to disappear, buoyed by the possibilities of the Internet and the climactic crises of our times.
Update 04/03/12: A former Modesto Junior College film student named Curtis Medina has produced an eight-part documentary series about the MJC situation, called The Crisis Begins. Watch the series here.
This piece is part of CJR’s Nov/Dec 2011 roundtable discussion of the future of news in Modesto, California, and places like it. For more on the topic, click here.