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PAPERBOY EXTRA: The Passion Of The Phawker

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From this week’s issue of the Philadelphia Weekly:

Running about an hour late, local blogger Jonathan Valania, a former PW staff writer, blew into a 300-student journalism class at Temple University last week with a devil-may-care attitude and what he thought were a few sly remarks intended to spark debate.

Valania, 41—founder and editor of a news and culture blog called Phawker—all but sprinted to the front of the room, and without so much as an introduction, asked the class how many students were majoring in journalism.

When the majority of the students in the lecture hall raised their hands, he snapped, “That wasmepw.jpg your first mistake.”

Everyone laughed. He had to be joking. This was, after all, an introductory “journalism and society” course. No way he could be serious.

But apparently he was. Valania went on to trash the choice of journalism as a major. He said you either have writing skills or you don’t, and that students looking to start a career in the field should major in something “useful.”

After about 20 minutes of offensive, outlandish and sometimes tongue-in-cheek commentary—he said reading competitor blog Philebrity, for which he once wrote, was like looking at pictures of his ex-girlfriend naked—he walked out the classroom door and was gone.

Later that day he posted this on Phawker: “Today I saw the future—and it looked at me like a dog shown a card trick.”

Good to know—whatever that means. MORE

***

Ahem. The following is an email exchange from last week with the author of the above PW story. Most of my answers to her questions didn’t make the cut — apparently to make room for people to refute my comments after they have been taken out of context, but without ever really addressing the substance of my argument, just the superficiality of its delivery. Be that as it may, I’ve included the exchange here in the interest of balance. Lastly, as for Larry Mendte characterizing my intentions as ‘sinister’ I can only say this: I am sure Larry Mendte is a very nice guy, but he works in TV. That’s like asking the tobacco companies how to cure cancer. Just sayin’.

MORGAN A. ZALOT: Some people say that you just said outrageous things to get a reaction, is that true?

ME: Guilty as charged. But it wasn’t just for cheap shock value, I was just trying to get people to think and maybe question some of their assumptions. That, and make people laugh.

MORGAN A. ZALOT: Why, again do you think journalism is a useless major?

ME: Let me be clear, journalism is NOT a useless major, and god help us if we ever run out ofmepwsepia.jpg reliable, objective collectors of the facts. I was just trying to point out that there is more than one way to get there.

MORGAN A. ZALOT: And what made you want to come into a class and risk possibly insulting people?
ME: My intention wasn’t to insult people, it was to get their attention. In that regard, I would say I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. To anyone in your class who was truly insulted by somebody questioning the things they believe to be true, you might want to consider another career. Journalism is all about questioning the things you hold to be true. All day, every day.

MORGAN A. ZALOT: George Miller says you’re dead wrong, what’s your response to that?

ME: I may well be. Look, I don’t pretend to be the guru of Journalism, I don’t even pretend to have the answers to all the questions I raised. I’m just trying to spark a debate.

PREVIOUSLY: Today I Saw…The Future
PREVIOUSLY: The Kids Are All Right
PREVIOUSLY: We Are Watching You

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11 Responses to “PAPERBOY EXTRA: The Passion Of The Phawker”

  1. Glory Whole Says:

    It sounds like Morgan is trying to justify his parents investment. I noticed a dearth of quotes from actual print journalists, mostly newscasters and bloggers. The article then evolved into the usual Valania/Sweeney pissing contest. Why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with?

  2. Th'Editrix Says:

    My only comments are these:

    * Kudos to Morgan for being a journalism student and successfully pitching a story to the Weekly. It’s a good clip for her resume file and pretty much proves part of JV’s point, which was that DOING journalism in the real world is more important than learning it in a classroom;

    * Might have been fuller disclosure for the article to state somewhere that the author was a student in said class. Sayin’.

  3. Allan Smithee Says:

    Jonathan Valania is right.

    You can be schooled in all the fundamentals of journalism but if you are lacking in knowledge re: the beat or story you’re covering, the articles will reflect that. Think that is the jist of what Valania was saying.

  4. Dan Says:

    Almost everything a green reporter needs to know about journalism can be learned in a single Journalism 101 course. The rest is learned on the scene and in the newsroom, working with editors and other reporters. Journalism is a trade, not a profession; you can practice it anywhere once you know how to do it, and you only learn how to do it by practice. This is why many smaller liberal arts programs that don’t have the resources for an entire Journalism department are opting instead to start Journalism programs, in which students take one J-course a semester, staff the school newspaper and do internships over the summer. That’s all you need… That, and some natural curiousity, talent with words and thick skin.

    Too bad the J-school kids at Temple are so easily offended. They’re going to make lousy reporters.

  5. JoLo Says:

    As a journalism major and a longtime reporter, I completely agree with Valania. Journalism is a trade, not a profession — as it should be — and that means on-the-job training. Aspiring reporters would better benefit from a liberal arts degree and a job on the school paper or, better yet, as a stringer for a local newspaper working under a good editor.

    A J-school degree is only good for making contacts who can vouch for you to prospective employers and/or line you up with that all-important first job. Maybe to some kids, that’s worth the money.

    Most people who suck at Newswriting/Newsgathering 101 go on to be sucky reporters … and lots of people who never took a journalism class go on to be great reporters.

  6. blackmailismylife Says:

    The hardest thing to swallow in this is that it was a music critic and blogger who’s telling journalism students not to bother, and not someone who does actually cover news.

    [Dude, for the record, I have more First Place awards for hard news coverage from The Society of Professional Journalists and The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association than you have hairs on your chin. Come over some time, you can dust them off. They are about as useless as your pathological envy. Let it go, man. –The Ed.]

  7. Eva Says:

    Again, props to Morgan for having the incite and ambition to pitch and publish a story.

    However, this article is one sided and misleading. A real journalist would have given the facts instead of omitting pertinent information to misconstrue an argument that would have otherwise been relevant. Either that or someone edited the shit out of this story just stir things up a bit, which would seem ironically hypocritical, wouldnt it? …considering the story itself is a critique on that sort of journalism. In any case… nice try but no dice.

  8. JoLo Says:

    Ummm, Eva. People have ‘insight’ and they ‘incite’ riots.
    Sigh.

  9. Sara Sherr Says:

    I was briefly a Temple journalism major at Temple University (Class of a Really Fucking Long Time Ago) and the good thing about the program is that it forces you to be a well-rounded person. Most of your required classes (in math, science, a foreign language, etc.) are outside of the School of Communications and Theater.

    Although I never went on to be a straight news journalist, I think more bloggers (and critics of every stripe) could use a simple news writing class. It’s important to get your facts right no matter where your work appears or what your “beat” is, and to pay attention to conflict of interest, which many bloggers don’t seem to have a grasp on these days.

    With that said, most of what I learned about being a writer was by working in the real world.

  10. Pop Cesspool Says:

    Yo blackmailismylife: Music critics do get fired, at times, for being crappy fact-gatherers. The act of reviewing a show or a record requires a lot of reporting, just not the kind that involves interviewing people or crunching data. Valania has his Inquirer gig because the management of the paper obviously believes that he is a credible news-gatherer. He may or may not be an asshole, but I bet you he hates to get his facts wrong. In no small way, that makes him a real journalist.

  11. Eva Says:

    imma sad, sad producto of the spell check genirasion. pathetik.

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