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Paul Dailing

Paul Dailing

Posted April 10, 2009 | 11:36 PM (EST)

How to Be a "Death of Newspapers" Blogger Part Two: Picking a Fight with Sarah Lacy


In my last post, I briefly mentioned "picking feuds" as a skill necessary to being a successful "Death of Newspapers" blogger.

A good Rosenbaum v. Jarvis style feud can drive up hits and increase name recognition for both sides. Maybe we'll be paid to argue on TV.

So you should thank me when I say, Sarah Lacy, I choose you to be my Boss Hogg.

Sarah Lacy is a tech reporter and blogger who writes for BusinessWeek, TechCrunch and her own books and who co-hosts Yahoo! Finance's TechTicker.

She first came to my attention with a recent TechCrunch article on the admittedly surprising news that journalism school enrollment is up.

The basic tenet of the article "Who the Hell is Enrolling in Journalism School Right Now?" is that Sarah Lacy doesn't know who the hell is enrolling in journalism school right now given the current state of the industry.

Some people might have called journalism schools and talked to professors, asked students their reasons for enrolling and otherwise done some reporting to answer that question.

But, as "Death of Newspaper" bloggers, Lacy and I don't do that. We answer questions by talking about ourselves. And in Sarah Lacy's case, we talk about how great our careers are and how people who did go to journalism school are lesser.

"I like to joke that I'm 'unqualified' to do my job," Lacy wrote. "But I think it was precisely that total lack of journalism training that gave me an edge. I never worked the cops-and-courts beat. I don't know how to write an inverted pyramid story or even really what that is."

First of all, inverted pyramid is a story type where the most important stuff is at the beginning, the less relevant details toward the end. Not that hard a concept.

Secondly, her argument is that journalism schools hamstring people, locking them into writing things a certain way.

Or in Sarah-speak:

"Journalism schools are like foot-binding. They force you into a style that a bunch of dinosaurs all agreed was acceptable a zillion years ago. So in an age of blogging, you have no voice. In fact, if I were in J-school now, I'd have my knuckles rapped for using the rhetorical 'you' in those last two sentences."

Sarah, I'm sorry to say this, but you are just plain wrong.

Have you BEEN to a journalism school lately?

Many are all about blogging, different voices, cross-platform BS. I just got done at Medill in December and it was all about that. We had marketing classes and Flash and videography. There was a class entirely dedicated to blogging. Your knuckles are safe.

I'm not saying all journalism schools are like this and I'm not even saying Medill has that great a new media program. But one thing any J-School would have taught you is to actually talk to someone who had been to a J-School in the last 10 years before you make bold, blanket pronouncements about what all the schools teach.

Lacy's basis for her claim that journalism schools = bad seem to come from an anecdote she tells about how she didn't go to J-School and how one woman she worked with at a small business journal more than 10 years ago did go to J-School.

That friend is no longer in journalism while Sarah Lacy has "gotten farther in ten years than I thought I would in fifty."

That's good, although most people would have gotten "further." That one would have gotten your knuckles rapped.

But assuming the friend is no longer in journalism because her antiquated, foot-bound writing style drove her out (Lacy never says if the woman left willingly, was forced out or died in a tragic gardening accident), that tale still means nothing.

As I was once told - in journalism school, incidentally - the plural of "anecdote" is not "data."

So your friend is no longer in journalism. Too bad. And you're a success who didn't go to a J-School. On your success, mazel tov! On your insistence that two individual cases make for a coherent argument about the entirety of journalistic education, that's not so great.

If you could cherry-pick examples and claim it proves some grand thesis, Bob Newhart's life would show how all accountants become comedians and Brad Pitt's life would show how everyone from Missouri marries Angelina Jolie. See the logical flaw yet? If not, Google "proof by example."

Guess where I learned that? No, not J-School. High school.

Speaking of logic problems, here's the last sentence of Lacy's article: "But you're not going to learn how to exploit [future journalistic opportunities] in a stuffy classroom taught by people who got there by working at newspapers."

Yeah, screw those people who got to where they are by working at newspapers!

First sentence: "A little more than ten years ago, I stumbled out of a liberal arts college with a mediocre GPA into a job with a weekly business journal with a smallish circulation in my hometown of Memphis, Tenn."

And she goes on to talk about how much she learned there and how it helped her get where she is.

So a person who got where she is by working at newspapers is telling you that you won't learn anything listening to people who got where they are by working at newspapers.

I think I've heard this one before. Wasn't it in "Labyrinth," where there was the one guard who only told the truth, the one who only lied and the one who only acted like a complete hypocrite?

Or does that mean traditional print style only stifles brains if it's taught in a classroom setting, not in Memphis-based business journals?

I don't want to be criticized for focusing on Lacy's massive logical fallacies and missing her main point, that being that J-School is expensive and might not be worth the effort considering the huge amount of lost jobs.

She's right. It is expensive and might not be worth the effort. But it might be. And if some people are willing to take a gamble that you're not, let 'em. No skin off your employed nose and unbound feet.

Oh, but you should probably make some calls and do some damn reporting before you declare none of this will give people an edge in the job market.

I have friends who work at CNN iReports, at Self, at Fermilab, at the EPA, at Men's Health, at Heeb, at MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. All J-School grads, all a hell of a lot younger than you and I. They got that leg up that you insist journalism schools simply do not give.

Hell, if you really want to know who enrolls in journalism school, click "next post" on your little story there. And tell her I say hi. You didn't have to go far to do some reporting, Sarah. You just chose not to.

I'm not saying J-School is an instant path to success - I'm not the one confusing examples with proof. There are plenty of J-School failures. I'm one of them.

I'm 29, have years of experience, J-degrees from Medill and Mizzou and I'm picking blogger fights for ABSOLUTELY NO PAY.

But I also pick up stories for a suburban daily for two digits a pop. And although I don't have a book deal or a steady paycheck, although I might be living in some friends' guest bedroom and doing wacky science experiments for kids for a little extra scratch, at least I know that every ignored, unread inch of copy I write is better researched and better reported than the crap you get trips to Tel Aviv for pulling out of your obsequious hipster rear.

Maybe I don't have a great career like you and maybe I'm not brilliant like you. But at the very least I'm in there, doing the work I can do now while trying to figure out what I can do next. I'm not just congratulating myself as the building burns down.

In short, Sarah Lacy, who enrolls in journalism school? Not you. And it shows.