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Gladwell: "Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs..." (time.com)
38 points by robg on Oct 22, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

By far the most interesting two paragraphs in the article for me were these:

"There's precious little experimentation in education. Instead there seems to be a desire for greater regimentation, which I think is nonsense. I think we need to try 100 different things. If I were Arne Duncan, I'd think of myself as a venture capitalist, fund as many wacky and inventive ideas as I could, and closely monitor them to see how they worked.

I've always been fascinated by the idea that in inner-city schools, the thing they do best is sports. They do really, really well in sports. It's not correct to say these schools are dysfunctional; they're highly functional in certain areas. So I've always wondered about using the principles of sports in the classroom. Go same sex; do everything in teams; have teams compete with each other. I'd like to try that. I don't know whether it will work, but it's certainly worth a shot, and we could learn something really useful."

Having spent three summers as a counselor at a military sports camp, I would imagine this approach would work really, really well.

If you can put them in a structure with incentives, accountability, clear lines of authority, and very tangible goals, most young men will flourish.

The teams thing might be an interesting idea.

But doesn't "structure with incentives, accountability, clear lines of authority, and very tangible goals" pretty much describe a typical classroom, and doesn't a typical classroom suck?

If you by structure and incentives you mean do this work or you fail, and by clear lines of authority you mean the teacher is right and if by very tangible goals you mean telling the student that getting an A on this test will mean you have the chance of getting a job after getting about 1000 more As on these tests.

Then yes, but making school into a game where people work together(ie not just alone) you drive accountability, incentives to work, and a very tangible result when the team pulls it together.

I worked there for three summers. During my first two summers for the most part all the campers were on one level of authority, then they'd answer to the assistant counselors who would answer to me. It was a very flat organization.

My third summer I created a structure where every 5 "first summer" campers would report to 1 "second summer" camper and form a "squad." Every 3 squads then reported to a "third summer" camper and formed a "platoon." The two platoons formed a company and reported to the best third summer camper that week, who reported to the counselors.

Then we pitted the squads against eachother in room inspections, sports, percentage of members who had dates to the weekly dance, shower frequency, all sorts of weird stuff. We collected a crapload of data on the squads and posted it up publicly where they could all track it.

The winning squad each week got a big rock that I painted green. The counselors and I sold it to the campers as an old camp award that had been unfairly forgotten by previous counselors. The squad leader could keep it in his room for the week after his squad won it.


1. The kids worked a lot harder at the things we were grading them on.

2. They spent a lot more time talking to each other and less time talking to the counselors.

3. They generally became more proficient at all of these tasks.

I went to an all boy's high school, and it didn't make much difference academically, to be honest. If anything, the lack of females made us act even more childish in class, and thus focus less, as we had no one to really impress. Kids often pissed in the corners of classrooms and drew penises anywhere on the wall where you had more than a square inch of space.

That's where he above mentioned "clear line of authority" comes in, I guess :-)

using the principles of sports in the classroom

Right. Having kids who are inherently qualified for such-and-such activities.

I went to J-School for a graduate degree. I went because I had no contacts in the industry and no experience either and because I wanted to meet people handling the technology side of things. I got my money's worth and came out with a host of interesting people I could reach out to with questions or for advice.

For many who want go in thinking it will help their prospects as reporters, however, they are disappointed. Several friends went right back into their old newspaper jobs with just a $2-3k raise and a new title. Others spent 6 months to a year writing for free or stringing until they could land a full-time job. Many went into marketing and PR where there are real jobs that pay decently.

It's getting harder and harder to find work as a reporter. meanwhile these schools keep churning out newly minted grads who think having a bunch of clips will be enough. It's worrisome.

This came up today on a journalism blog I follow. http://fleetstreetblues.blogspot.com/2009/10/triumph-of-hope...

Those guys should interview the iCanHazCheeseburgers CEO. He's got to be one of the best examples of a journalist who created his own success in a new direction.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the iCanHazCheeseburgers CEO won the lottery. His LOL Cats blog's success was (self-admittedly) not "created" by him. He doesn't even know why it's successful.

I disagree with this.

How many journalists do you know who would look at a successful blog like iCanHazCheeseburger and say: "I should raise some money from friends and family, buy that blog, and then build a media empire out of similar blogs that I buy up."

If he says he doesn't know why his blogs are successful, it'd because he knows his former colleagues eat that stuff up during interviews and it makes for a funny story.

While luck undoubtedly played a part in his success so far, he was thinking about things entrepreneurially unlike most journalists who are just looking for the next paycheck.

Also, the fact that traffic across his sites has grown since he bought them shows he's a smart manager of his properties.

It may be a successful blog, but it has nothing to do with journalism. It's hardly a path you can recommend to someone who wants to make a living as a journalist.

That's the problem though. We have a very narrow definition of what a journalist is, and that definition describes someone who does something that doesn't contribute a whole lot of value more often than not.

"...and go to some other kind of grad school."

The second half of that sentence is important. He's saying learn a subject that most people don't know, and write about that. That's a different message than the implications from just saying "Don't go to journalism programs."

I agree, just that darn character limit. You got a way to combine the two thoughts into 80 characters or less?

The difference between a lede (from a quote) and a shortened tweet, I guess.

In this case, I think it changed the tenor the the statement completely. How about:

Gladwell to aspiring journalists: Become an expert first, then write

It'd be nice if he did that himself...

He's a brilliant writer and a terrible journalist. I agree with you.

I can tolerate him, because he's not obnoxious about his writings (versus somebody like Cory Doctorow, who has a similar ratio of popularity-to-understanding), but at the same time a lot of what he says has got to be taken with a grain of salt.

Upvote but I try not to write unique ledes here even if they're true. It just seems like a slippery slope from interpreting to simply reporting. I link, you decide!

That's good but I'm afraid my edit clock ran out.

What's worse, a partial direct quotation that you know will leave the wrong impression, or a summary of the point you find interesting that might betray your bias? I'd rather go with the bias. Particularly since the literal title for this article would just be "Q&A: Author Malcom Gladwell." That doesn't tell me why you linked to it.

Honestly, I'm not sure how to answer that question and for me I bet I'm not consistent day to day or hour to hour. To try to put into words what I think is going on in my head: I link based on something in the piece that I think folks here will find interesting. But I don't assume that the title will be sufficient. Only that it will be a primer for following the link.

In this case, the given title wasn't good. So I tried to pick out the primer that led to my saying: "That's interesting". But admittedly I won't spend more than a few seconds thinking about the title. I'm just not too worried about accuracy so long as it's in the general semantic ballpark. I'd say if it leads to an incomplete impression which the article resolves then I'm okay with it. That's why I added the ellipse.

Sorry, I'll try to do better but I'll probably fail. The bookmarklet makes it easy to just throw up interesting stuff. The title for me is simply a shorthand for saying: This was interesting to me. I similarly interpret upvotes - this was interesting to the community. Comments start to get at accuracy - kind of.

To be honest though, even as Gladwell says that second part, it seems to me he wants real world experience informing journalism. I think that's the most interesting bit. Grad school, it seems to me, is itself sheltered from "real" stories. That's my current bias, I guess.

Compare to engineers becoming marketers: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=890110

Every journalist I have put this question to agrees. I, however, took the idea a step further than not going to journalism school and decided against being a journalist altogether.

I submit that is the best solution.

That works unless you really want to be a journalist.

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