The College to Cable Pipeline

Photo by Mike Benna on Unsplash

After a few days of nagging, I finally got my mom to help me send emails to journalism schools encouraging them to show solidarity with Julian Assange. After compiling points of contact for just about every journalism college in D.C., Connecticut, and Vermont, she made an observation to me.

“I swear at the top of every website is a picture of a kid with some cable channel.”

I go, “Yeah.” I didn’t elaborate because we’ve lived just the two of us together for a few years now, and all she ever heard was me complain about how much journalism colleges are screwing over independent news outlets and completely disregarding press ethics.

Despite the conservative claims that supposed radical Marxist professors are indoctrinating the youth into a communist plot to destroy America, or whatever batshit threat the right thinks higher education poses, the college campus in America is a despairingly corporate hub, and journalism programs are not at all immune. This can be spotted pretty quickly if you’re like me and commit to the mind-numbing, Sisyphean task of trying to find directors of every journalism school in the country. You’ll notice a pattern pretty quickly. Just about every administration is run by someone with a background in Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, or CBS. Maybe you’ll get someone who worked with The Washington Post or The New York Times. What you won’t find is an administrator who champions an independent outlet. And that fact is keeping a lot of young journalists from achieving their best potential.

I can’t speak to every journalism college in America, but I can speak to mine. Shit’s bad. My school, like the schools my mom noted prior, loves showing off its kids with cable channels. This is not to knock my former classmates. Despite my extreme distaste for TV, I have a lot of respect for TV students I went to school with who were always working their asses off producing something more visually appealing than I could ever put together. Where the kids and cable channels becomes a problem is when the school decides to throw every other approach to media under the bus, and then fill the bus with students interested in MSNBC, Fox, and Disney internships.

A great example of how cable news was pushed on journalism students is the colloquium series. This was a course in which the communications school booked “industry experts” to help students network and learn the tricks of the trade. We were all required to attend at least two events. On November 12, 2018, my campus was blessed with the presence of Islamophobe and Cold-Warmonger, Joy Reid. Despite being right outside NYC, which is home to any number of independent outlets such as Democracy Now!, WBAI, and ProPublica, students were steered by administration and faculty to view the corporate path as the one path to success.

I mean, as bad as the curriculum was, we were all still required to take an ethics class (of course just one compared to the very many video production classes), and it sure is a mindfuck when your professor teaches you what not to do if you wanna be a serious reporter and then tells you to look into an internship with the same company that allows Tucker Carlson to defend terrorist Kyle Rittenhouse under the guise of journalism.

My classmates know this is wrong. I’ve had any number of conversations with them confirming that, yes, in fact, they know it’s wrong. The problem is we were all young and still are, and the people we paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to guide us in the right direction guided us to the five media companies that own just about every channel on TV. We were all itching for something we knew was right and we were gaslighted into believing that if we ever want to make names for ourselves we better suck it up and work for Sinclair Broadcasting. But as much as I like to complain in run-on sentences, I didn’t write this article to talk about how bad journalism colleges are. I wrote it to make the point that it is SO EASY to make them better.

I spent my entire college career feeling like I was screaming into a void, telling my professors “Hey, maybe we should acknowledge that cable news is super influenced by ad sales and students should be informed about the independent route.” I graduated in a semester that was half-virtual due to a global pandemic and found myself furious when my fellow classmates were suddenly freaking out because no job opportunities were available and the school never prepared them for that. This prompted me to write one of my proudest achievements, an opinion piece in the school paper which fucking finally got my college to reconsider their approach. The article focused on a range of problems I had with the school, but the general theme was it’s a disservice to spend all your time teaching communications students how to get a job in a very specific industry that not everyone likes, because the world is always changing and instead younger people should be learning how to use their platforms to spot impending crises and report on them.

I’ve been informed by multiple faculty that my piece was considered in talks to reshape the curriculum of the school, and in future students will be taught journalism and entertainment separately. This doesn’t mean my school’s gonna cut ties with cable news and save journalism, nor do I take full credit since before my article was written the school was already planning to rework their curriculum. What it does confirm is that despite all the problems with the administration, there were faculty in the program listening to my concerns and advocating for them, and for that reason I believe colleges are one of the best areas for figuring out how to chip away at and eventually sever the crushing monopoly cable news outlets have over the media industry.

I’m a white guy who was very fortunate to have parents open-minded and financially secure enough to support my desire to go the independent route and burn some bridges scrutinizing the state of media. Many of my classmates couldn’t do that. While I don’t believe people should seriously compromise their ethics in pursuit of money, I acknowledge that the world is fucked and people need to stay alive. My classmates who want to build a name in journalism but don’t have the same privileges I do are easily pushed in the direction of cable news, not because they’re oblivious to the problems with cable news, but because their school kept them oblivious to alternative routes. I myself seek out independent journalism and I’m still just learning about some incredible examples of independent media. That’s largely because independent outlets don’t have the resources that cable outlets do. Just by constantly being a 24/7 news network, cable outlets can easily create a 24/7 presence in any communications school that has a TV in its lobby. It doesn’t help when schools throughout the country aren’t even really bothering to let their students know that there are other ways to be a journalist.

But if my experience at college is part of a bigger sentiment among the future generations of journalists, which I truly believe it is, we are desperate to be hearing about independent outlets and seeing the work that they do. We’re desperate for role models in journalism with integrity and courage. In the past two weeks I’ve done more to inform my classmates about WikiLeaks’ role in journalism than my former professors did in the past two years, and I only really bothered learning a lot about WikiLeaks in the past two months. Journalists my age love hearing about the alternative route. I’ve been doing my best to share with my peers some of the independent journalists and news outlets that I admire. But I’m only one person, and there’s hundreds of colleges across the country keeping aspiring young journalists in the dark.

For this reason, I think press freedom groups and activists should connect with the young journalists that cable news outlets - with the help of college administrators - are courting regularly. That’s not to suggest that independent outlets have been neglecting this task entirely. But I believe many established journalists and independent media advocates aren’t fully aware of how big of a pipeline there is leading would-be independent journalists astray. I also believe the cable outlets aren’t fully aware of how rusty their pipeline is, and now is the optimal time to show them.

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Sam Carliner

Sam Carliner

I’m a journalist in NJ. This Medium is where I write stuff I don’t feel like editing. You should still read it, but my more professional work is elsewhere.