Fuck you, j-school

It’s Saturday night. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was supposed to put the Review to bed yesterday — which I guess technically we did, but since the role of editor is to take care of all the niggly leftovers, here I am in the lab again reading proofs and agonizing over the tiniest copy editing choices.

Tonight is Earth Hour. We’re 31 minutes into it as I start this blog post, and obvious I am still on the computer, lights ablaze and a roomful of computers and two laser printers on. I saw some of the lights go out in the urban planning building across the courtyard. Were I not here, though, I’d be trying to check off at least 10 items from this list from The Globe and Mail.

Anyway, I usually try to read the Globe sections A to Z on Saturdays either online or in print; the last few weeks haven’t been so good for it because I’ve been doing 16-hour shifts on a six-year-old eMac (yeah, seriously… an eMac. Remember those?) so reading is a faded memory to me… so is sleeping in … eating in restaurants … going to a concert … taking a photograph … having any money … holding a job…

Anyway, but here’s a good one. Ryerson/Eyeopener’s favourite poster boy Graeme Smith wrote a lovely investigative series, “Talking to the Taliban.” In part five, the Taliban fighter on the right is holding a blue cellphone that, I am embarrassed to admit, is newer than mine. When an insurgent hired by Western-world-hating religious militants in a warzone has a newer phone than you… well, it’s a sad state of affairs.

Speaking of phones, a couple weeks ago I signed my summer contract with Dow Jones. I also had to sign a union contract, in which $20 is deducted from every paycheque. That was kind of neat (…), but I wonder if that means I’m a lifer; I heard union thugs will break your legs if you try to leave. Also forgot to mention whether it came with company phone plans. It’s not too late to ask when I actually start (May 5). Maybe I can threaten to walk off the job.

Now that all this stuff is coming to a head (the job, finishing up the Review, ending school), it’s got me thinking about my four years at j-school. About the people I’ve met, this year especially, and work dynamics, and ethics and other fun junk like that.

First of all, and best of all, I finally learned proper English grammar. It’s kind of depressing that no one ever taught me what a dangling modifier or a split infinitive was until fourth year university, but I’m glad I know now. I can finally copy edit with some competence!!

But not to be a snitch or anything (because I live by the laws of the street) but does it seem amiss that soon-to-be senior university students at one of Canada’s highest-rated journalism school would not even think twice about plagiarizing or outright fabricating sources? Or the malleability with which some writers will bend the truth to sharpen their ax, or like in the final final stages of copy editing when we discovered that a writer had omitted things to create factual errors, and the fact-checker in turn hadn’t actually done her job and checked any of those items. It was by complete and very lucky coincidence that someone checked a typo with the original document, and then we found all the other mistakes.

I remember last year, after school let out for a year, that a huge number of classmates taking JRN301: Critical Issues in Journalism, long considered a bird course, made up quotes or entirely fabricated sources for the final project, a 1,500-word story on an issue in a particular community or culture in Canada. Usually j-school dynamics and an intense fear of deadline would sufficiently scare everyone into doing weeks of research and hours of interviews, but in this case the rules didn’t apply. Most everybody slacked off. I was one of them, but at least I did what I absolutely, imperatively had to, and crammed four 45-minute long interviews into a single day, and worked until 6 a.m. the next morning to hand in my story on time for the 1 p.m. deadline.

Anyway, apparently that’s too much to ask of some people. It’s kind of things like this that make me glad I’m finishing j-school. I’m not the nicest of people, always been a bit too competitive for my own good and only ever a team player if I get to be the leader, so my perspective is already soaked in vinegar and bile, but I can see how journalists end up lone wolves, bitter and very tired.

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