Journalism, Education and Failure

I blogged about Ailee Slater’s Oregon Daily Emerald student entitlement essay before reading any of the discussions that raged on the internet.

Clancy was moved to react against the gendered response to Slater, and invoked sympathy for Slater based on her [Slater’s] apparent alienation from university culture.

The sexist and ad-hominem attacks on Fark and elsewhere on the internet were unhappy reminders that there are far worse sins than writing an incoherent editorial.

But I was far more struck by the following comment on the Oregon Daily Emerald site:

The funniest thing about this article is that someday you will apply for a job and your potential employer will google you to see what you’ve done and they will find this. Then they will laugh heartily and throw your resume in the recycle bin.

The student journalism I wrote when I was an undergraduate is not available online. One would have to look it up somewhere in the library stacks at the Unviersity of Viriginia. I’m sure my own early work included a fair share of howlers. For instance, I remember once suggesting the headline, “Virginia Valley Vinters: Veni, Vidi, Vino.”

Students — even student journalists whose work gets spashed across the internet — should be permitted to make mistakes and to learn from them.

I think most employers understand that producing a student paper is an educational venture. Slater is a textbook example of a sophomore — the “wise fool” who has had just enough experience to begin noticing patterns, but not enough wisdom to understand fully their significance. This is not a bad thing — this is part of education, and part of being human.

So, future potential employers of Ailee Slater, don’t throw her resume into the trash — at least, not until you’ve seen how she responds to the public attention her editorial receives.

Will she become bitter and defensive, lashing out at opinions that differ from hers?

Or, faced with new evidence and new perspectives, will she investigate the issue fully, modify her views to account for her findings, and report the truth fairly, without bias, to the best of her ability?

In a follow-up editorial, will she look into the fate of institutions that have actually tried a grade-free education plan?

Will she examine and critique the connections between her own consumerist mindset and the culture that creates a market for services that will sell an MBA to a cat?

Will she reflect on why she did not do this kind of research herself in the first place, before she published her article?

Does she get a grade for her work on the Oregon Daily Emerald? Does she think the quality of her articles would go up or down if an instructor graded her contributions?

(The school paper I worked on at the University of Virginia paid commission to its ad sales staff, but eveyrone else was a volunteer; the older, larger, and more financially secure paper against which we competed paid its contributors a small amount for each article. Nobody got course credit for their work. I don’t know what the system is like at the Oregon Daily Emerald.)