For reasons fathomable only to the smart people who went to grad school, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism And Other Minutiae is still in an uproar over J-school Dean John Lavine's use of some anonymous student quotes in a letter promoting the school. A letter in the freaking alumni magazine. And for god's sake these J-school people just CANNOT SHUT UP ABOUT IT. Allow us to whip off our green eyeshades, set down our press passes, and smack some book-learnin' outta these kids, after the jump.
To recap, Lavine mentioned in his promotional letter that some students had said some good things about the school. A cockstrong young J-School student wrote a story questioning Lavine's use of anonymous quotes—after all, Medill teaches kids to avoid such quotes at all costs. Okay, fine. FULL STOP at this point, please. The original story (by Medill student David Spett) was pretty clever. But then the Chicago Tribune picked it up, and Romenesko picked it up. And now that the Northwestern faculty has gotten a whiff of attention from the public, they of course are tripping over themselves to make Very Serious Statements about this Very Serious Incident. Three professors sent him a letter about the "troubling situation," then a group of "concerned" students and alumni sent him another letter (duly copied to Romenesko) about how he has contravened the "sacred rules of journalism."
Here's another sacred rule of journalism: Know when to shut the fuck up. This is a situation that probably could have been handled in a 15-minute faculty meeting. But those in academia, as a rule, are constantly starved for attention, and when anyone starts paying attention to them, their instinct is to do anything possible to keep that spotlight shining as long as possible. Journalists, in particular—whether in training, or retired—love nothing better than a scandal that involves them as the good guys.
It's not a stretch to say there are few things more boring to the outside world than the inner machinations of a Journalism school. This is not even inside baseball. The story behind the Times' John McCain scoop is inside baseball. This is just some kids in a dirty alley playing stickball with a car antenna, because they don't have a proper stick.
Dean Lavine sent out an apology letter to students and faculty yesterday, in which he says he didn't make up any quotes, but he should have been more careful about proper sourcing. You can just tell the man is grinding his teeth over this bullshit. Will this apology spell the end of the scandal? Ha. If the students at Medill can restrain themselves from writing any more about this issue from now on, I will personally give one of them a job upon graduation (not really. But it's a moot point, cause they are sure to write thousands of words more, and possibly some graduate theses on the incident).
Allow us to quote rich asshole and Tribune Company owner Sam Zell:
"This business has been eroding before your eyes and you're worried about my language? ... Everything I said was with an intent to get everybody to get off their [behinds] and understand this is a crisis. We've got to save this business. We've got to make this work. And we've got to prioritize what we get all pushed out of shape about. ... If we keep operating the way we've been operating, there is no future."
This asshole makes a good point. All that self-referential ivory tower bullshit is not gonna do one thing to change the fact that all these kids are shelling out huge money in order to be trained for a dying business. We know that great journalists always, on instinct, attack their own bosses , like a trained pit bull will attack a baby. But it's time to get over it, and focus on something that actually matters. Because those Medill students are gonna be upset when the journalism industry continues to tank, their jobs don't exist, and this Dean Lavine story ends up being the biggest one of their entire careers. No mas.