The Junk Drawer: An update on the Daily Northwestern apology, the tao of Vin Diesel and an honest look at journalism salaries

As we noted in an earlier post, the Junk Drawer is usually full of stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else but you still need, so here are a few bits and bites of things that are helpful or at least somewhat amusing:

REASON 283,435,139 I’M NOT A DEAN: In covering the Daily Northwestern apology story earlier this week, we took some liberties in explaining the best and worst ways in which people reacted to the paper’s editorial choices. A good number of folks I knew who were Medill alumni emailed the dean of the school, Charles Whittaker, asking exactly what the heck was going on at Northwestern.

Whittaker was in a tough spot: He didn’t control the paper (as is the case with almost all colleges and universities, despite what many administrators like to think) and yet the students running the place were most likely kids in his program. The paper’s actions reflected poorly on the school, even though the school itself had nothing to do with the paper. People wanted him to say SOMETHING, although anyone who has ever worked in crisis communication knows that rarely do statements in times like this satisfy everyone. (And, in many cases, these statements end up doing the PR equivalent of trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline…)

Whittaker put out a statement that, in my view, covered the bases and nailed the key points. It also did so in a way that didn’t throw anyone under the bus and yet moved the school beyond the hand-wringing point most alumni seemed to be stuck on. In reading it, I found that his points tended to mirror some of the concerns we raised here, but he did it with an eloquence that I couldn’t pull off at the time. This paragraph covered the three unpleasant truths I outlined in the post in a much tighter and with better language:

And to the swarm of alums and journalists who are outraged about The Daily editorial and have been equally rancorous in their condemnation of our students on social media, I say, give the young people a break. I know you feel that you were made of sterner stuff and would have the fortitude and courage of your conviction to fend off the campus critics. But you are not living with them through this firestorm, facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility that has been directed their way on weaponized social media. Don’t make judgments about them or their mettle until you’ve walked in their shoes. What they need at this moment is our support and the encouragement to stay the course.

Again, this is why I couldn’t be a dean. Well, that and I’d have to wear a tie…


YOU LEARN A LOT ON THE WAY TO 500: In listening to all the people talk about the Daily Northwestern’s position and how they were “much tougher back in the day,” I found myself going back to this Vin Diesel clip from “Knockaround Guys:”

Rarely do the words “Vin Diesel,” “stronger journalism” and “great philosophy” converge in a single sentence, but they all seem to work here. If those previous generations of journalists were tougher, it was because they got started earlier on their 500 fights. It’s the battles, the mistakes and the ability to live through everything that happens that gives you that toughness. That’s how you develop thicker skin, as so many people kept telling the staffers at the DN to do. It’s how you learn to tough out certain things and acquiesce in other situations.

You learn a lot of things on the way to 500, but none more important than this: You will survive and you will get better at fighting.

COME FOR THE ABUSE, STAY FOR THE LOW PAY!: Why journalists do what they do is often beyond explanation. In some cases, we find a calling, like a priest or a rabbi would. In other cases, we see how our skills match up with what news organizations need and we go for it. In many more cases, we realize we stink at math, so we figure this is the best field for us.

However, even if you’re bad at math, you can tell pretty quickly that the salaries of journalists aren’t among the highest in the world. Anecdotes often filled the ears of students who were working their way through college that, hey, you’d be better off working a fry machine at Hardee’s than doing this. Still, getting people to talk about money is really rough, so no true salary database existed in this area.

Some folks in the field wanted to change that with an open access Google spreadsheet and some publicity.

Journalists doing anonymous journalism about journalism, in the shape of Google docs, is a new development in form. And examples like the SMM list definitely bring up ethical implications that should be considered. But in the long run, we would probably all be better off if the salary list sparked a healthy conversation about who is paying whom how much, and for what.

If you want to dig around, feel free to depress yourself here. Also, if you’re living in Kearney, Nebraska or Butte, Montana and you see the six-figure salaries, remember those are mostly in New York where it can cost almost a quarter-million dollars for a parking space.

Still, you can’t beat the hours…

Until next week,


(a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)


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