A rant from Iowa State

Michael Bugeja directs a journalism school in 21st Century America, where he preaches that the Internet and new technology is “the scorpion” that will poison and kill journalism.

In what I consider the best argument against tenure, Bugeja cursed the connected world that is rapidly passing him by in the keynote address at our Midwest regional spring conference for the Society of Professional Journalists.  The theme of the conference?  Convergence of new media.

Yes, this guy. Bugeja says new gadgetry has us chained to our newsroom desks, forcing us to do all of our reporting through the telephone and email.  By the way, he says telephones and telegraphs are not bad.  Apparently, he thinks any innovation that happened, say, after Henry Ford, is dooming us.

“I don’t know when he was last in a newsroom,” said Jared Strong of the Des Moines Register, who sat in on the panel “What I Wish I Had Learned in Journalism School But  Didn’t.”

If Bugeja had bothered to observe some modern newsrooms, he would know that technology actually allows me to get out of the office more, be where the news is, because I’m always connected through my smart phone, my email and my ability to deliver the news through a variety of media, including Twitter.

Of course, Bugeja hates Twitter.  And Facebook.  And really any of the ways that people like to connect now and trade information.

I began covering his speech on Twitter.

Andy Dickinson answered that maybe Bugeja is just trying to get attention.

The most disturbing part of Bugeja’s views is, he could be any of our bosses.  In many newsrooms across the country, people are resisting change with his same fervor, as the world changes around us.  In his speech, he kept referring to himself as “a reporter,” as if that some how brought him out of his academic daydream and down to reality with the rest of us.  It didn’t.

If he really worked as a reporter, in a world without tenure, he would have to face the realities of technology.  He would have to learn new ways or reporting, or he would soon be without a job.  He would soon be called into an editor’s office and be told to get up to speed, or be replaced.  But he doesn’t work in that world of declining circulations and ad revenue that’s moving to the web.  So he can stick his head up his campus and pretend that he knows best.

I felt bad for the journalism students I met at Iowa State who are bright and ambitious and having to listen to this. I felt bad for the older journalists in the room, meaning about my age, because some were nodding and smiling as if this were really making sense.

Still, Bugeja showed he has a glimmer of recognition for reality. For all his resistance, he understands the Web can produce transparency in journalism, allowing our audience to study our notes, our source documents, to hear our interviews.

Don’t feel sorry for his students, either.  They’re smart enough to see the ironies of the chancing media world around them and how out of touch the director of their school seems to be.

“The thing is,” one student told me about Bugeja, “you can only reach him by email.”

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  • Kim Smith

    I had the misfortune of working for Michael Bugeja in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication until I retired in May, 2009. Ron Sylvester picked up on what he is all about much faster than his superiors at Iowa State. He does indeed say anything for attention. On numerous occasions, I have had no idea what he was talking about his reasoning was so convoluted. His book, The Interpersonal Divide, ignores at least two areas of substantial scholarship in the mass communication field that does not support his thesis. I remain mystified about why anyone takes him seriously in or out of the academic world.


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