Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hello chaps

I thought I'd just update you on the work I'm doing here. Sorry, I meant 'work'.

So far, the backbone of the first term has been 'Reporting And Writing 1', by far the best thing about this school. You're sent out to cover a neighborhood - in my case, a shtetl - and each week you have to report and write an article. The theme is picked by the professor and changes every week, from poverty to crime to immigration, but it's up to you to provide the goods. It's an excellent practical introduction to the vagaries of interviewing, reporting, writing and editing. Added to this we are also given a drill every week where we have to produce bulletins and articles on the spot. I also enjoy the one-day spot news assignments.

The rest is a mixed bag. And when I say 'mixed', I mean 'fertiliser'. And when I say 'bag', I mean 'bag'. Apart from my New Media skills class, in which I actually learn useful things, all my other classes are about as helpful as a compass made of cheese. I am five weeks into my Economic & Financial Reporting class, in which I sit for two hours learning how to Google. The classes are TWO HOURS LONG, but the teacher somehow manages to treat these hours as if they were inconsequential blades of grass, to be trodden upon without a care in the world. Who cares that none of us has a clue about economics and finance? Best to just stumble along and see what happens. Every week she comes in, talks in a vague way about nothing in particular, shows us how to use Google and then lets us go after having brought us two hours closer to death.

Last week she was ill, so this week we are going to have a four-hour class to catch up. You see what time means to her? It means nothing. She will sit down and talk in a scattered, haphazard way for four hours. It is hell.

Being conscientious, earnest journalism students, we are also taught ethics and 'Critical Issues'. Basically, every week we are given a long, tedious lecture about some moral dilemma that journalists face when writing about the opening of a local shopping centre or something equally inane. How many free king size Snickers bars at a press junket should one consume before it constitutes 'bribery' (or just utter gluttony)? Should we accept this widescreen, HD-ready television that Rummy has just handed us, upon which is attached a note entitled "staying the course in Iraq"? I just don't know. Anyway, it's pointless.

We are also taught 'New York As A Foreign Country', a patronising mishmash of complicated lessons in government and utterly basic pointers of how to eat with a knife and fork without bursting into tears. The teacher is wonderful, though, a genuinely funny guy with a realistic take on US affairs and history. I just don't understand how he can begin the course by saying that Americans know little about history, but then spend every lesson explaining what baptism means or what the Reformation was.

Anyway, it's all very enjoyable and to be honest I have learned a lot. I still haven't quite become used to bothering people and getting treated like an arse in return, though. The paradox of the journalist is that he loves to meet people and talk to them, yet everybody hates his guts. I don't know whether I'm in a difficult neighbourhood because of the religious and social conservatism, but yesterday I attempted to interview a female teacher outside a Jewish school and it ended very awkwardly. She nervously responded to my basic questions about the number of students at the school with "I don't know if I should tell you this information".

After a while she ran away, and, as I was going over my notes, a bearded man hovered into view.

"What is your name?" he asked. I told him.
"What is the purpose of your visit?" he asked. I told him.

Suddenly the lollipop lady who I'd been talking to before turned to me and said, "Oh, that's the husband of the teacher you just spoke to."

I immediately tensed up and the husband began to elaborate on the reason for his social visit to me. "What are you doing asking all these questions? Why did you ask my wife what hours she comes and goes, why did you want to find that out?"

I politely replied that I hadn't, in fact, asked those questions at all. His tone softened and he said that his wife had told him in the car that a strange man was asking all sorts of questions outside the school. "You can't be too careful," he said to me, and we continued talking about other things.

I fumed inwardly about all the suspicion I've encountered in this neighbourhood, but to be honest I think it's the same everywhere. People absolutely despise journalists, especially smug ones at university called Lionel.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe I just read that. Now I feel like I was in one of your 2 hour classes. It taught me nothing and there was no point to it.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Sabbatai Zevi said...

Well you had the time to read it and post a comment, so you can't have been THAT busy...

1:40 AM  

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