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There’s a pretty interesting on-going conversation over on the Twitters about what makes a journalist and how the cycling media handles, and should handle, doping stories. Check the most recent rounds via Storify by @mmmaiko, here, here, and here

One recurring theme in this conversation is the importance of Journalism School – and the embedded assumption that somehow attending professional school automatically confers ethics along with the diploma. 

Which, when you think about it, doesn’t make a whole ton of sense. In my former profession, we taught students from their very first day not to plagiarize. Plagiarism, so bad. Don’t do it! It’s stealing!

But having a PhD didn’t seem to stop several prominent historians from plagiarizing material in their published work. One work on Eisenhower, long considered “seminal,”  cited interviews that never actually happened. Can you believe that shit? I suppose it is considerably easier to fake an interview when the subject is dead. 

Also, that word seminal. Is it just me or do you picture livestock husbandry every time? 

Right, anyway, point is? Professional school, it doesn’t necessarily teach ethics.

What it does do – in the best case scenario – is teach you how to succeed at a particular profession. Want to know how to get access to an Presidential archive? Or, what to expect when you get there? I could tell you that. Want to publish in an academic journal or present at a conference? I know how to do that. Want to get a job? I actually know that one too.

A journalism degree would not necessarily make me a more ethical writer.

But it might make me a more successful one. I’d know who to ask for advice, and if I was lucky, I’d have met people who could serve as mentors in the field. People, who could open doors to interesting – and well-paying – assignments. I’d have a better idea of how to price my work, because I’d know other people pricing theirs. I’d know how to pitch to editors effectively, because I’d probably have written an infinite number of practice pitches in school.

Skipping school means learning it all on the fly. Which, doesn’t make me less ethical or inclined to claim interviews that didn’t actually happen. But it does feel a lot like doing my best swan dive into shark-infested waters. 

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