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Past Issues

Whatcom Watch Online
To Tweet or Not To Tweet

January 2011

Dear Watchers

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

by Jennifer Karchmer

Jennifer Karchmer is an investigative journalist in Bellingham.

You are probably reading this column while having a sesame bagel and coffee at The Bagelry in downtown Bellingham. Or you’re at the Old Towne Café enjoying the Number Nine talking politics with friends when one of you pulls out a copy of Whatcom Watch to refer to a recent article.

It’s possible you are reading Whatcom Watch online too.

With our handy website at, you can find the current edition and search for articles back to 2002 on Lake Whatcom, land development, airport expansion plans, local elections and other government and environmental news happening in Whatcom County.

Channel Versus Content

So whether you read the printed paper each month or choose to log on the Internet for Whatcom Watch, the question remains:

Is the way in which you get your news as important as the news itself?

That topic is swirling around the University of Colorado-Boulder these days after journalism Dean Paul Voakes announced in August 2010 that the school was considering “discontinuance” of its journalism program, to “create a fresh and urgently needed form of media education.”

Like many universities, the Colorado Buffaloes are looking into cost-cutting measures, yet they know journalists need training on a variety of tools today that assist in storytelling (i.e., video clips, audio feeds, Twitter).

Do skill and adeptness with the technology trump substance? Does the use of more technologies necessarily mean better reporting?

Tweeting or Digging?

As a journalism student in the early 1990s at Ithaca College, I took courses that challenged my intellect, my decision-making and professional integrity. I also received top-notch training in broadcast production as both a radio and television reporter.

Still, 20 years later, I am best served by my ethics courses and rely on the tools provided by the Society of Professional Journalists: objectivity, public enlightenment, thoroughness and honesty.

The channel by which we disseminate news will constantly be changing whether it is radio, TV, online or print but the underlying process by which we gather news and report the story should remain intact – and be taught in journalism schools across the nation.

So should journalism students know how to send a tweet (the 140-character message via Twitter)? Or are they better served spending that time learning up on a second (or third) language like Spanish or Arabic, or exploring how to conduct a Freedom of Information Act request to conduct real investigative journalism?

In the November/December 2010 edition of Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, writer Pierce Presley notes in his article “Whither J-School?” that more university courses are devoted to new media technology “at the expense of academic courses like ethics, history and law, and even to the point of eclipsing training in basic journalism skills.”

Nevertheless, Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State University, argues for teaching of technique over technology.

“The new conventional wisdom is that the platform is more important than the pedagogy,” Bugeja said in the article. “No, I’m sorry, it’s not. The pedagogy goes back to the First Amendment. Online is just a damned platform. We’ve got to stop glorifying commerce rather than the Constitution.”

By 2013, the University of Colorado-Boulder will re-establish its journalism program. Hopefully the program will be revamped in a stronger, more efficient fashion, yet still big on ethics, objectivity, accuracy and critical thinking – the foundation of journalism that existed way before Twitter and Facebook. §

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