Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rush Limbaugh Reveals J-School Secret

I'm a huge Rush Limbaugh fan. Talk radio, with Limbaugh as its longtime star, helped me get tenure. For a while I was (modestly) among the top scholars in the country researching the effects of talk radio. It didn't get me rich, but it did get me enough publications in top academic journals to win promotion and tenure.

So Limbaugh the other day revealed one of the deep dark secrets of j-schools. I've been teaching at a j-school for 23 years and, to be honest, I'd never heard this. Someone's been keeping it a secret from me, I suppose.  So here's the text of the bit I'm focusing on. It's a caller to his radio show talking about Hillary Clinton. The caller has worked at a TV news station and they agree about how the news media create hooks or narratives, in this case about Clinton and her candidacy. The full text is here if you want context, but this is the bit I'm interested in:

RUSH:  No.  What's new is, the journalism industry acknowledging that there is such a thing as the hook to the consumer, or acknowledging that there is such a thing as the narrative to the consumer.  This is one of the deep, dark secrets that they taught in J-School, that the news consumer was never to be told and never to know.  Anyway, Jackie, I gotta run.  I'm a little long.  I appreciate the call.  

Let's give Limbaugh the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's quite knowledgeable about what's taught in journalism schools. Maybe he has a mole in a j-school somewhere, learning the "deep, dark secrets." Or maybe he's just making shit up.  In a way, I think he's on to something. In storytelling, you generally don't tell people "oh, this is my hook, here it comes, wait for it." That gets in the way of the story, unless of course you're into some postmodern stuff in which structure overwhelms narrative.

So maybe he's right -- in a way -- though for all the wrong reasons. It's not a "deep, dark" secret that you don't tell the audience "hey, this is my hook" because, well, it'd be damned stupid and it would get in the way of the news and interfere with the storytelling. That's what media critics are for.

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