McLoughlin Take 2: Want to be a news anchor? Not so fast …
If Waylon and Willie were still gittin’ it done, they would be working on a song with the title “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Communications Majors.” Heaven knows, we got more than enough of them right now.
It seems that every college of a certain size has established a “communications program,” a profit center churning out candidates for low- and getting-lower-paying jobs in news (also public relations and advertising). Seems that every family that used to have a kid studying to be a lawyer or a physicist or a poker dealer now has a little darlin’ who is a communications major.
These colleges may not level with your little boy or girl, but I will. McLoughlin’s Rule of Thumb: Do not spend more per year on tuition, books and meals than the starting salary for that particular calling. Do not spend $35,000 or $40,000 per annum for a job that’s paying 22Gs, not unheard of right about now, here in good old Capitaland. Of course, your little Jeff or Jessica is different; he or she will be an anchor making mucho buckos — apparently, networks like Fox will employ a different host each night to accommodate these nascent anchors desirous of seven-figure salaries for simply reading out loud.
Do you want that kid still living in your downstairs family room at age 34, unable to make the payments on the Sentra (he will never, ever know the luxury of a Maxima)? Well, do you? Do not — I repeat, do not take a second or third mortgage on your home to help the little sucker make his way to a communications degree.
First off, Jeff should be majoring in something that will help him to cover the news, not in news technique itself. What we do in TV news is not a science, not an art; it is a craft. If he has any aptitude whatsoever, he will pick up the basics in just a few weeks (hey, I can teach him phrases like “fire of undetermined origin,” “pending notification of next of kin” and so on for a lot less). Tell him to take economics so that he can write and talk about currency devaluation with some authority instead of worrying about how to write the anchor-lead or the voiceover. Of course, I also should admit to you that many TV news directors are looking for those communications-babies because they already know those little basics. Forget those news directors and find one who is smart enough to want a smart reporter.
Also, I ain’t so sure that these communications teachers are telling your youngsters what’s really happening in the news business, TV and print and whatever other variety you know about. It’s changing and no one knows where it’s gonna wind up — will we get all of our news over the Internet, or will something else pop up? Meanwhile, the business gets tougher and tougher. There will be many more jobs, but if your kid has one of these jobs, he will never have to worry about showing up for a real estate closing. Some stations (thankfully not the one I work for) already are resorting to so-called “one-man bands” to save money. They use all sorts of euphemisms like “video journalism” to mask what is simply one person doing two jobs, that of reporter and that of photographer. They will try to tell viewers that “one-man bands” are some sort of new development that will mean more and better news coverage. Not true. If they had them at my station when I got into the game, I never would have switched from newspapers to TV.
So right about now, if you have read this far into this thing, you
are saying, “Hey, John, where did you matriculate and what did you major in?” It was English, and as much as it pains me to confess this, I got tossed from Siena College in the middle of my junior year. Siena’s attendance policy and mine did not jibe. Notice I did not say I “dropped out,” as so many do. About 99.8 percent of those “dropouts” actually got “tossed.”
Anyway, a few years ago, Sen. Chuck Schumer was holding a news conference at the Siena library and he invited locals to make a few remarks. Assemblyman Jack McEneny mentioned something about the college “when John McLoughlin and I went here.” Schumer, who never misses an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the news media, came to me afterward and said, “I did not know that you graduated from Siena. That’s wonderful.” I told him I hadn’t, that I had gotten booted by the middle of my junior year. I thought that Schumer would choke when that happened, and he mumbled some sort of small talk to make the moment go away, said he hoped I did not have “hard feelings” about Siena. Hard feelings? You kiddin’ me? I have had much more respect for Siena since then. You know that Groucho Marx quote about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him for a member?
And who knows what might have happened if Siena had offered that communications major back then?