So what do we mean by “-ism?”
We don’t have a simple answer. The isms we have in mind – racism, capitalism, existentialism, socialism, etc. - are ideologies and belief systems. They are complex, not only because of the complexity of the ideas behind them, but because of the variety of things they have come to represent. -Isms exist on many levels – as abstract theories, as social or economic realities and as labels by which we classify ourselves and others.
Four pages of this issue are devoted to journalism, which we acknowledge is not an -ism in the usual sense. Journalism is a profession and a concept, not an ideology or a belief system. But besides being an issue of concern to many of our readers and writers, the debate about the Park School’s journalism program does relate to this month’s theme.
One of the potential problems with -isms is that, while useful, they tend to be oversimplified in popular discourse. They also are prone to being used to advance the agendas of those in power. Journalism is supposed to challenge these tendencies, but contemporary journalism often fosters them instead.
Part of the concern about the mainstream press is that it is presents too coherent a picture of society. A wealth of books and articles – many of which are assigned in classes at Ithaca College – describe how corporate media presents a limited range of views and rarely interrogates the isms on which our society is based.
So is mainstream American journalism the voice of capitalism and consumerism?
Probably not… yet. But it is the responsibility of journalism educators to make sure that a trend in this direction is stopped. Social science classes readily address this issue, but the journalism department also has a responsibility to look critically at the press.
More than issues of staffing and course rigor, which are addressed in the report produced by Alan Wright’s Issues and the News class on the journalism department, the Park School must also explore deeper issues about the nature of journalism education. There are already examples of the school sponsoring critical debate about the media, particularly through speakers like Seymour Hersh, Bill Moyers and Norman Solomon. Reworking the journalism curriculum provides an opportunity to integrate this spirit into coursework as well.
As part of the press in this community, we struggle ourselves with the responsibility to tackle complex issues with complexity. Admittedly, we have the luxury of a relaxed production schedule, secure funding and a Park administration dedicated to protecting a free student press. Using these opportunities, we present the following: our exploration of -isms that shape us, whether we like it or not.