Is journalism the new media studies?

February 25, 2009

There’s been a few interesting views recently on the training of journalists.
It follows the news that the number of applications to do journalism degrees has risen by 24 % this year – that’s more than 13,000 applications for courses starting in September.

It’s a frightening statistic given the state of our industry. Every day another paper is slashing jobs and centralising production.

Nick Davies (he of Flat Earth News) http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=43159&c=1 makes some interesting points about the quality of lectures.
He states: “A great many of them are genuine crap, taught by people who haven’t the faintest idea of how to do the job.”

I think he’s spot on – there are simply too many courses and some of them just aren’t good enough.

Eastern Daily Press deputy editor Paul Durrant  http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/training/090218counciljob.shtml goes further, stating that he isn’t ‘bothered’ about journalism degrees.

It saddens me but journalism degrees have become a populist, soft option. The media studies of noughties if you will (and having done a media communications and English degree, I know all about soft options).

Journalism still looks cool to outsiders – I’m sad enough to admit that my press card is clearly visible whenever I opened my wallet. And with the rise of the internets, news and information has never been more in our faces, so it’s not surprising that lots of young people are interested in the profession.

But the massive increase in courses is dangerous. Many are uncredited and I know of at least two which are taught by people who have never been journalists.

Lets get this straight. If you want to be a journalist, there is absolutely no need to study journalism at university. What is the point in a course that lasts three years teaching something which is 95% learnt on the job?

As Paul says: “I’m bothered about NCTJ qualifications – I’m bothered about vocational training. I’m looking for maturity, passion and confidence. In terms of currency in the industry, I need to know someone’s got 100wpm shorthand, that they know what a Section 39 is.”

Apart from the NCTJ qualification – which is in dire need of a major overhaul – I agree totally with this. You can have all the journalism theory in the world but if you lack the personality and the passion you’ll be a shit reporter.

A journalist needs some law, shorthand and local government knowledge before they get started properly. These can be picked up in a pre-entry course which lasts between four months and a year.
They also need work experience. As much as they can get.

As an editor and formerly news editor, I have dealt with many work experience types.
And without execption, those who had studied or were studying journalism degrees were poor. Many simply did not have the personality (you don’t need to be pushy, but a certain amount of drive and common sense is a minimum requirement) while others were vastly unprepared for the world of work, and particularly the news room.

But the most worrying and annoying were those who thought that three years in the classroom, a piece of paper saying they achieved a 2:1 or even a 1st, was proof enough that they knew it all already.

In reality, they know no more about the industry than the kid straight out of sixth form who has been doing work experience for three months, and far less than the kid who did a four month pre-entry course. Worse, they tend to pick up more bad habits which need to be beaten out of them.

It’s depressing looking at some of the comments made by the journalism students below Paul’s article. I feel really sorry for them as they’ve clearly not received proper careers advice.
I can see it now – they tell their guidance counsellor they want to be a journalist, so the counsellor hands them the list of journalism degrees.

If you want advice – email the editor of your local rag. Many of us (although not enough) will care enough about the future generation of hacks to respond. (You might need to email them twice though as we do get a bit busy).

A candidate with a degree in say English, politics or even philosophy, definitely has an advantage other applicants who don’t as it shows a level of intelligence, that they can stick something out for three years and of course generally universities help people mature.
However, if it’s a degree in journalism, then I’m sorry, you’re immediately at a disadvantage if you send me a CV.