Journalism is currently in a crisis. Or as some have put it, there has never been a better time to study journalism.
As more and more hacks enter the profession after spending at least one year on journalism school benches, it’s fair to say that higher education institutions have a huge influence on the type of journalism their students will produce after graduation. So what can they do to help?
Michael Bromley, professor of international journalism at City University London, took on the rather enormous task of sifting through all the implications of the question in his inaugural lecture at the university yesterday.
According to Prof. Bromley, journalism schools should embrace and accelerate academisation. Whilst working journalists look upon it as a threat, students are “exceptionally keen on it”. He later explained that the remark was based on enrollment figures for journalism courses at the University of Queensland, Australia, which saw a rise in applicants after a revamp of its academic offering.
If more students were present at the lecture, there would have been a small uprising. There was a general feeling of disapproval at the idea, both in the room and on Twitter (see #citybromley).
Freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke was in the audience but chose to comment on Twitter. She questioned the link between the enrollment figures and Prof. Bromley’s conclusion that the rise in interest was due to a more academic take on the curriculum. She tweeted: “Seesms [sic] to me you mt [sic] also conclude the increased J school enrollment is due to students seeking out practical courses.”
Balance between practical skills and academic modules was highlighted as a prominent issue for educators, especially on postgraduate courses. City University’s Broadcast Journalism MA programme was described as a “full time job” by students, so it comes as no surprise that they would struggle to include more theoretical classes.
Despite the wave of opposition to the idea that journalism schools should offer more theory, the importance of ethics and law courses seemed to unite even disgruntled Twitter users. In a world where you can be sued or arrested for posts made on social networking sites, media law is one theory course we really can’t do without.
Prof. Bromley described journalism as “a shanty town, not a planned suburb”. The media industry was placed into the latter category, as the 10 o’clock news has now been “McDonalised” – it’s predictable. As he “would rather live in a shanty town”, Prof. Bromley echoed Charlie Beckett’s call to put “humanity back at the centre of journalism”, and suggested we should take it out of mass media.
Predictability is not something that comes naturally to journalism, but it’s driven in that direction by the distinct need to respond to the market. “Straightjacket journalism” could be avoided by separating the profession from the media industry.
One question was raised above all others in response, and it was the voice of pragmatism that spoke up. How will journalists earn any money if they break away from the media? As many guest speakers who have walked the corridors of City University have said time and time again, journalism isn’t a profession one enters out of a drive to make money. Entrepreneurial journalists do not become millionaires overnight, and it may be a while before the next Facebook is coded in the student halls of a journalism school.
Prof. Bromley’s inaugural lecture opened the doors to a rather academic debate that could continue for a very long time. Education reform is a constant concern, and when it comes to teaching a subject as dynamic and alive as journalism there will always be something new to add to the conversation.
Catalina Albeanu is a BA Journalism student at City University London. Currently editing the student news website, City Online. Interested in technology and languages, and considers life better when coffee is around.
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