I admit I did one (not so you’d notice). But it was a single academic year not stretched out over three.
How on earth do they pad those degree courses out? And mine was a good one. (I know. How did I get on it? Let alone graduate?)
But I’ve seen some dire efforts. Especially when it comes to the vocational aspect. Students sign up hoping to get work at the end of it, not letters after their name. What they may not realise is how long it’s been since their teachers worked as journalists themselves – if ever. Nor how weak the links may be between their chosen academic institution and any organisation likely to give them paying work – or even work experience.
Sure, being good at the job doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good at teaching the skills. (I encountered at school a reputedly excellent mathematician who was one of my worst ever teachers. He presided over coincided with chaos in the classroom.) But I think that lecturers who have never really walked the walk should not be masquerading as experts. Sadly, some do.
Journalism or media courses are, generally speaking, the best gateway to getting a decent job in the industry these days. (Apart from nepotism of course. That’s still far and away the best of all.) So it’s cynical the way some courses betray the trust of their students. They lead them on. They set them up for disappointment and disillusionment.
One of my best journalism teachers was a definite doer and thankfully new to academia when we met. John Foscolo was his name. The constant mantra of this former newspaper man was “tighter, tighter”.
However, leaving aside the charlatans, the biggest con is the number of course places available in the UK compared to the likely vacancies on offer to new graduates from diploma, masters or three year degree courses.
Francois Nel (left), who lectures in “Journalism Leadship” at the University of Central Lancashire , paints a bleak picture. He says the number of mainstream journalism jobs in the UK has shrunk by a third over the past couple of years to about 40,000. But according to Francois the number of journalism university graduates has never been higher – 7,590 in 2008/09.
Francois Nel: “The reality is that only a fraction of the many thousands of graduates from UK journalism courses will find a place in the mainstream industry.”
Peter Preston in the Guardian newspaper tries to maintain a more positive attitude in the face of the same figures.
Planning a career in journalism? Check the facts first. Statistics suggest that prospects for would-be journalists are far from rosy… Conclusion: don’t be put off if you’re utterly determined, but look damned hard before you leap.
The imbalance may be addressed in the near future by university course fee increases and swingeing government spending cuts coming our way.
Perhaps it was someone knocked back by one of the above courses who sent this blog its most daunting piece of spam so far. No mention of viagra or cialis in it, but loads on religion, conspiracy and JFK. I just skimmed it because it was almost 20,000 words long. TWENTY THOUSAND WORDS LONG. I was impressed. (Though not sufficiently impressed to press the approve button. No really. I’ve done us all a favour.)
Am I painting too depressing a picture? There are still decent courses and decent jobs – despite the economic squeeze on the traditional press. But once you get your feet under a desk, that may be where you’ll stay. Abandon all hope of daytime fresh air again. The role of phone monkey awaits. Or, as the Colombia Journalism Review suggests, think hamster and wheel. Click on the link for the full piece by Dean Starkman. ( In the meantime here’s an excerpt.
The Hamster Wheel -Why running as fast as we can is getting us nowhere
The costs are in literate prose, proven premises, news that did not originate from an institution, and other airy-fairy things that build credibility and value over the long term. This is about resource allocation…
…Without getting into whether newspapers are worse or better than before—let’s concede they’re fabulous; that’s why everyone loves them so much—we should pause for a second and think about the implications of the do-more-with-less meme that is sweeping the news business. I call it the Hamster Wheel.
The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no. It is copy produced to meet arbitrary productivity metrics (Bloomberg!). It is “Sheriff plans no car purchases in 2011,” (Kokomo Tribune, 7/5/10). It is “Ben Marter’s Home-Cooked Weekend,” (Politico, 6/28/10): “Saturday morning, he took some of the leftover broccoli, onions, and mushrooms, added jalapenos, and made omeletes for a zingy breakfast.” Ben Marter is communications director for a congresswoman. It’s live-blogging the opening ceremonies, matching stories that don’t matter, and fifty-five seconds of video of a movie theater screen being built: “Wallingford cinema adding 3 screens (video),” (New Haven Register, 6/1/10).
But it’s more than just mindless volume. It’s a recalibration of the news calculus. Of the factors that affect the reporting of news, an underappreciated one is the risk/reward calculation that all professional reporters make when confronted with a story idea: How much time versus how much impact? This informal vetting system is surprisingly ruthless and ultimately efficient for one and all. The more time invested, the bigger the risk, but also the greater potential glory for the reporter, and the greater value to the public (can’t forget them!). Do you fly to Chicago to talk to that guy about that thing? Do you read that bankruptcy examiner’s report? Or do you do three things that are easier?
Journalists will tell you that where once newsroom incentives rewarded more deeply reported stories, now incentives skew toward work that can be turned around quickly and generate a bump in Web traffic. “You’re constantly looking for the next story like that,” says Zachary Roth, a former reporter for Talking Points Memo (and before that a CJR staff member). “The posts you end up pitching and writing are less likely to be investigative.”
But hey, with inspiration, lateral thinking, a fair bit of eavesdropping and sufficient theft we will transcend all difficulties ahead.
Hear hear. Fortitude for the challenges ahead.