Monday, February 16, 2009...12:33 pm

Why Journalism shouldn't be taught as a BA

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I posted here about Paul Bradshaw’s interesting video touching on the inflexibility of journalism education.

I was surprised about this – until I started having more to do with journalism colleges. You’d think colleges and universities would be falling over themselves to offer what employers wanted. But it’s not quite so. Why should this be?

I think there are several reasons:

  • Students pay for courses, not employers. It’s a very competitive education market, and colleges need to keep student numbers up. This means teaching what students enjoy and are interested in [nice layouts, cool web sites], rather than tough, boring things like, say, how to sub-edit rigorously, or learning proof-reading marks.
  • Course format. Courses are taught in units, so whatever you teach has to fit into this. Units also need to produce something called a “learning artefact” that can be assessed. So a workshop on sub-editing skills might be useful, but it’s difficult to assess. It’s better for the college for students to produce a home page in Dreamweaver that can be handed in on CD. [A bit useless for employers though – no journalist I know has ever used Dreamweaver professionally.]
  • Academic inertia. Courses have to go through an academic approval process before they can go on the syllabus. You don’t want to endure this too often I suspect if you are a course leader. And of course journalism degrees last three years, so colleges don’t want to chop and change if they can help it.
  • Cultural differences. With the best will in the world, full-time academics get out of the loop about industry – what it needs and how fast it’s changing. For academia, six months may be a close deadline – in publishing it could be six hours.

Upshot: the interests of the media industry and colleges/universities are not aligned. Of course, the industry has itself to blame to some extent, as it used to train its new recruits internally [note: that would be training, not education, as journalism is a trade, not a profession. Much more appropriate]. But cost-cutting over the years has pushed it out to higher education, with all that this entails.

And you have to blame the government for thinking that one-size-fits-all degree-based education is what the UK needs to produce a skilled workforce. It isn’t of course – and making a degree the de facto qualification for journalists means young people have to spend something like £20,000 going through three years of college to enter a profession where the pay is generally pretty low, compared to real professions such as law or accountancy.

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