Tagged: journalism education

Training: It’s an investment, not a cost

I couldn’t agree more with the view David Worsfield of Incisive Media expresses in his article on journalism.co.uk about journalism training. It’s something I’ve argued for a long time.

Worsfield is right to castigate employers for seeing training as a cost rather than an investment, but that attitude is also tied up with the insistence that university courses must all lead directly to jobs. It’s popular to dismiss the ‘education for its own sake’ view as airy-fairy and – especially in these austere times – impractical. But failing to understand the difference between education and training leads to precisely the situation Worsfield outlines in which few benefit from what’s on offer in university courses.

There’s room for hope though, if more companies do what Incisive have done and start to invest in training. But this needs to happen on a much larger scale. That’s one of the reasons I think the NUJ Training department is such a success story and needs to be expanded.


Midget Scouse karaoke, drunken Santas and other strange phenomena

A quick update just to keep things ticking over after a very busy week. Last weekend saw a few of my old Spurs away crew gather in Liverpool for the first time in a few years for a weekend of self-indulgence ahead of the Everton game on the Sunday. It was thoroughly enjoyable, despite a fire alarm at 4.30am turfing us all out on the streets. Not what was required after a night eating and drinking in the Albert Dock, and not appreciated either by the 60+ members of the hen night who had partied hard and late at the hotel! The most surreal moment of the trip came when we found ourselves in a city centre karaoke pub surrounded by pissed Santas who’d just been on a fun run, listening to a midget sing a very rude version of Popeye The Sailor Man. Liverpool is a city you could not invent.

This week has provided the rich variety of finally getting around to painting the inside of the metal window frames at home – at the wrong time of year I know, but needs must; while also setting and marking end-of-term tests for my year one and two students. I also found myself called in to college at short notice earlier today to do a two-hour session for the Professional Footballers Association for players who, for one reason or another, are looking at careers outside the game and are interested in the media.

And I’ve just finished some initial research for a TV pitch I’m working up with an old colleague. Any TV people reading this are welcome to drop me a line for more details :-)

Tomorrow is the last day of term at LCC, with final marking and collection of test material. The day is bookended with my youngest son’s nativity play (he’s a shepherd) and a meal with my teaching colleagues from the convergence course at LCC. And then it’s a busy weekend, but I hope to post before long on Mirror exec Matt Kelly’s extremely interesting comments on search and journalism, plus good old Jeff Jarvis’s post “Is journalism storytelling?”

An engaged media union in action

An excellent initiative by the National Union of Journalists’ Training department saw the union’s annual delegate meeting covered live and in-depth by a group of journalism students, including some from the London College of Communication, where I teach part-time. The nujadm.org.uk site is staying up as a record of the event, and it shows the best of a union that is prepared to work in an open, engaged and inclusive way.

My old friend and NUJ colleague Chris Wheal co-ordinated the event, some feat alongside his role as a branch delegate, backed by the union’s dedicated and innovative training department. A team of student members, at the conference as guests of the union, produced the site and got to see their union at work, as well as the chance to mix with delegates and make contacts. The project was edited by two recently-graduated students who are now full members, with Chris acting as editor-in-chief. The site’s list of aims, objectives and policies is well worth a look at as a model of good practice.

LCC students occupy college as row over cuts is ramped up

Students at the London College of Communication staged a sit-in at the Elephant and Castle site this week in protest at course closures and cutbacks. The action followed a flash occupation of Head of College Sandra Kemp’s office last week by over 100 angry marketing students.

The actions are the latest manifestations of anger over a programme of course closures and compulsory redundancies that has simmered for months. College union the UCU claims management have not made the business case for the closures, have not followed consultative procedures, and are refusing to honour redundancy deals. The college says it has consulted properly, but staff who have been asked to present the case for their courses to continue after they have received notice that they are to be shut down are not convinced. The UCU has given notice of its intention to ballot for a strike.

It seems to me, as a visiting tutor, that this is a classic case of management testing the strength of the staff unions. There may well be a case for reorganisation, but it has not been clearly made, and it is the failure to follow set procedure – something there is no shortage of in academia – that is really stoking the fires. All this on top of constant battles to resource courses and the vast amounts of time wasted on basic administrative tasks because of the inability of one central department to properly communicate with another.

Latest developments, in which the leaders of the occupation are being threatened with disciplinary action after a heavy-handed move to quash the protests, don’t seem designed to calm troubled waters.

Note: I searched in vain for a link to post up which gave the college’s side of the story. There have been a number of carefully-worded staff memos, but nothing I can link to which would at least show the case the college claims to be making. It’s all about communication.

Time to move the debate about journalism’s future on

I was teaching on the day of the recent Is there a crisis in world journalism? event so I was unable to participate and I’ve been trying to catch up since. There’s plenty of audio and video at the link above, set up by Coventry University which hosted the event, and on journalism.co.uk. But I had a few doubts about the event, and what I’ve seen and heard so far hasn’t assuaged them.

Form and content

I should say at this point that I’m not knocking the very great effort that went into staging or contributing to this event. I just think we need to move things on a little. Coventry University’s John Mair, who produced the event, described it as as: “Distinguished speakers from across five continents, an audience of students, academics and real people, three and a half hours of exciting intellectual debate and more, breaking new frontiers with videoconferencing and webcasting and Twitter and more: this has put Coventry and Coventry journalism on the world stage.” All of which is fine, but the measure of the event’s value is surely in what was actually said, as well as the methods used to say it.

From what I’ve seen so far, there was much general discussion about the exciting and challenging media times we live in. Jeremy Paxman made an interesting contribution about the kind of journalism that can be produced, and Adrian Monck also focussed on a practical angle, observing pertinently that “journalists are obsessed with the notion of crisis” and saying that we need to “seize the opportunity” to put new ideas and new ways of producing news into practice. And on one of the podcasts on Coventry Uni’s iTunes U site, jco’s own Judith Townend mentions the problems caused by management’s inability (or unwillingness?) to communicate properly in this era of change, therefore fuelling staff suspicion rather than ambition.

Navigation skills

But there was also more of the same stuff I’ve been reading and hearing for over a year. At the risk of over-simplifying in summary, this seems to consist of the massive generalisation that print is “dead”; some vague assertions about the need for journalists to be entrepreneurs (as if this is something new); and a few references to how social media means we are all media barons now. OK, I know I’ve really over-simplified that, but bear with me on this.

One of my teaching colleges spoke of a frustration that “so much of the debate is consumed in negativity without giving any of the new young journos any interim navigating skills”, and I think some of that is driven by the tendency of so many journalists to re-invent themselves as expert commentators – something I refer to in the comments following a very good post by Adrian Monck in which he debunks some of the commentary.

I’m aware that by writing about all this I’m opening myself up to the same charge of posing as an expert commentator, but what I hope I can do is help to move the debate on so that we are looking at the very practical ways we can deal with the new media landscape rather than simply pushing general theories. It’s not quite so easy to get a punchy headline or a simple set of soundbites, but it may prove more useful.

Bottom up

This stage of the debate can’t be driven by talking heads, by ‘experts’ who are often removed from the day-to-day issues faced by ordinary journalists. It has to come from the trade itself. So I’ll be looking for reports of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom‘s ‘Media for all, The Challenge of Convergence’ event, and pushing the value of the NUJ’s New Ways To Make Journalism Pay event on 16 January 2010. And I’ll also be continuing the discussion with the students I teach at the London College of Communication and Goldsmiths College, who seem to have little doubt that the quality of the content, not simply the method of delivery, is key.

It’s at this level, and at the level of the – let’s call it the shop floor – that the most interesting debate is going on, whether it be Reed Business Information’s more formal discussion sessions about how to work in new ways, or simply on-the-hoof decision-making about how best to find, present and extend a story using whatever tools we have at our disposal. It’s why I’ve always believed in the value of labour that is organised – not for some theoretical political reason but because of its practical value. Understanding and valuing a trade leads to the development and practical application of skill.

That’s not to say the participants at events like ‘Is there a crisis in world journalism?’ do not understand or value the trade. They clearly do, although I would agree with Adrian Monck when he observes that any crisis may well be one of confidence in what we can do.

Don’t forget variety

It’s also worth observing that 99% of the discussion about “journalism” is actually about news reporting. There are other forms of journalism, which may not be as socially and politically significant – although there’s room for debate there – but which are embracing new opportunities with far less gnashing of the teeth than the news end of the operation.

Too much of the debate in the last 12 months has been about talking journalism down, about predication rather than application. We talk about what might happen rather than what could happen. In the choppy waters we find ourselves in, we need more navigation and less forecast.

Do we still need proper journalists?

I examine this question in the latest edition of InPublishing magazine in a piece commissioned to prompt debate about journalism education and training in these tumultuous times. You can read the feature at the magazine’s Knowledge Bank, or listen to a podcast of the feature which is hosted there. I don’t claim to deliver the definitive analysis. Instead I ask a few questions, make some observations and post some opinion as part of the process of finding our way. I hope it’s a useful contribution.

Medium, message and magazines – University of Arts students blaze a trail

At a major business-publishing house I visited yesterday, someone asked the question “Does anyone really want the word ‘print’ in their job title any more?” This morning I came across some young journalists who would say ‘yes’.

The Arts London Monthly Magazine Club was set up by Kate Rintoul, who happens to be one of the students I teach at the London College of Communication. “The idea of the club is to get different perspectives on the same magazine… with the more visual people highlighting details about the shoots and layout; and the ‘wordy’ people like me drawing on features and uses of language,” she explains. “I am aware of the trials that print journalism faces – so recognise that encouraging people, especially students to keep picking up copies is a positive thing for the industry.”

It’s another example of something which really struck me during my first year teaching journalism, that students are less obsessed with the medium and more focussed on the message than many established journalists. This may be because they are not dealing with ‘change’, just looking at what can be achieved with what’s available.

The Magazine Club’s formation was sparked by a debate over a Vogue cover, and Vogue is a magazine I use to illustrate a point about medium in one of my sessions. People who buy Vogue want a lavish, glossy, physical entity that they can leaf through at leisure – and, let’s face it, leave around as a badge of style on a prominent surface. That experience can’t be replicated online. But what the print edition can’t do is show footage of the catwalk shows, which is where vogue.co.uk comes in.

Of course, vogue.co.uk offers far more than just Vogue TV, but it seems to me this illustrates the opportunities now on offer to really understand and communicate so much more effectively than ever before. Moving images show how the clothes move and carry, and give a flavour of the designer’s personality and statement by projecting the whole catwalk experience, while still photos allow the  consumer to drink in the look and style at leisure, alongside more considered analysis and background.

The Arts London Magazine Club is fashion-focussed, and draws on all the constituent colleges that make up the University of the Arts, London. It’s a great example of making space to think, to analyse and to question – something we don’t do enough of in the trade. And, of course, it’s focussed on print. If anyone wants to get invited along to tell these students why they’re wasting their time looking at print, get in touch with me and I’ll pass your details on to Kate. ;-)

Building college courses, gathering work, and a little bit of vanity

Just a quick progress report this, as I’m busy preparing two units for the London College of Communication’s Foundation Journalism course.

The first is a basic production convergence course for the first year, which I’ve reorganised to give clearer teaching blocks in the various disciplines and some more general grounding, especially in content management systems. I’ve also been asked to take on the running of the second year convergence workshops, which are very rewarding to do, and which also gives a very welcome opportunity to see the first years I taught last year again.

I’ll also be teaching again on the BA Sports third year, delivering a series of sessions in contextual studies alongside Denis Campbell, Jonathan Wilson and Pete May.

It’s a lot of preparatory work, and I’m also fitting in working up a proposal for a new book, and a marketing strategy for my new book The Pocket Book of Spurs. This Thursday I go to Sutton to speak to Martin Couzins and Karl Schneider about how Reed is handling changing technology for a feature I’m writing, and I’m waiting to hear back on a couple of feature pitches too. All that said, I’m still open to any offers.

You’ll have noticed a couple of tweaks to this blog. A new photo replaces the looming gargoyle that greeted you before, the banner colour is warmer, and I’ve removed the text as it seemed superfluous. And I’ve added an image of my website to the My Website page. Not exactly a major redesign, but I’m happier with it all now.

Journalism and a touch of class

Looming deadlines at Vision Sports Publishing haven’t left much time to keep this blog ticking over, but I wanted to surface briefly to comment on the debate about journalism and social class that has blown up after the publication of Unleashing Aspiration, the government-commissioned report into social mobility.

It has prompted detailed and interesting debate, with contributions from Charlie Beckett, Roy Greenslade and Dominic Ponsford all raising important points. I wanted to chip in with a few comments, as it’s a subject close to my heart. Inevitably, in any discussion about class, definition is important. Much of the comment seems to accept that the media is dominated by middle-class people, and while that’s almost certainly true it’s also true that being a journalist is one of the things which is taken to define a person as middle class.

It’s something I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with. My dad was a postman; my mum worked in a shop and I grew up in a council house. So far, so working class. I worked for a few years after I left school, then went to college, the first member of my family to do so. I studied Social Science, got a degree, and went into journalism. Apparently I became middle class as soon as I went to college, and cemented my ‘status’ by becoming a journalist. And yet I still had the same values I was brought up with.

I still think of myself as working class, while recognising that I’m probably seen as middle class by most people. At root, I tend to take an economic view of class anyway, while most discussions of class start from a definition based upon habit, activity, job status and the like. But I do recognise that ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ are also used as shorthand. I do it myself when I say I think of myself as working class, and when I express a distaste for some elements of what I see as ‘middle class culture’.

Without getting into vast generalisations, there is a tendency to insularity, smugness and a certain lack of warmth in some elements of middle class culture that I’ve never liked, while the openness, generosity, honesty  and warmth of some elements of traditional working class culture are things I’ve always valued. That’s not to demonise or glorify any set of people – you’ll find god and bad in every group of people, as my old nan rightly observed – but rather to challenge the idea that anyone who succeeds automatically becomes middle class.

I’ve long suspected that those who insist all journalists are middle class by definition are the people who insist that journalism is a profession, when in fact it’s a trade. And journalists such as Brian Reade, to take one example and a favourite of mine, come across as far more genuinely working class than some of the self-appointed ‘man of the people’ columnists to be found elsewhere tend to be.

If we accept that the very act of being a journalist makes a person middle class, then it is logically impossible to bring more working class people into the trade – because once they’re in, they become middle class. So I think that we need to recognise that there are in fact more working class people in the trade than is sometimes acknowledged.

We also need to recognise, and I know this is a point I keep making, that journalism isn’t just about news and newspapers. It certainly seems to be true that the upper echelons of our newspapers and broadcasting organisations tend to be dominated by people from similar backgrounds and colleges – it would be foolish to deny the influence of networks and the old school tie. But look further afield and you’ll find a greater diversity of backgrounds. Working mostly in the magazine sector for 20 years, I worked with and for mostly female bosses from working class backgrounds.

So the picture is not quite the one that has been painted, but what is true is that journalism is becoming more elitist. That’s partly, as some of the writers above have pointed out, because of the growth of journalism education and the belief that a degree is needed as a basic pre-requisite for success. I’ll return to this subject in more detail in another post, but it’s true that the chances of a raw talent from a working class background has less opportunity to learn the trade while doing the job than they used to. I wonder if some of my very good former bosses would get their chance in today’s media.

Finally, there is an obvious point to be made; a point which some of those commenting on various blogs have made but which hasn’t really been picked up. And that is that the government which commissioned the study into social mobility, and which now bemoans the fact that professions and trades are dominated by an elite of graduates from well-off backgrounds, is the government that introduced student loans – the very measure which prevents those from the poorest backgrounds from getting a degree. When I went to college I had to take a cut in income after working for two years, but I still had the benefit of a full grant. Without it, I could not have afforded to go to college, would not have got into journalism, and my life would now be very different.

There are a number of things which can and should be done to tackle the problems Unleashing Aspiration identifies. But there’s one very effective measure that can be taken straightaway if the government is serious about what it wants us to believe it is saying. Get rid of student loans.

Journalism ain’t broke

I rather liked this piece on Fleet Street Blues. It needed to be said, although I don’t agree with every dot and comma. FSB qualifies a couple of points very well in a follow-up post though. I’m not as cynical about college journalism courses or NUJ training courses as FSB is when he says, “Here’s a secret – and one that journalism academics, media commentators and the NUJ with courses to flog will do everything they can do to avoid telling you. If you want to get good at journalism, you have to practice it.” Time to declare an interest – I teach journalism and I value and contribute to the NUJ’s training programme. What I, and many others, always emphasise is precisely what FSB refers to – that journalism is about finding stuff out, about telling stories, and that all the buzz about medium should be looked at in the context of the message.

I think FSB makes a valuable contribution, and I don’t see it as another attempt to spark a battle between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. And I think more than a few of us are saying the same thing. I found this post on Freelance Unbound a good read, too.