Paul Bradshaw on journalism education (and how slow some people are to wake up to change)

My colleague and City University Visiting Professor Paul Bradshaw has been reflecting in a 3-part blogpost on the changes in journalism education being driven by the disruption of the previous era’s pattern of communications.

Bare summaries of other peoples writings shouldn’t be so necessary in the digital world since I can link and you can click direct to the originals. But in case you’re short of time, I’d boil Paul’s case down like this:

I agree with Paul about the first, query part of the the second and think the third point overdone:

  • At least some journalism schools have been slow to see trends such as data journalism and to acknowledge that there are new skills and new jobs which are needed in newsrooms and here to stay. The tricky bit is determining which “old” (aka timeless) skills need to be retained in radically changed environment.
  • No quarrel from me that the profusion of information changes the context of journalism or that digital platforms enrich exchange with students. But shifting the role of teacher towards “aggregating and curating, challenging and verifying and providing platforms for connecting and investigation” could mean abandoning the role of teacher altogether – which is surely not what students are after. But if Paul is only arguing that in an information-rich environment no teacher can be omniscient, then he’s right.
  • Again, no question that you can see the best students with the sharpest online skills going into newsrooms and teaching their elders, something which would not have happened 30 years ago. But there are skills still valued – and taught – in newsrooms whose importance hasn’t changed. An Extremely Senior BBC person was recently at City telling students that it was fine and welcome if they are digital natives but that the tests they would be passing to get jobs in BBC News still are: can you spot a story? Can you check it out? Can you tell it well?

I’m grateful to Paul for such a thought-provoking reflection, not least because anyone running a j-school can use it as a checklist. (I think we pass the test at City University London, but see for yourself). If there is a note of frustration in Paul’s posts I sense that it’s as much a complaint about how slow the news business has been to change as schools have been. And underlying this argument, as Paul mentions in the first post, is a dilemma which can only be managed and not solved. Online disrupts everything to some degree but affects different parts of journalism at different speeds and in different ways.

Have a look at the preoccupations of the group of young journalists behind wannabehacks.co.uk and you’ll see an agenda which is saturated with digital but also includes issues as old as printing. On journalism courses should online be treated as a separate subject (which creates a risk of “ghettoisation”) or should everything be changed (which risks losing valuable stuff being lost in the disruption)? In our courses we mix both approaches and I suspect others do too. But we need to constantly revisit the way the mixture is put together.

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3 comments

  1. I’m glad you get the spirit of managing the dilemma rather than solving it. I get frustrated with people who expect the news industry to reinvent itself completely as if that will somehow solve their problems, not understanding that a) it still relies considerably upon analogue advertisers and readers; and b) you can’t just sack the whole workforce because you’ve had a ‘better idea’.

    Education is no different: most students are analogue in aspiration if not in their own behaviour; and most staff experience and knowledge still has enormous value, however it was acquired.

    The post that’s just gone up talks about those core skills you identify (I should have been clearer about it being a two-way exchange rather than students teaching the news industry), but I’m not sure how much exchange there is within most news organisations between senior and junior staff around what really defines journalism: developing that nose for a story, the curiosity, confidence and scepticism to challenge. I’m thinking particularly of smaller organisations where decades of experience have been thrown away through redundancies, and senior staff not having the time they used to spend with junior reporters. Perhaps they’ll end up teaching on journalism courses…

  2. What I find interest is the focus (or perhaps impetus is a better word) from/on print journalism both in Paul’s blogs and George’s reaction. If you look at the moving picture business (or TV journalism as it once was) you’ll see an almost seamless change where the sheer lust for moving pictures means everyone has been joyously part of change. Why did digital switchover in the UK go relatively easily? Because people love TV so much they go to Asda and buy the box. They’re motivated. In education too, changes in TV production technology have been assimilated by students and staff via editing and dissemination because we are all so driven by pictures ( interestingly we’ve had a lot of students going hysterical this year because they’ve all been self critiquing their peer group work on Youtube.) I believe we’re in a New Renaissance and pictures are key to every aspect of our lives in a new way. Whatever you do, however you analyse it, whatever attempts you make to revive it, written communication as we once knew it will never be the same again. Ask why mags are still growing where newspapers are not? It’s the pictures. We all have to learn a new grammar of words and pictures, linked. That isn’t easy but it’s where we should be going in journalism education. Online is amazing and data is key but communication – the essence of journalism – is now about the visual. That’s why I want to end this comment with a smiley face. Even texting has pictures!