After reading a story about an Anglia News presenter who cocked it up a bit (it wasn’t really her fault) on the Press Gazette site, I decided to have a read of their blog which, it turns out, is now on martinstabe.com.
His latest post is criticising folk like me, young journalists that come out of university or other journalism colleges, with an apparently blinkered view on what the industry is all about.
Usually I leap to the defence of journalism students, for obvious reasons, but he (and all the people he links too in his posts) has got it spot on.
The point, in a nutshell, is that we’re leaving university with an outdated, unrealistic and somewhat romantic notion about the careers we’re heading into.
With this post he discusses, with the help of some student blogs from Cardiff, that perhaps the most conservative of all journalists are also the youngest. A confusing role-reversal – aren’t students meant to be forward thinking and enthusiastic about new things? Seems not, and the stereotype of the old ’stuck in his ways’ journalist seems to lie with the students – not the old fellas in the newsrooms tapping away at their typewriters.
In this blogs short life, I have written about my fascination with citizen journalism. I love it, and it angers me to see it dismissed by many people in the media. But when confronted with all the problems that are underlined in this fantastic post by US journalist Mindy McAdams, I realise that yes, I am coming out of university already stuck in my ways and more wiling to adopt the old-fashioned ways of working than I really should be.
Attitudes to old journalism are to be found even in the most technologically ‘hip’ places. Take The Guardian, for example. It’s my daily read. I love the fact that its website has taken up blogging with greater enthusiasm than any other British paper. But, a fee for blogs is roughly half that of a piece in the paper. Words are words. They take just as long to write, and are just as valuable, whether they are destined for paper or web. A lesser fee suggests lesser importance.
Even my own newspaper, which I founded at university, has a website that is in every way secondary to the main paper. Presently, it sits untouched, unloved and unvisited. For various reasons. Any work that was deemed not good enough for the newspaper was sent to the website as if it were some sort of consolation prize. Again, just as it was with the money side of things, words are words. If they are not good enough for the newspaper, they are not good enough full stop.
So now for my two pence.
At my University, I was asked to make unit choices at the start of my second year. My options were two of the following: Print, TV, Radio, Online/Photography. I chose Print and Online/Photography, based on a love of newspapers and an overriding fear of not being very good at speaking on camera or radio. In a questionnaire about my choices, I had to give a reason for not picking units, and I sheepishly admitted that I’d already made my mind up about my choices before even starting university – let alone year two.
What my course fails to do is emphasise that these units aren’t mutually exclusive disciplines. Print is considered to just be writing and designing – fine, but we’re using examples from papers that haven’t changed in the past ten years.
Indeed, when I asked if I could submit my tabloid design page in the style of thelondonpaper, I was advised not to. Perhaps to make their marking easier – I’d be using different fonts than the other students – but I felt it creatively restricting.
The very fact that Online and Photography are grouped as one unit (a term – 12 weeks – each) shows just how little my university thinks of their importance.
That’s scary, but I don’t blame them.
You have to ask yourself, considering the fast-paced era of change journalism is currently facing, how my lecturers are supposed to cope? They are hired on the grounds of their experience and expertise.
It wouldn’t be unfair of me to say that none of the journalism staff are experts in the web revolution. With the exception of one who teaches the online unit, but he is more of a HTML expert than a Web 2.0 one.
Which brings me to the problems with how we’re taught about online journalism. The unit focuses on building a website. Why? As an online journalist, my job would be to gather content, in its various forms, and then put it in a format suitable for the web. I won’t be making HTML pages on Dreamweaver. Not a chance.
Knowing HTML in principle is useful – but being taught to use Dreamweaver is an utterly useless skill. We’ll only end up being re-trained in a year or two. Teach us the qualities that make a good online journalist – not how to use a piece of software that will be replaced next year.
But then, if none of the staff at Lincoln are, or ever have been, skilled online journalists – I can expect nothing more.
With all this considered, it’s no wonder that students like me come out of university with the sole intention in choosing a set career in one arm of journalism.
It is worth mentioning though that Richard Keeble at Lincoln does a very good job at expanding our perceptions on journalism with the series of guest lectures at the uni (lectures are announced on that website, and open to the public).
So far we’ve had people from almost all fields of journalism, including citizen journalism. In many ways, I consider this more valuable than much of the course itself.
Updated: Apologies to Martin Stabe who I referred to originally as Michael Stabe.