A debate over journalism education/training in Denmark echoes an opinion article in yesterday’s Observer by Mary Warnock who argues for elite academic institutions, saying: “The silliest thing Tony Blair ever said was that 50 per cent of the population should go to university.”
Supporting the rejected Tomlinson proposals for education reform, she writes:
Those who chose the wholly practical course would leave school already virtually apprentices, used to skilled work and capable of increasing their skills; those who chose the theoretical alternative would have passed academic examinations that properly prepared them for university. Different universities could make their own decisions about academic or ‘mixed’ applicants, depending on their teaching and research strengths. (It might even have turned out that some institutions of higher education would proudly go back to calling themselves polytechnics.)
Denmark’s school of journalism management is currently at odds over whether the school should become a part of Aarhus University or remain an independent institution, Norwegian journalist Kristine Lowe writes in her blog.
The head of the school believes that as research has increasingly become the domain of universities the school needs to work more closely with the Aarhus. The chairman, on the other hand, believes independence is important to maintaining industry links and strengthen journalistic development.
Lowe has experience of journalism courses in British institutions. In an earlier blog post she wrote of her experience of a media and communications course at Sussex University (abandoned after five weeks) because it turned out to have “very little to do with the reality of the media as I knew it”. She later completed an MA in International Journalism at London’s City University, although she does not mention this in the post. It is always instructive to listen to what former students have to say.
Her conclusion is: “Journalism is a craft, not an academic discipline and thereâ€™s a limit to how many souls can find gainful employment theorising about page three girls.”
The City courses are practical as are those of many of the better journalism departments in UK universities. British employers recruiting post-graduate journalism students tend to a preference for those who have completed a diploma rather than an MA. Most students are also keener on achieving a diploma.
In other words employers want young journalists who have a solid practical training. At Westminster University, where I now teach, practical journalism training has been successfully combined with research. The Communication and Media Research Institute is top rated and contributes in many ways to the quality of practical teaching for young journalists.
Media studies and journalism can be combined successfully, as they are at Westminster, but it is a difficult trick to pull off. In places where things go wrong students are short-changed as Kristine Lowe says happens at some British institutions and at the University of Stockholm. She quotes a representative of the Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association as saying practical vocational training has gradually been replaced by academic research and studying mass media from a cultural perspective.
The trouble and confusion arises when there is no clear distinction between media studies and practical journalism. But journalism is probably not a subject for universities which measure their success in Nobel Prizes, the yardstick of world excellence Lady Warnock uses.