Rod Liddle, former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, likes to be provocative and he lived up to his reputation in The Times yesterday, writing:
…what on earth is there to learn about journalism at postgraduate level? The point and purpose of our lowly, occasionally useful, trade could be scribbled on the back of a postage stamp and would easily be comprehended by a 14-year-old hoodie with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and a carrier bag full of glue.
He was writing about TV newsreaders under the headline: “Stupidity has its place”. Angela Rippon had said she had never heard of a newsreader writing their own stuff but Sophie Raworth had claimed they do the writing and added that she had a postgraduate degree in journalism.
Liddle’s argument is that newsreading isn’t even journalism. He has a point. Some TV companies used to prefer to employ actors rather than journalists to read the news.
But that comment quoted above is more general than the main thrust of his article. And, to be honest, it is a good question.
In the past almost all journalists learned on-the-job. It was a system which produced many fine journalists. So, why do we need undergraduate and post grad diplomas and degrees?
For a start much of the media has given up on basic training for young reporters. They would rather their recruits had paid for their own training.
The less cynical view is that we can provide better training in universities than can be had in any media business. Our students learn the basics of law and government, the role of regulators and codes of conduct. And they learn, in a very short time, not only research and writing skills but those of editing too. They come out with technical skills as well, able to edit a radio package or put together newspaper and magazine pages, sub the copy and write headlines.
We find editorial managers in broadcasting are so impressed by students on work placements that they sometimes put them on air. The education and training that student journalists get is good and the employers appreciate that. They get people who are flexible and able from day one.
It also gives the students a chance to examine the dreams of being a foreign correspondent or a star interviewer and experience a wide range tasks. Quite a lot discover that their real preference is for production and editing rather than writing.
They have a much greater awareness of their own abilities when they apply for jobs: fewer square pegs in round holes.
And in these days of rapid change in journalism, they have a much greater understanding of convergence than many of the older hands who learned on the job.
But, I just wonder why I am taking seriously the comment from Rod Liddle, the man who said cigarettes are not as bad for you as doctors and nurses, and that Geordies were monkeys and morons.