Just over a week ago Kelvin MacKenzie derided modern entry routes into journalism. I’m fairly certain I’m the last to blog about this; there’s plenty of other informed opinions already out there if you want further reading, some which I’ve collected and curated with Scoop.it.
Kelvin is angry because of the saturation of journalism courses in the UK. In a sense he’s right; there are only a handful that are fulfilling while others seem to be purely money-making exercises. Where he goes wrong is when he advises young people to “try and achieve three different A Levels, go to a local, then a regional and then head out on to nationals or magazines by 21-22″. The problem with this piece of supposed wisdom is that it doesn’t exist any more. Not only is Kelvin describing a ludicrously accelerated career path (can you think of any other industry that purports a step from the bottom to the top rung of the ladder within 4 years?) but also a model of journalism that ceases to exist.
Looking through local newspaper job listings, what do many of them stipulate? Some form of journalism qualification – be that undergraduate or postgraduate. Kelvin also enthuses about the joys of training people up on the job in regional journalism – another thing that is fairly scarce. Journalism courses have taken the place of many of these trainee schemes, ensuring that graduates arrive more or less fully formed journalists by the time they begin knocking on a publication’s door. Hence the need for good journalism education.
It’s not so much the chip on his shoulder faux working class chumminess that irritates me about Kelvin (particularly as he was educated at Alleyn’s) but more the lack of ability to accept a meritocracy of ideas. In that sense he can be said to be emblematic of the journalism industry’s thinking up until now. That is; patronising, unwilling to engage and with a ludicrous sense of self-importance.
“That’s how it was in my day”-style anecdotes rarely stand up to much scrutiny, particularly within journalism. In some aspects the industry is a diverse one; people who arrived through undergraduate courses, postgraduate courses or after long stints in other professions before turning their hand to writing. This should be an industry where anyone can write and anyone can teach. It’s one where the opinions of Kelvin MacKenzie should be seen as what they are; inflammatory and misguided opinons written by people long out of touch with the mechanics of modern journalism and have instead resorted to playing to the gallery.
Why are journalism courses valuable? Because they allow students to form ideas within the safety of academia. They lead to things like SR2 Blog, Blog Preston and Wannabe Hacks. They give students a better understanding of the mechanics of journalism – the theories that underpin it and what can be learned from them. Despite their practical nature they get young people thinking about journalism in ways that would be impossible if they were whisked onto training schemes to deal with the day to day.
There’s a good reason why people like Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen ruminate on such fascinating possibilities within journalism – they’re detached from the practice of it. The reason they can research and theorise about the future of journalism is so well is because they’re not weighed down by meeting deadlines every day. Journalism courses rest on the same crux, and if they produce a new generation of innovators and thinkers in this transitionary period for the industry then I think it’ll be all the better for it.