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September 15 2011

09:44

Daily mail student media awards?

Yeah, wouldn’t happen. But should it?

The always interesting Wannabehacks posted yesterday stating that The industry isn’t doing enough to support student journalists. The post really should have been titled The Guardian isn’t doing enough to support student journalists as it takes a pop at the frankly risible prize the Guardian is offering for its Guardian student media award:

[T]he quality of prizes has diminished year on year: “Seven weeks of placement with expenses paid (offered 2003-2006) is a good way to spend the summer. Two weeks of self-funded work experience is an insult to supposedly the best student journalists in Britain.”

It’s a fair point. Just how good you have to be to actually be paid to work at the Guardian?

Maybe we are being unfair to the Guardian though. Why do they need to carry this stuff? I know plenty of students who don’t want to work for the Guardian. So why don’t more papers step up? If it’s about spotting talent then shouldn’t every media org have a media award?

Truth is there is a bit of black hole out there when it comes to awards. Aspiring journos could be forgiven for thinking that there is very little on offer between that letter writing competition the local paper runs for schoolkids and the Guardian awards. There are actually quite a few – the NUS student awards for example. But none with the direct association of the Guardian awards.

But maybe it’s not about the award. The wannabe hacks post (and the letter it references) suggests that there is more a problem of expectation here.

The Guardian is a very attractive proposition to many aspiring journos. In a lot of respects it plays on that strength; it presents itself as a like the paper where things are happening. But there is a danger that things like competitions exploit that aspiration and begin to suggest a slightly dysfunctional relationship - aspiring journos trying their best to please the indifferent and aloof object of their affection.

Show them the money.

This isn’t just a print problem. The truth is the industry has a bit of problem of putting its money where it’s mouth is when it comes to student journos.

As an academic I see more offers of valuable experience than paid opportunities in my inbox. They tend to coincide with large events where industry doesn’t have the manpower to match their plans for coverage. In that sense there is no secret here, the industry is living beyond its means and it’s increasingly relying on low and no paid input to keep newsrooms running. But student journo’s bear the brunt of that. Yes, they get experience, but not much else.

No return on investment

Of course the flip-side to that argument is that many of those who enter the competitions would happily benefit from the association but don’t put back in. I wonder how many people who enter the Guardian student media awards have regularly bought the paper rather than accessing the (free) website?  You could argue the same when talking about work experience. How many students actually buy the product they aspire to work on?

But the reality is that, regardless of how much is put in, if you court an audience, you have to live up to their expectations – unreasonable or otherwise.

This is happening at a time when those same newsrooms are reporting on the commercial realities of education and how students need to demand value from their investment. As someone trying to respond to those expectations, perhaps I can offer some advice.  Perhaps the industry need to reflect on their advice to prospective students the next time they reach out or connect with student journalists.  Just how much are you expecting them to invest in your newsroom and what’s the return?

 

August 24 2010

11:52

The value of a journalism degree

Recently I came across an interesting new blog called Wannabe Hacks. (@wannabehacks) It’s a group blog from three people all taking a different route in to journalism. It’s an interesting idea and one worth watching.

So it was a nice coincidence to see my name, along with Paul Bradshaw in one of their tweets.

@digidickinson @paulbradshaw Can anyone tell us the perceived perks of an undergrad journo course over doing non-journo degree? skills etcAugust 20, 2010 2:35 pm via webwannabehacks
Wannabe Hacks

An interesting question. Any answer I give is bound to be viewed as biased. After all teaching undergrads is what pays my mortgage. But I’m going to give it a go.

Any discussion about the ‘value’ or ‘perks’ of a degree in general will always stray in to the area of the inherent value of a university education.

I enjoyed David Mitchells take on this in the Observer. I liked this summing up in particular.

Except in the case of a few very vocational degrees, university isn’t about what you learn on the course, it’s about how that learning, how living and studying somewhere new, changes the way you think and who you are. Instead of forcing kids to make binding career choices at 17,higher education is supposed to give students who would benefit from further academic development a bit of space in which to find themselves. People who are allowed to do that, statisticians have noted, tend to earn more than those who aren’t.

There is so much I agree with there. But I found myself nodding at the line “students who would benefit from further academic development”.

University is not for everyone. Not because some people are not capable or intelligent enough. It should be just one of the environments that are available to encourage and develop people. Of course the shame of it is that for a good while a University has become one of the only environments to develop. No more apprenticeships or on the job training any more – especially in journalism. Worse still they seem to have been steadily belittled and undervalued in recent times.

That means good journalism degrees have found themselves in that ‘few’ that Mitchell talked about. They are vocational courses, training people to work in journalism because, increasingly journalism orgs won’t.

That is one of their greatest ‘perks’.

I won’t go as far as to say that journalism undergraduate courses are the ‘best of both worlds’. But a good course will give you all the skills you need and the time to experiment with them in an environment that is geared towards your experience. A chance to find yourself, yes. But also a chance to develop skills and find your voice.

But (and this is a big but) there is cost to a degree. It’s not just in the very real and important issue of money. It’s in the amount of time and effort you put in.

Given three years in which to establish yourself and prepare for work, you have to keep an eye on where you want to go. At some point university is going to finish, so what are you doing to give yourself some ‘exit velocity’

Perhaps you are starting a hyperlocal news site or blog about your experiences. Maybe you have joined journalism.co.uk’s young journalism group TNTJ. Perhaps you write for your local newspaper or do shifts at the local radio station. Maybe you even work on the student media at your uni. All of that takes time. Time you could be in the bar finding yourself. But that’s journalism.

So, given my biased position, I think the perk of a journalism degree is time. You have three years and if you are outward looking and engaged nothing you do will be wasted.

The other side
In saying all of that I don’t want to give the impression that I see Journalism degrees as the only way to become a journalist. The idea of taking a first degree in a subject like economics or law and then doing a postgraduate in journalism is one I think has a huge amount of merit. As does going through the front door and getting a job with a media organisation or even starting your own blog/publication/podcast and building an audience. Plenty of people would advocate the university of life route over a journalism degree
. But then the it always suprises me what skip-loads of extraneous horse-droppings get talked about the whole issue these days :)

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