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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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April 14 2010

10:14

Is there a professional camera in the House?

Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50m...

Image via Wikipedia

News reached me (via the excellent Newspaper video group) that the season end for House was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II. According to the petapixel blog Greg Yaitanes, the director of the show answered questions on twitter about the show. Most surprising for me was the suggestion that he didn’t use any special lenses or rigging.

When I posted a link to twitter, video whirlwind David Dynkley Gyimah commented:

Arun Marsh commented:

My reply.

It’s not the only show that has used the video side of DLSR’s as part of their shooting kit. Sci-fi series Caprica sneaked in a few shots taken using a DLSR.  Notes on video waded through a number of the shows podcasts to confirm the process and highlighted a nice exchange between the shows exec-producer David Eick and director Jonas Pate:

Pate: This opening sequence was not shot in [the] three camera style, it was actually shot with a [SLR]. And we put a funky little lens on the front of it called a Lensbaby and we shot the whole thing incredibly quickly in probably…I dunno, 30 minutes. Increasingly the digital technologies are allowing camera guys to work quicker.

Eick: Well yeah, what it does is it strips any of the mystique of the so-called art of film making, which is to say that anyone listening to this could probably make their own episode of Caprica if you study these podcasts long enough. The technology really has simplified and shrunk.

I heard a little of Dave’s response in that “…strips any of the mystique of the so-called art of film making”. And it’s a familiar refrain.

The idea that low-pro/pro-sumer equipment can push out pro-quality content is an argument we are more than used to in the world of videojournalism. Give anyone a camera and they are a film maker right?

Maybe not. It still takes a story and people passionate about telling that story to make great video whether it’s House or Video journalism. Kit like the Canon makes it easier for the ‘pros’ to do their job for less and (if you delve in to the caprica podcasts) what they feel is a more liberating and creative way.

In terms of video journalism, the canon may not be the piece of kit that opens the floodgates to the amateurs. But it does show that the walls are coming down.

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March 17 2010

16:19
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