Here’s what they were talking about….

At Birmingham CityUniversity last week Bob Calver interviewed Richard Horsman about his ‘Sheep and Goats’ article. Here’s the blog post they were talking about (from

I’ve been looking at the job ads lately.

Not, as I know my boss reads this, that I’m planning on going anywhere.

The next move I make, of my own volition or otherwise, is likely to be into retirement. But it’s human nature to be curious, so when a job comes up teaching Journalism at the University of Bountiful Opportunity (formerly Grimeville Polytechnic) it’s very tempting to open the job spec and wonder “what if ..? ”

Except recently I’ve spotted a worrying trend. Candidates can’t even apply to teach Journalism without a PhD. It’s happening across the board, not just at sniffy Russell Group institutions.

And that’s wrong.

Call me Mr Picky .. but if I require brain surgery I want my lobes messed with by someone who has considerable experience of rewiring synapses, not someone who’s read a book about it. Or even someone who’s read several books, including some from abroad, and then quotes the best bits at me. Experienced consultants mentor junior surgeons to pass the skills on. They do it that way for a reason.

The push to up the academic quotient in faculties comes, in part, from academics themselves. We all tend to get on with people like us, folk who share our world view. Journalists, especially those with the popular touch, don’t always feel entirely at home in the senior common room. There’s also a principled desire, by some, to make journalism a ‘learned profession’ akin to the law. But fundamentally and inevitably the process is driven by money.

Bluntly, the more ‘research’ is generated by a university the more cash comes in. Those who’ve been doctored know how to swing that system and also understand the term ‘publishing’ to mean something very different to a thundering press hall at first edition time.

Newsroom experience is generally deemed a desirable attribute in a Journalism lecturer. But a floppy hat and a shelf’s worth of seldom-read essays in the library is increasingly an essential, and that’s barmy.

Academic publishing is a sprawling and lucrative cottage industry producing millions upon millions of words for the smallest audiences it’s possible to imagine. It rewards verbosity, complexity and obfuscation. It is the antithesis of good journalism.

I was the first in my family to get a degree. In 1980 getting honours required an extra year of study, so I opted out with a plain BA because I was anxious to get a foot in the door of radio.

Whilst an undergraduate, after slaving for hours to convert the 70s socio-psycho babble of pioneer media gurus into something approaching plain English, I was told sternly in red ink “There is no need to reduce every concept to the banality of a radio script”. That sums up the gulf between us.

With the present state of flux in the news industry there’s always a queue of professional journos hoping to move into teaching. They’ve probably been invited along to give a talk to students on what they do at some point, enjoyed the experience, and fancy the idea of developing that into a new career.

If only they knew.

What visiting speakers don’t foresee are the hours of admin – reviews, marking criteria, module handbooks, mapping of learning outcomes – and the labyrinthine marking procedures, checks and balances required to cover backsides in a world when students paying nine grand a year to study can turn litigious. Now on top of all that comes a demand for a doctorate before their skills can even be considered.

By requiring PhDs the universities are deliberately excluding some of the finest potential applicants.

I know amazing tutors (mostly now retired) who got in under earlier regimes with no academic qualifications at all beyond secondary school because they were great journalists with a glowing professional CV who communicated their craft well.

Often, however, these inspirational teachers would shun graduation ceremonies because they were too embarrassed to process in academic dress. They would have to wear a plain black gown with no hood. Too much like being naked in church amid the peacock-hued faithful.

Now these brilliant, inspirational and above all experienced mentors would not be considered worthy of a job interview. The profession of journalism, the quest for diversity in newsrooms, and the experience of students is severely diminished as a result.

Loads of ideas….

Great to have had the meeting on Monday. 

Since then, in between everything else (the day job), we’ve been chatting about ideas and how to move things on for AMPA.

A colleague at BCU just came in and said how good it felt to have that time on Monday and to feel one could talk about these issues with like-minded people.

Quite so.

Let’s press on!

New Association for Media Practice Academics.

At an inaugural conference held in Birmingham on 7th July, a group of 12 academics agreed the following:


1 To set up an association for our community; suggestion for a name was the ‘Association of Media Practice Academics’.


2 We set up a site which celebrates the work of media practice academics. It will value industry experience and share colleagues’ ongoing media work. It will also serve as a means of articulating what happens within HE academic practice and further confirm its credibility.


3 We will investigate setting up a new online peer-reviewed (by us) journal hosting analysis, scholarship in different forms, reviews and resources that can include multimedia of good practice in research, teaching and student outcomes.


4 We will use this site and the Association to lobby for better practice/research equivalence within HE.


5 We also lobby for definitions of Professorships which recognise practice work.


6 We will support colleagues in taking up practice based PhDs, where they choose to follow that path, and perhaps also devise a new kind of ‘media practitioner’ PhD.


7 We will publicise ‘good practice’ in terms of practitioners entering academia and their career progression in HE.



Proud practitioners’ big day out

Welcome to the Association of Media Practice Academics – or whatever we end up being called. The final name aside, the fact remains that a group of very interesting people who teach (and research) journalism and media practice for a living got together yesterday (July 7th) and decided to create a new body to represent their interests and promote their work……and that’s a big step. 

Now the big day is over I can admit that I had some fear that we would be a group of disgruntled (or in, my case, grumpy old) media types complaining that we knew best about all sorts of things and that those ‘academic’ sorts were all just a bit up themselves. 

For those who weren’t there let me assure you that it was nothing like that. This was a small but representative group of people proud to be teaching practice based courses and modules, proud to be able to point to real success stories in terms of our students being highly employable, and proud to say we love the areas of ‘media’ we teach and practice. 

Yes, there was the odd moan about some of our institutions and perceived unfairness but I defy you to get any group of academics together and avoid that. 

At the risk of a Biblical stumble, I’ll venture a little more pride. I was proud that we didn’t point the finger at those responsible for the way we feel about our position within the academy but looked at what we can do to help celebrate all that’s good about practice teaching and to support those who are already involved in or looking at new approaches to research which embrace practice rather than simply tolerating it. 

The many colleagues around the country who have expressed support for and interest in AMAP (or whatever we’re called) will shortly be receiving details of the suggested ways forward and aims for the organisation which concluded our discussions at BCU. In the meantime I just wanted pause and reflect on what was achieved at the first Media Practice Academics Conference and how historic an event it may prove to be.



Inaugural meeting for Association of Media Practice Academics 7/7/14

Pictured L-R Diane Kemp,Bob Calver, Tim Crook, John Mateer,Sam Coley, Vanessa Jackson, Kate Ironside, Neil Hollins, Gary Stevens, Dave Devenport, Richard Horsman, Simon Pipe.

Thoughts on MediaPAC – Bob Calver

It would be good to be able to say that in the run up to our first MPAC event I have been totally focussed on the matters we will discuss and that my thinking has been dominated by questions about the relationship between theoreticians and practitioners within what some (they) like to call ‘the academy’. It would be good to say that – but it would not be true.

It isn’t that I’ve been idling away my time, it’s just that like academic colleagues around the country I’ve been busy with teaching (yes, we do work in the summer), marking, recruiting for the new academic year and more. Some of the ‘more’ in the last week has been acting as a media commentator on the outcome of the phone hacking trial – and that’s set me thinking. Obviously some of that has been about regulation and ethics but some of the thoughts have been more directly related to the subject of our conference.

When the world outside the university walls wants a comment on some aspect of journalism or the media its first call usually is to someone with a practice background. It clears the way for the ‘When you were in a newsroom….’ type question. In my case, too, it helps that I am still actively involved in journalism.

Similarly it is the skills of practitioners which are called on when communities and businesses look to a university for help and expertise. For example, I was involved for some time in a project that worked with local creative businesses to support them in many ways, including offering them help with using the news media, being interviewed and so on. They didn’t want to know the theories involved with that – they wanted some hands on experience.

The current news stories around young British Muslim men travelling to Syria to fight and the various commentators who have spoken of the need for a stronger voice within the Islamic community to counter ‘radicalisation’, also remind me that as a journalist within a university I was involved in the Prevent programme.

Specifically I and colleagues, including Professor Diane Kemp who’s leading our conference, worked with various groups from Birmingham’s Muslim communities to help them understand how the news media work, how they could spot stories within their own organisations and what they needed to do to get those stories to a wider audience.
So what I am saying, put simply, is that practice based journalism and media teachers are often a conduit connecting ‘the academy’ and the community. At a time when institutions like mine want to see themselves as ‘the university without walls’ we are a useful wrecking ball in the business of demolishing those barriers.
Whether that work is given the recognition it merits is, of course, the kind of thing we will be debating at MPAC. Who knows, we may even get to smash the ceiling as well as bringing down the walls.

Schedule for #MediaPAC

The Media Practice Academic Conference (#MediaPAC) is a an annual one day conference at Birmingham City University for media practice academics in British Higher Education.

Monday July 7th 10.30-4.30, The Parkside Building, Birmingham.

  • 10 – 10.30 a.m. Registration and reception, P424.
  • 10.30.  Opening Address by Professor Diane Kemp
    Aims and purpose of holding and developing a space for media practice professional academics to share best research, teaching and industry/HE practice.
  • 11 Visiting Professor Tim Crook.
    The Practice/Theory Divide? Have we made any progress since University of London’s Diploma for Journalism course 1919-1939?
    Tim introduces the research done by his late mentor Fred Hunter in ‘Hacks and Dons’ and argues that the divide has not been resolved and may have been at the expense of practice.
  • 11.45 a.m. Questions.
  • 12  Bob Calver chairs discussion with Richard Horsman (Leeds Trinity). ‘Sheep and Goats.’
    The discriminating impact of the PhD qualification in HE practice media teaching. The bias against practitioners in the UK and further afield.
  • 12.15 Questions and discussion.
  • 12.45 Lunch.
  • 1.30 Professor Diane Kemp – Floors and Ceilings – the language and ways in which we express our academic practice (are we colluding in being seen as ‘button pressers’?)
  • 1.45 Questions and discussion.
  • 2. Creative discussion: themes for innovation, development and progress.
  • (2-2.30) Is the Practice PhD the way ahead? Presentations of Staff PhDs at BCU: Sam Coley and Vanessa Jackson followed by questions and discussion.
  • (2.30 – 3) Do we need a new platform for ‘publication’ of practice praxis output? A new Journal publishing output of the annual conference and further conferences? Seizing the agenda in research output publication- peer-reviewing and publishing the books that HE education fails to approve, encourage and enable for publication.
  • (3 – 3.30) The new BCU radio archive. How to develop an independent and research/teaching enabling archive strategy regionally, connecting universities. Joint grant funding? Curating professional media output – a method of consolidating links and achieving a new synergy?
  • (3.30 – 4). Achieving advances in promotion and status. Ideas and strategies – need for actual research through qualitative surveys, boosting morale, networking referees, positive and constructive liaison with HR. Setting minimum national standards for induction and staff entry and development/mentoring for professional media academics.
  • 4 – 4.30. Closing address and summary.
  • 4.30 to 5.30 p.m. meeting of a national steering group to discuss taking ideas, recommendations forward.