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.