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.

1 thought on “Here’s what they were talking about….

  1. My thoughts precisely. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) I have been too bogged down in the admin outlined to write such an article so thanks for this, Richard/ Diane.

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