So here we are again in the run up to another AMPA conference. Maybe, then, this is a good time to reflect on just what being a Practice Academic means to me (This isn’t some magazine style, soul baring piece it’s just that I don’t want to be seen to be speaking on behalf of AMPA or any of its members).
First, let’s come clean. For a long time I stood on that well-worn high ground where I thought research into (in my case) journalism was done by academics who had never been journalists and didn’t understand journalism. The rest of us – the practitioners -‘just got on and did it’ and taught a new generation of journalists to do the same.
That is, of course, an unreasonable view of fellow academics but more importantly it sells practitioners short. As my colleague Professor Diane Kemp outlined at last year’s conference much of what we do and teach has real intellectual depth and value. Our problem is that those of us who come from or work in production or journalism make some of these deep and important decisions and apply areas of theoretical thinking in the very short spaces of time permitted by deadlines. As a result the intellectual activity is lost in the blur of getting on with it.
So we need to be engaged in research but we need to think first about how we want that to happen. What we do not need is practitioners simply moving into traditional areas of research. Here, I think, I have to disagree fundamentally with the Association of Journalism Educators whose forthcoming conference includes a session on making the step from practitioner to researcher. There shouldn’t be a step.
As practitioners our research should be rooted in what we do. Yes, of course, we have to demonstrate the necessary academic rigour and intellectual engagement but our practice needs to be our research and our research should be equally a part of our practice.
There will be no ‘one size fits all’ model for what we do. There are already some excellent examples of this happening (I hesitate to say in practice). Our first conference heard from my BCU colleagues Vanessa Jackson and Sam Coley about their own PhD studies through practice. This time the excellent Professor Tim Crook will talk about the AVPhD and his role as a joint supervisor. For my part I’m embarking on the University of Lincoln’s PhD by Practice which will be based on my work as editor of two magazines and as the publisher and founder/part owner of one of them. They represent the required ‘substantial body of work’ on which I will reflect, adding to the thinking on areas such as the local versus global debate, imagined communities and journalism ethics. (Wish me luck).
There are many ways to ensure that what we do is recognised and valued. We just need to use the same levels of creative thinking that we bring to our journalism and production work to developing and encouraging them. That is what I think AMPA is about and why it is important.