Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category



book coverThe War Correspondent-1


bloody sunday cover

On Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, British paratroopers killed thirteen innocent men in Derry. It was one of the most controversial events in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and also one of the most mediated. The horror was recorded in newspapers and photographs, on TV news and current affairs, and in film and TV drama. In a cross media analysis that spans a period of almost forty years up to the publication of the Saville Report in 2010, The British Media and Bloody Sunday identifies two countervailing impulses in media coverage of Bloody Sunday and its legacy: an urge in the press to rescue the image and reputation of the British Army versus a troubled conscience in TV current affairs and drama about what was done in Britain’s name. In so doing, it suggests a much more complex set of representations than a straight- forward propaganda analysis might allow for, one that says less about the conflict in Ireland than it does about Britain, with its loss of empire and its crisis of national identity.

Interested readers can find out more at Amazon Author Central.


Academics, students and anyone who  cares about what is happening to Higher Education these days will be interested in this very interesting article at New Left Project by student activist, Feyzi Ismail.  [Click here].

There’s a big academic conference coming up in September at Cardiff School of Journalism on the Future of Journalism. The call for papers has long passed and the draft programme (available here) was published before the NotW phone hacking scandal and the closure of the paper on Thursday afternoon (7 July). However, I have no doubt that at least some of the papers on the draft schedule will need to undergo revision in light of these recent developments.

But more importantly, the conference looks like an excellent opportunity for the Journalism Studies community in the UK to rethink not just the whole debate around the role and nature of journalism in culture, society and economy but to also reconsider the relatively recent paradigm shift in journalism education in UK universities: from an academic orientation (as a sub-discipline of classic, critical media studies) to a vocational focus and the proliferation of accredited courses that that has brought with it.

Journalism studies: the critical paradigm vindicated?

Over the past 20 years or more, Journalism Studies research and teaching has been dominated by two clashing paradigms: the critical, pessimistic perspective that sees journalism, as a form and a profession, to be in crisis – politically, economically and culturally; and the pluralist, optimistic perspective that celebrates the death of deference in journalism in the face of power and status and plays down the corrosive influence of market forces on journalistic independence. After years of being on the back foot in this debate, has the critical paradigm been vindicated by the hacking scandal and related revelations of corruption in the journalist-source relationship? By the economic crisis that has befallen the journalism “industries”? By the challenge of new media and the so-called “citizen journalism” that they make possible? And, conversely, does the pluralist paradigm carry credible weight any longer? Is it time for serious revision? I think it is and hopefully the Future of Journalism conference will provide some space to begin debate and discussion on these important questions for the discipline.

Journalism education and the shift to vocationalism

The conference must also address the parallel shift in journalism education at university level, that from an intellectually based relationship between theory and practice to the increasing emphasis on vocational training and industry accreditation.

At present, I am an academic under pressure to put my very successful, undergraduate degree forward for accreditation by the journalism “industries” and, and here’s the really difficult bit, SkillSet “approval”. Why? Because that’s how it’s going in the FE sector and so therefore, the mad logic of the market goes, we need to come down to their level just to compete.

Now, the NCTJ and SkillSet are not concerned with prescribing academic content on the courses they approve, just so long as these courses meet certain practical/professional benchmarks. This is somewhat disingenuous because in order to do that it’s necessary for a course director to redress the balance of content in favour of practical/professional learning outcomes. Not enough practice modules on your course? Then out goes one of your academic modules. Journalism History maybe? Or Sociology of Journalism? The Journalism Dissertation even? And in goes shorthand, online journalism or investigative journalism in its place.

My course is a Major option that enables students to combine with minor options in subjects like History, English, Photography, International Development and Marketing. Employers like graduates with a wee bit extra, you see, but even from my own point of view as a teacher, it’s good to see journalism essays and dissertations that are informed by a wider knowledge base. But industry accreditation and vocationalism, and the bogus rhetoric of “employability” that underwrites this shift in journalism education, militate against the development of just such well rounded, intelligent graduates who might actually have an edge over journalism trainees in a very adverse job market.

The shift to vocationalism and the rhetoric of employability have also had a negative impact on the balance of staff on journalism courses, with increasing numbers of former journalists employed to deliver increasing amounts of practice content. I don’t have any hard evidence to hand to back this up at the moment but I would guess that the majority of such staff, good and valuable colleagues as they are, do not carry out research in or teach critical journalism studies. So what long-term impact will all this have on the discipline in terms of teaching and research? I really don’t know but I’m not terribly optimistic it will be a good one, not even after running my eyes over the very broad range of interesting and relevant research papers on offer at the Future of Journalism conference.

While I think it’s encouraging to see such scholarship alive and well now in 2011,  I guess what I’m leading up to here is a call for a thorough debate about not just the future of journalism in the UK but also the long term future of Journalism Studies and journalism education in our universities. Any colleagues out there agree?

The University and College Union (UCU) predicts that a mooted 25% cut in the higher education sector would see up to 22, 500 job losses, half of those academic posts. Obviously, this gives me no comfort and already my line manager is issuing subtle little warnings that we must be more flexible and make ourselves as indispensible as possible if we are to survive. It hasn’t come to “Count yourself lucky to have a job!” yet but it will do eventually, I fear. And if one day next year or the year after that, I receive a redundancy letter, I will have to face the terrible reality that apart from being an academic, I am pretty much unemployable. Of course that would be no excuse to loaf around reading all day and sponge off the state. I would have to work at something and the nice woman at the Job Centre would help me. 

Nice Job Centre Woman: So what skills do you bring to the task of seeking a job, sir?

Me: Oh…teaching?

NJCW: Oh excellent! There are lots of posts for teaching subs in local schools. What teaching qualification do you have?

Me: Um…none. Just 19 years experience teaching in University.

NJCW: You didn’t get training?

Me: Nope.

NJCW: Oh well. That’s that out then. But no worries! What other skills do you have?

Me: I write.

NJCW: Like academic books? Hmm. That won’t get you a job I’m afraid. It says here, though, that you teach journalism. Maybe you could start looking at freelancing for the local papers?

Me: [Shifting uneasily in my seat] I teach media and journalism studies as academic subjects. I don’t actually have any journalism skills I’m afraid.

NJCW: Never mind. To be honest, there’s not much going on in that job sector either. Are there any other transferrable skills you think might be useful in a more…., how do I say this, general market?

Me: I can fill out forms.

NJCW: [Sifting through my unemployment paperwork]  Yes you are rather good at that, I can see. But a civil service job is out because they look for experience and you’re also too old to start from scratch. 

Me: Oh.

NJCW: [Trying really hard to be positive now] Look, I can see if there’s a place on our New Life Chances course, which starts in a few weeks time. No guarantees, though, because it’s oversubscribed as you can imagine. But in the meantime, just to get you off income support and doing something constructive, have a look at the casual jobs display. [Pointing] You see over there? By the recycling bins?

Me: [Forcing a smile and getting up to go over] Well thanks for your help.

JCW: [Forcing a bigger smile] No problem at all, sir. It’s my job after all. 

So spare a thought, comrades.  This time next year, when you’re in for your  Mc Super Meal, be nice to the guy who clears the tables and cleans the loos. It could be me.

Research Impact

Posted: April 2, 2010 in Academia

I’m on leave in Greece at the moment as part of a big research initiative: “Throwing Good Money After Bad: The Research Excellence Framework and the Quest for Measuring Impact”.  

Honestly. I just filled out a research proposal for a three-month study of beach culture in the Greek Islands, Turkey, and Southern California never thinking I’d get away with it especially when it came to the all-important section on research impact. Please demonstrate, it said, likely social, economic and cultural impact of proposed research. So I put down, “A good tan, record low stress levels and blood pressure for researcher, plus a possible insight into how beach cultures vary according to geographical location, cultural milieu and time of day”. Imagine my surprise when I got the letter telling me my application was successful!  I even got called up to the Vice Chancellor’s office for a glass of single malt.  

Though I did have to temper my ecstasy around the corridor.  Alas, one of my colleagues was turned down by the same research council. It was a blinding proposal to gauge the impact of social immobility on visual and cultural literacy. It was so much better and more worthy than mine, I thought, but she slipped up in that section on impact, where she claimed: “The research findings will have obvious social and cultural policy implications for a range of government departments, public bodies and voluntary agencies, with possible positive outcomes for people who’ve pawned the telly to feed the kids.”  Oh dear. But on the upside, she has been invited to resubmit for the next round. Any one out there that can suggest a better claim for impact, post it here and I’ll pass it on to her. I’m sure she’d be touched.

Well, that’s all for now. It’s blowing up a wee gale here and there’s sand getting in my laptop.