Society of Editors Conference: About university training

There was much grinding of teeth when Derek Tucker, editor of the Aberdeen Press & Journal launched his attack on university journalism courses:

“It frustrates me – and I know many other editors feel the same – that a lot of the young people leaving so-called university journalism degree courses are totally not suited for coming into newspapers.

“Very few possess the street cunning and inquisitiveness that is the hallmark of good journalists and it often appears that English is a second language.

“Unfortunately though we also washed our hands of the careful selection process which places the attributes of a good journalist above or at least equal to educational qualifications.

“Tomorrow’s journalists must be identified and trained by today’s journalists not yesterday’s enthusiastic amateurs.”

One thing which has always struck me as odd about the SOE conference is the sheer number of university types who are there – they probably outnumber editors.

And given the way the newspaper industry is used to getting criticism by the bucketload from some university experts, you’d have thought those in the room would have been able to reply with some sort of sensible reply.

Instead, the best John Mair, of Coventry University, could manage was to ask Tucker whether there was some ‘secondary modern’ class envy unlderlying Tucker’s speech.

Mair later blogged  on about what was said, but why not say it in the room? (For what it’s worth, Mair’s post is a very negative way or portraying an event which looked at the challenges we face as much it did the success stories).

Another chap, whose name I didn’t catch, from the London College of Communications, delivered a more sensible response about equipping journalists with the skills they need, but then followed it up by saying it was a bit rich for someone from Scotland to complain that some trainees only seem to have English as a second language. The fact Tucker is actually from Liverpool ended that discussion.

For what it’s worth, Tucker wasn’t only criticising universities – and lets be honest, there are good journalism courses and not so good journalism courses – but also the industry for taking a more hands-off approach to training.

I also don’t agree with a lot of what Tucker said. I think the industry and academia work very closely now in many cases, and as Teesside Gazette editor Darren Thwaites said there have always been good trainees and bad trainees. Working closely with universities is the only way to ensure students know they skills employers expect them to have, and for employers to know what skills to expect.

But I do think that if academics wish for their critical analysis of the industry to be taken seriously, then surely it can’t be too much to expect that they engage with the criticism which comes their way by reply from time to time.


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