David Bullard believes that studying journalism for years is a complete waste of time and money. And that’s not all… My view on three year journalism degrees are, I suspect, not particularly popular among academics.
In a nutshell, I think journalism is a bogus degree and a complete waste of daddy’s money, since you can either write or you can’t. All you need to know about journalism could be taught to intelligent pupils in an intense three-month course. Obviously that would mean less time spent in the Rat and Parrot [popular student drinking hole in Grahamstown] but with competition for jobs so keen these days that might not be a bad thing.
Nothing really changes when you are a university student and my principal aims when I was at university (studying another useless degree – English and drama) was to get drunk and get laid but not necessarily in that order. It was tremendous fun and cost my poor father a fortune, but thankfully I managed to talk my way into a financial career (maybe that drama did come in useful after all) and all was well.
If I had pursued the career my degree prepared me for, I would have been lucky to get a walk on part in Neighbours. A young and talented friend of mine who is doing well in local journalism tells me that you don’t even get to the interview stage these days without a good degree. With so many young people wanting to go into journalism or something to do with news, media employers can afford to be picky. It’s not even as if the remuneration is that great.
But if you’ve spent three years at varsity drifting through a journalism degree there’s not much else you can do with it at the end, is there? Besides, many of those studying journalism are still starry eyed about their chosen profession and honestly believe they will be telling truth to power and changing the world.
They will only realise 10 years down the line that the good years of journalism are long gone and this is just another corporate job with all that entails: back-stabbing, cost cutting, ass licking and the grim realisation that the least talented people of all will make it to the much better remunerated management positions. Fifty-year-old embittered journalists do not make a pretty sight.
Since the degree course isn’t that much use as a preparation for the newsroom you might think that on-the-job training would feature more than it does. Every so often management feels it ought to do something and runs a one-day workshop for staff on how to write accurate copy. The courses are normally held in dingy windowless rooms, often on the parking level. Some retired hack who needs a couple of hundred rand is brought in for the day to dispense this ancient wisdom to a bored audience who are only there for two reasons: 1) it means they don’t have to do anything in the newsroom that day and 2) they only registered for the course because they hope it will reflect in their annual assessment and might be good for a few hundred rand extra a month.
So everybody’s happy and management can kid themselves that they are running valuable training sessions. What might be more useful is a formal system of mentoring whereby the old lags pass on their knowledge and expertise to young, upcoming journos.
But that’s all lala land stuff. For a start, the old lags have a newspaper to produce and are probably too busy correcting the cock ups caused by younger journos to have any time or energy for training.
Then there’s the money thing. Most experienced journos know they have been screwed over by management over the years and given extra duties (such as writing extra copy for the website for free), so their enthusiasm to take on yet another task for no money is understandably non-existent.
And then there’s the risk of being labelled a racist, mysogynist, sexist or any other ‘ist’ and facing a disciplinary tribunal and public humiliation. Gone are the days when you could hurl badly written copy back at a young journalist and blast them with a stream of invective. These days, if you so much as suggest that a staff member is incapable of writing a clear and concise article on the simplest of topics, you would be history. So why bother? These days, it’s much better to keep your head down and avoid trouble.
And if you do mourn the passing of an era of quality journalism and lament the current mediocrity, make sure you do so in private and with like-minded souls. Management have spies everywhere.
This story was first published in the July 2012 issue of The Media magazine.