Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Journalists and academics - we need both

As soon as I uploaded my last blog post, I started feeling guilty. Was I being arrogant (or simply thick) in criticising the work of doubtless highly intellectual academics who have spent years analysing journalistic processes and output? Should I just stick to journalistic practice, keep writing and uploading, and let others do the reflecting? No, I don't think so. As Sarah Niblock and David Machin say, the big change in journalism studies (I hate the word "studies" but I'll use it for want of a better one) over the past few years is that more and more practising journalists have crossed the divide to academia as university journalism courses proliferate.

Journalism research is now increasingly carried out by people who have actually worked in a newsroom. They know, for example, that the pressures when you're on deadline are multiple and you're not just quoting a source because they're official and you have some kind of agenda to tow a corporate line but because he or she is the only useful person you can find to give you a quote before the deadline.

This understanding must be a good thing and allow researchers with a background in journalism rather than academia to provide new insights into what drives journalists and journalism.

But it works both ways. In common with, I suspect, most of my colleagues, I spent precious little time in newsrooms reflecting on what I was doing. I certainly developed an instinct for what made a story and what constituted a "good story" for my publication. But I don't kid myself that I thought deeply about issues like proprietorial interference or the fact that my publishers, R. Maxwell followed by R. Murdoch, owned vast swathes of newspapers and TV stations across the UK. It wasn't until I changed careers for academia that I realised people had written whole shelves of books about concentration of ownership. And that this is an area of serious concern.

The industry needs commentators who are distanced from the "do it now" culture of the newsroom. Just as much as it needs journalists who do more than churn out another press release.

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