Tilling the field in journalism education: implications of a systems model approach for journalism education

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Dr Janet Fulton and Paul Scott, University of Newcastle, Australia


A 2007 UNESCO paper, Model curricula for journalism education, proposed subjects for journalism courses. The model suggests educators include knowledge structures such as how to do journalism, how to act as a reflective journalist, the importance of journalism in society and several other theoretical ideas that should underpin journalism education. However, there are no suggestions about how to work within the social structure of journalism. This paper is proposing that as part of journalism education, it is important to include more than the knowledge structures. It is also crucial to teach students how to navigate the social structure of journalism.

This proposal arose out of doctoral research that investigated the creative practices of print journalists in Australia.

One finding of the research was how critical the social structure, or field, is to a journalist’s production process. In education, an equal emphasis on teaching an understanding of this social field will assist aspirant journalists to appreciate a range of aspects that are critical to their engagement but tend to remain under-emphasised in journalism education.

Continuing to teach the knowledge structures, including practical skills, of journalism is understood by the authors to remain a crucial part of education. But this paper argues that it is also of significant importance to increase journalism students’ knowledge of the field. A study has been proposed to analyse journalism education programmes offered in Australia to determine if other journalism programmes see this as important and to what degree – if any – journalism programmes incorporate education about the field.


In 2007, UNESCO released a paper to advise journalism educators in “developing countries and emerging democracies” (2007, p. 6) on a model curriculum for journalism education. In the introduction, the authors provided the following summary:

“… journalism education should teach students how to identify news and recognize the story in a complex field of fact and opinion, how to conduct journalistic research, and how to write for, illustrate, edit and produce material for various media formats (newspapers and magazines, radio and television, and online and multimedia operations) and for their particular audiences. It should give them the knowledge and training to reflect on journalism ethics and best practices in journalism, and on the role of journalism in society, the history of journalism, media law, and the political economy of media (including ownership, organization and competition). It should teach them how to cover political and social issues of particular importance to their own society through courses developed in co-operation with other departments in the college or university. It should ensure that they develop both a broad general knowledge and the foundation of specialized knowledge in a field important to journalism. It should ensure that they develop — or that they have as a prerequisite — the linguistic ability necessary for journalistic work in their country, including, where this is required, the ability to work in local indigenous or vernacular languages. It should prepare them to adapt to technological developments and other changes in the news media” (UNESCO, 2007, p. 6).

This description includes how to do journalism, how to act as a reflective journalist, the importance of journalism in society and a number of other theoretical ideas that should underpin journalism education. However, a crucial part of the system of journalism is missing: it does not include how the field, or the social structure of journalism, works. This paper contends that the social structure of journalism and how it works is an important element for journalists to learn in order for them to be able to produce, or create, their work.

This premise arose out of a doctoral research project that examined the creative practices of print journalists in Australia. The research applied the systems model of creativity developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1988; 1997; 2003) to the domain of print journalism to examine how journalists interact with cultural, individual and social structures in the creation of their work. The research revealed that a journalist is one part of a system of three elements that converges to enable the production of creative products, processes or ideas: a domain of knowledge that includes the rules and procedures of journalism (cultural knowledge); an individual, with his or her background and experiences, in this instance the journalist, who learns the cultural knowledge and produces an outcome; and, a social field that understands the system and judges the outcome for inclusion in the domain of knowledge. In other words, a creative outcome does not happen in a vacuum but occurs when a journalist interacts with the domain and field of journalism.

Figure 1 – Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity (2003, p. 315)

figure1 csikszentmihalyi

To describe these terms further, the domain consists of the knowledge structure journalists need to learn to be able to work in journalism, for example, the rules, conventions, techniques, guides, procedures and previously produced artefacts.1 The individual journalist brings variables such as talent, genetic predisposition, cognitive structures, personality traits, family background, education, social class and cultural background to the system. The field, in Csikszentmihalyi’s usage of the term, is considered to be “all the people who make the decision as to what new product, process or idea is to be included in the domain for other journalists to draw on” (Fulton, 2011b).2 Members of the social field that are of importance in this context would include, for example, other journalists, sub-editors, editors, deputy editors, chiefs-of-staff, senior executives and media owners.

A core finding from the doctoral research was that all three elements in the system are necessary for a creative outcome and if a journalist understands the knowledge from the domain as well as “criteria of selection, the preferences of the field” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, p. 47) they are more likely to be more efficient in their work processes; this knowledge becomes part of their tacit knowledge (Schön, 1983). It is this tacit knowledge that enables a journalist to ‘do without thinking’ with the journalist, as active agent, making creative choices in interaction with these structures.

To apply this premise to this paper, it is sensible that all three components are acknowledged in some form in journalism education. However, one outcome from the research was the finding that in journalism education, there is an emphasis on journalism students learning the domain knowledge of journalism but the social field is not given as much emphasis. In fact, in journalism generally, the importance of the social structure of the field is sometimes overlooked unless it is to state how deterministic the field is on a journalist’s agency (Henningham, 1989: 27; Henningham, 1990; Machin & Niblock, 2006: 162; McNair, 1998: 61). The findings from the research project suggest that a curriculum that includes information about the social field would make aspirant journalists better prepared to work in the media environment.

A research project identified in the conclusion of the doctoral research project, therefore, is an analysis of journalism education programmemes offered in Australia to ascertain whether there is any allowance made within the programmemes to learn about the field. A pilot study is planned to analyse the journalism major in the Bachelor of Communication degree at the authors’ university, the University of Newcastle, to ascertain what allowances are made within the degree to instruct students on working within the field’s expectations. It is hoped that a broader research project will result from this pilot study to encompass journalism education programmemes Australia-wide. The broader study could include content analysis of the subjects offered and their course outcomes and learning objectives as well as interviews with teaching staff, journalism students, university educated journalists and the senior members of the field who hire journalists to discover how learning about the field can be incorporated more formally into a journalism degree. A further step in the research project could be an analysis of international journalism programmemes, including Western and non-Western programmemes. The final objective is to develop a more holistic model of journalism education that encompasses the three elements of the systems model.

There are journalism degrees in Australia with subjects that include knowledge of the field in their learning objectives. For example, Bond University’s Newspaper Reporting course (JOUR12-240) expect students will have “[a]n understanding of the modern newspaper newsroom and the functions of different personnel” (Bond University, 2012) by the end of the subject. There are also degrees that have a compulsory work placement component, which gives students an opportunity to work within a newsroom or magazine office. At the University of Newcastle, for example, third year journalism majors are offered Communication Professional Placement (CMNS3500) as a directed subject but it is not a compulsory course.

There are also journalism textbooks that include brief explanations of a newsroom’s social structure (Conley & Lamble, 2006; Maskell & Perry, 1999; White, 2005; Harriss, Leiter & Johnson, 1985; Cole, 2005; Frost, 2001; Niblock, 1996) but there are also many textbooks that merely instruct on how to write as a journalist by focusing on the domain knowledge. To present a slightly different example, Meehan (2001) pointed out that most do-it-yourself freelance journalism books emphasise learning how to write publishable articles with little emphasis on the importance of contacts in the industry – the contacts in this instance would be members of the field. In freelance writing, knowing who to contact in the industry is as vitally important as knowing how to write. The same argument could be made in any journalistic endeavour. Continuing to teach the knowledge structures of journalism, that is, the rules, conventions, techniques, guides and procedures of the domain, as well as theoretical subjects to encourage students to critically examine journalism and its place in society, is a crucial part of journalism education but it is equally important to increase journalism students’ knowledge of the field.

Therefore, this paper is suggesting that it is essential to teach students how to navigate the social structure of journalism. As creativity researcher Keith Sawyer contended: “The most successful creative people are very good at introducing their ideas to the field. They know who the key people are, and they know how the selection process works” (2006, p. 309). Teaching an understanding of the field – how the field works, who can assist in accessing information, who selects what is published, who selects what is to be written, as well as identifying who in the field can negotiate entry into journalism – in conjunction with domain acquisition can only assist an early journalist in their career and lead to a more efficient work process. To demonstrate this suggestion, the paper discusses data found during the doctoral research project regarding journalism education. The research project was an ethnographic study that used observation, document and artefact analysis and semi-structured interviews as the methods to gather data. Thirty-six members of the field of journalism, including eighteen journalists, three cadets, one student journalist and fourteen management level field members (editor, deputy editor or owner) were interviewed in 2007 and 2008. Twelve of the fourteen higher-level respondents had been journalists and answered questions about their experience from this perspective as well as from the management perspective. The respondents included seventeen females and nineteen males and they ranged in age from twenty to sixty-two. They worked at a mixture of publications including newspapers (24) and magazines (10) as well as freelance (2). To provide triangulation to the data, three newsrooms were observed in 2009 and 2010: one a weekly community newspaper, one a tri-weekly regional newspaper and one a weekly, metropolitan publication.

While the research project encompassed a broader church than journalism education, education was discussed with the interviewees as one of the structures they interacted with, including positive and negative experiences, and cadetships, internships and work placements, and what this education meant to their work practice.

Undergraduate journalism education in Australia

At university level, twenty-six Australian universities offer journalism programmemes.3 These programmes range from degrees that are a specific Bachelor of Journalism degree (e.g. Griffiths University, Monash University, University of Queensland, Bond University, University of Wollongong), to degrees that include journalism as a major (University of Newcastle, University of Southern Queensland, Deakin University) or as part of a communication or mass communication degree (RMIT, Curtin University). There are also schools that offer journalism via several programmemes (e.g. Bachelor of Arts) and schools offer double majors or combined degrees with disciplines such as law (University of Newcastle), international studies (University of Queensland) and sport studies (Charles Sturt University).

The majority of journalism educators are ex-journalists or are still working professionally (Sheridan Burns, 2003; Hirst, 2010; Bossio, 2010) with up to 95% of staff teaching into journalism courses having experience in the mass media (Patching, 1997). This provides university students with valuable practical knowledge. In fact, a University of Newcastle alumnus interviewed for the doctoral research named a journalist who taught into his degree and pointed out how valuable it was to have a teacher with experience in the industry:

“Probably Alysson Watson [currently Features Editor at the Newcastle Herald] who used to teach me at uni. I’d probably say she had a huge influence on me actually, when I come to think of it, because I probably learnt more about being a journalist than anyone from her … I’d probably say she had quite an impact” (J7, i/v, 2007).4

One editor from the study works as a part-time tutor at an Australian university and in the New South Wales TAFE system5 and believes it is her job in that capacity to encourage promising students: “I mentor most of my students; anyone who shows promise, willingness and enthusiasm gets my time as a teacher” (E13, i/v, 2008). However, she is also in a position to provide valuable work experience. Working as the editor/journalist on a privately owned publication that depends on a high amount of freelance contributions means she can offer students the opportunity to publish work. This gives practical experience as well as a way for students to build a portfolio of published work, thus providing an example of a way a member of the field can provide support both as a teacher and an editor.

Journalism education perceptions

There remains a well-established and ongoing pedagogical tension between university-based journalism educators and the journalism industry (Hirst, 2010), with Ricketson (2001) noting that much of this tension centres around perceptions of an oppositional polarity occurring between theory and practice. While the focus in such debate centres around the differences between pedagogical approaches that are “doing” journalism and those that are “about” journalism, some of the debate emerging from industry involves argument about the credibility and worth of courses, programmemes and journalism educators. Many media outlets demand students who are “work-ready” and many students place high importance and value on practical skills.

The discussion in the interviews on the value of tertiary education differed between the journalists. Three respondents specifically noted how university education was not helpful in their practice with ‘on-the-job’ experience listed as more valuable in learning how to write in a journalistic style:

“I mean you think you can pick it up at Uni and know what it is you’re doing but I don’t feel that I was in any way taught particularly well what to expect” (J1, i/v, 2007).

“Just stylistically they’ve [colleagues] taught me how to write more than university” (J13, i/v, 2008).

“Learnt a bit at school, nothing at uni, and mostly on the job from other journalists” (E15, i/v, 2008).

One reason for the disparity between what a journalism student learns during education and what happens in a working newsroom could be the difference in expectations students have to what actually happens when working in journalism. An Australian study done by Grenby et al. (2009) into secondary school students’ perceptions of journalism as a career found students’ ideas about what journalists do differed greatly to the reality. While the high school students understood certain aspects of a journalist’s lifestyle, for example the students identified journalism as “deadline and current affair focussed (sic), time-consuming and potentially stressful” (Grenby et al., 2009, p. 13), other answers indicated a reliance on popular perceptions of journalism (the second highest response stated that journalism was “full of travel opportunities” (ibid.)).

Contrary to J1, J13 and E15’s experiences with journalism education, E11 found her experience with university beneficial but also recognised the importance of work colleagues and continuing to engage with the domain, a point agreed with by J24:

“I learned a lot at Uni, I had some good lecturers, but then just working with an editor and them saying to you, ‘No we don’t do this’ or ‘Put that up there’ that’s the (pause) I think you learn the most from reading other journalists’ work” (E11, i/v, 2008).

“I’d say a third learnt through uni, a third on the job from superiors/sub-editors, and a third learnt from simply reading” (J24, i/v, 2008).

One major point that can be elicited from E11’s and J24’s comments about education is how both of them have mentioned the importance of the field (other journalists, editors, sub-editors) and the domain (other journalists’ work, reading) illustrating the significance of each of the elements in the systems model: learning the rules, procedures and previously created products in the domain as well as the preferences of the field means an individual is more likely to produce a creative outcome. E15’s earlier response supports this contention: he learnt the most from other colleagues, thus reinforcing the argument that knowledge about how the field works could be beneficial in a journalist’s learning process.

Internships and work placement

As part of journalism education, many courses offer work placements but students can undertake formal internships in a newsroom or at a magazine as a training option. Traditionally, print journalists learnt on the job via cadetships that consisted of three or four years6 of on-the-job training. Cadetships are not as prevalent as they were with Barbara Alysen’s (2005) study into entry level employment in journalism finding that News Limited Sydney appointed ten cadets in 2001 and one cadet in 2005. However, at the time of the interviews for this research, Rural Press7 newspapers still offered cadetships to school leavers with university graduates joining the company as final-year cadets. On the other hand, Fairfax newspapers, including Sydney’s Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age, currently offer traineeship programmes that last for one year (Fairfax Media, 2011) while News Limited offer cadetships that are also one year long (Herald Sun, 2012). Within this study, magazines that interviewees worked for offered university students internships and work placement opportunities. While cadetships and traineeships are paid positions, internships and other work placement opportunities are generally unpaid and offered to university students to provide job readiness when the student is finished university. Work placement and internships are typically undertaken by students during their university degree and give the opportunity to experience a working newsroom. Amy Forbes (2009) noted how a key feature in Australian journalism schools is that graduates need to demonstrate their knowledge of journalism but they must also be workplace ready. Forbes contended that although many employers look favourably on degrees, students also need newsroom experience and this can be achieved through internships and work placement during university education. These training opportunities are a way the field can encourage young people into the profession and, as Sawyer has noted, having formal training structures in place to identify promising young people means a higher chance of creativity in a sphere of production (2006, p. 308).

While the field offers these training opportunities to provide entry-level print journalists with desirable practical skills, it also gives student journalists an opportunity to observe first hand how the field works. Perhaps more importantly than observation, participation gives interns the opportunity to engage with the field at a deeper level than mere observation provides, an opportunity these training opportunities afford. As Aldridge’s (1998) perceptive study on the mythology of British journalism discovered, participating in a workplace provides a clearer understanding of that workplace and its structures, including the field and how it works. While studies such as Hanna and Sanders (2007) identified that journalism students sometimes decided not to enter journalism because of their workplace experience, respondents in this study claimed internships and other training opportunities strengthened their desire to enter the profession. It is important to note, however, that the explosion in student numbers in journalism courses and the recent loss of many journalism positions in Australia have provided a fertile ground for potential exploitation of those seeking internships. A recent report into unpaid work and internships in Australia has identified journalism as an industry with a high incidence of unpaid work with students often working months without payment “in the hope of impressing the right person” (Stewart & Owens, 2013, p. 54).

During the interview process for this research, one student (J22) had just completed a five-week magazine internship. J22 found the training provided by the field helpful in her practice but found the older staff intimidating and appreciated support from another young journalist:

“There was a young girl there who was only a year older than me but she’d been working there for two years and she came beside me and showed me a lot, which is good because a lot of them were a lot older than me” (i/v, 2008).

J22’s comment demonstrates how important the field is to provide support and encouragement to an early career journalist. Internships provide a chance for undergraduates to apply university’s formal learning to practise, to network and to impress an employer. The senior staff member who supervised J22 talked about her experience with this particular intern:

“And we’ve just recently had one [an intern] and she was just brilliant. I think this girl, she’s a Uni of New South Wales communications student, I think she’ll go a long way” (E14, i/v, 2008).

Just as important, though, is that internships give the opportunity to not only learn and apply the rules of the domain, but the preferences of the field. As Forbes pointed out: “Through this interaction with journalists in the field, learning revolves around discovery, analysis and integration of information leading to deep-level learning” (2009, p. 1). J22’s experience at the magazine proved invaluable as she interacted with the field:

“And the people in the office knew a lot as well. So for me, not knowing much about the industry or journalism at all, going, ‘Is this worth writing about?’ they’d go, ‘Yep, I think it’s great, go for it, you can get some good information from here or here or you can call this person or this person’. So it was really handy having people around who knew what to do” (J22, i/v, 2008).

A further path into print journalism is work experience and J3 remarked how work experience in the Press Gallery during his university degree not only helped in his understanding of journalism but also led to his first job:

“I was really lucky to do work experience at the Press Gallery for [publication name deleted]. That was in my second year, the beginning of my second year of Uni and then a month later I got offered a job as an editorial assistant so doing things from clipping papers to holding the microphone to record sound to just doing office stuff, filing, that sort of thing so I did that through second and third year Uni but also all the way through I filed stories when I could, just basic stories that they didn’t have anyone else to do or whatever.” (J3, i/v, 2007).

Barbara Alysen contended that this kind of work experience in a newsroom often leads to permanent work because employers, as members of the field, show a “clear preference to the ‘known commodity’” (2005, p. 12) and cited the Sydney Morning Herald which, in 2004, hired trainees who had already worked as casuals or interns on the publication. As

journalist Sam de Brito wrote:

“Who you know is just as important as what you know in the media and work experience gives students the chance to make the contacts that often get them the jobs once they’ve finished their studies. After a student has been in a workplace, made friends, proved themselves reliable and amiable, they are far more likely to land a gig than a stranger who’s never interacted with the newsroom.” (2009, p. 36).

The purpose of the journalism education research project

Keeping the above discoveries in mind with regards to the equal importance of the different elements of the system of journalism, it is appropriate to examine how each of these elements is incorporated in journalism education. While the pilot study at the authors’ university is an analysis of the course and learning outcomes in journalism subjects to ascertain what, if any, field elements are included, it is expected that in the Australia-wide research project some degrees will already have some components of field learning within their course structure. According to the systems model, an outcome of the broader study should be that learning how the field works and what the preferences of the field are is an important element in the education of journalists and should be included in a model curriculum for journalism education. This could be done in several ways: including a course in the degree that includes an element of producing news such as a student publication; ensuring a work placement is a compulsory component in a journalism degree; and, attempting to involve journalism professionals within the course delivery.

However, the wide variety of offerings from the different universities as noted earlier presents a methodological issue for the project. A decision needs to be made by the researchers as to which subjects within the degrees to include for analysis so there is uniformity across the project. This can be done in several ways: include journalism specific subjects; include all subjects offered to journalism students, including core/compulsory courses that are not journalism specific; include all subjects offered in each degree. The pilot study conducted on the University of Newcastle offering should provide some direction to ensure a methodologically sound decision.

A further consideration is to keep in mind the state of the journalism industry with media platforms and tools continually evolving. It is highly likely that journalism students will not be working in a traditional journalism environment (Koutsoukos & Biggins, 2010). What will the field of journalism look like in future journalism domains? One discussion point in the doctoral research was that while employment in traditional print journalism may be declining, journalism in the online environment is increasing and this can be shown by the training opportunities on offer to new practitioners. Alysen (2007) noted that in 2007, while entry training positions in traditional journalism had dropped, online media cadetships were increasing. Allowing for these newer opportunities and ascertaining how the field is important in these offerings may also need to be part of the broader project.


Continuing to teach the knowledge structures of journalism, that is the domain, is a crucial part of journalism education, but it is equally important for a practitioner to have knowledge of the field. Sheridan Burns defined a journalist as (1) someone who earns their living from practising journalism, and (2) has mastered the technicalities of the profession, and is accepted by other journalists as having done that, and (3) who believes in journalism as social responsibility (2002, pp. 16-17). The second point made by Sheridan Burns emphasises the importance of the field.

G. Stuart Adam suggested some twenty years ago that it was time the creative process is taught within journalism research and education (1993, p. 48), a suggestion that the authors emphatically agree with. But Adam claimed that works of journalism are based on templates that “reside in the culture” (1993, p. 20) and are “single products of the imaginations of single individuals” (ibid.). While this last claim can be considered contentious. It could be argued that Adam’s claim covers both the domain and the individual. This paper argues that the creative process that should be taught to journalists is a process that incorporates the domain, individual and field equally. In other words, developing a model that provides a more holistic approach to journalism education than the UNESCO 2007 model can only improve an aspirant journalist’s work processes.

News: AJE and other conferences

We hope you have enjoyed this latest issue if Journalism Education. We publish towards the end of the academic year as teaching blends into assessment followed by the conference season.

And it is certainly a lively conference season for AJE members this year. First we have the AJE conference in Newcastle on June 20 and 21 looking at Journalism and Journalism Education post-Leveson. Full details of what it has to offer follow. Alongside it runs the International Communication Association conference in London from June 17 to 21 with the theme Challenging Communication Research. For those with plenty of stamina (and decent budgets) these are followed by the International Association for Media, Communication and Research conference in Dublin from June 25-29 with the theme of “Crises, ‘creative destruction’ and the Global Power and Communication Orders”. The conference website sells the conference as engaging with the concepts of crisis and “creative destruction”, associated with historically-rare periods of intensified flux, change and all-round, multi-dimensional processes of innovation. The theme invites reflections on whether or how the current deep economic/financial crisis and its attendant gales of “creative destruction” may promote deep, fundamental or multiple shifts in the geo-political and communication orders globally.

Finally there is the World Journalism Education Congress in Mechelen, Belgium. This will take place on July 3-5 with the theme of Renewing Journalism through Education. The AJE is a founder member of the World Journalism Education Council and will be sending representatives to its meeting as usual. Several AJE members will also be presenting papers at the congress. If you are not already registered, go to http://wjec.be and sign up.

With our own conference looking at journalism education post-Leveson, we expect our next edition of the journal to be Leveson-heavy and so we have limited his appearances in this edition apart from the editorial update on the political follow up since publication of the report and our last edition. The editors also thought it important to include an article posing questions about the future for journalism education.

This year’s annual AJE conference will be held in Newcastle on June 20 and 21 and is set to provide the first extensive review of what this means for journalism education.

The Leveson report has given rise to serious reflection by everyone involved in journalism, not least journalism educators. Although attention over the past couple of months has focused on the Royal Charter and regulatory system, the inquiry has raised many other issues which are of great concern to those preparing students for careers in journalism and the wider media fields.

The AJE is uniquely situated to host these debates and its annual conference in June presents a timely opportunity to address these issues. This conference also provides the forum to reflect on some of the falsehoods that have been promulgated in the wider media debates. Two of the key speakers at the conference, Professor Natalie Fenton of Goldsmith’s College, London, and Mike Jempson, Director of Mediawise, have been accused by Andrew Gilligan in a Sunday Telegraph article (April 14) of being part of an EU conspiracy to impose state control of the press. (This report and two others are subject to a complaint to the PCC). Professor Fenton will be speaking on the current issues facing journalism professionals and educators, post-Leveson. As a director and spokesperson of Hacked Off, Natalie can also share her insights from the Leveson inquiry and the current significance of the royal charter. Mike Jempson will be delivering a paper on post-Leveson newsrooms and how journalism educators can prepare students for the changing culture of the media industries.

The opening talks on Thursday will set an energetic, critical and engaging tone for the conference. First up, John Mair, Head of Journalism at Northampton University, will be delivering a paper on the British tabloid press and media ethics. Mark Blacklock Freelance journalist and Newcastle University visiting lecturer) will argue that it is time to give students the tools they need to resist bullying, the courage to defy their peers and support frameworks to deal with ethically hostile environments. Lisa Hardisty (Northumbria University) will present a paper proposing that, despite the vast attention given to the ethics training student journalists receive, journalism educators can only play a limited role in changing the culture of journalism practice due to deeply engrained attitudes within industry and more senior, managerial roles.

The first day of the conference will also feature a panel discussion by Professor Chris Frost,(Liverpool John Moores University) Tony Harcup (Sheffield University), Michelle Stanistreet (NUJ General Secretary) and Mike Jempson (University of the West of England and Director of MediaWise). Frost and Harcup have both published renowned books on media ethics and regulation, Stanistreet and Frost have both given evidence to Leveson and have both, in consequence, suffered the wrath of some elements of the national press. Jempson has spent more than 20 years at the helm of MediaWise (formerly PressWise) representing a host of ordinary people who have suffered from misrepresentation in the press.

Our second keynote speaker on Friday will be Dr Janet Harris, (Cardiff University). Harris will be providing an account of journalism in hostile environments through her experience as an embedded reporter in Iraq. Janet’s account will address some of the challenges journalism educators face in preparing students for such environments, and demonstrating how her own research and engagement with critical theory has improved her journalistic practice.

Since the conference seeks to address such constructive and progressive synergies between theory and practice in journalism studies and education, David Baines and Dr Darren Kelsey will be sharing their research that proposes long term changes in newsroom and news business culture. Due to a number of high quality contributions the conference programme will be intense, with many papers packed into the agenda. Herman Wasserman, Professor of Journalism at Rhodes University, South Africa, will deliver a paper (by video link) on current controversies surrounding media regulation in South Africa.

The conference promises to deliver and provoke some fascinating thoughts and insights. As well as the above, there are high quality papers addressing journalism cultures, ethics, pand pedagogy post-Leveson.

Other speakers include:

Barnie Choudhury (Lincoln University); Deirdre O’Neill (Leeds Trinity University); Jonathan Hewett (City University, London); William Horsley (Centre for Freedom of the Media, Sheffield University); Prof Steve Knowlton and Neil O’Boyle (Dublin City University); Tingting Li (Newcastle University); Ekmel Gecer (Loughborough University).

Other topics include:

Teaching Ethics; Journalism in a Hostile Environment; Codes and Regulations; A Global View of Media Ethics; National and International Perspectives on Issues Raised by Leveson.; Reporting Politics; Journalism’s Relationships with the Police; Political Economy and Media Ownership; Can We Learn Lessons from History?; and Educating Journalists for a Rapidly Changing World of Work. We look forward to seeing you there!

Date: Thursday, June 20 and Friday, June 21

Registration: Thursday, from 1pm: Friday, from 9.30am

Conference fee is £20 for members (£25 for non-members) payable at registration or on Eventbrite. Please confirm attendance on Eventbrite 

For further details please go to the AJE website.


Review: Get Me A Murder A Day! A History of Media and Communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams

A classic from the Journalism bookshelf review by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I have not selected this book as this edition’s classic text, my students have.

Get Me A Murder A Day is not the most in-depth, analytical or opinionated history of journalism available, indeed it’s not even a specific history of journalism, embracing as it does media and communication, including non-news broadcasting and cinema.

But year after year students find it and stick with it because they find it to be easily the most accessible and useful history of their subject.

And this is important because though lecturers see the value of studying the history of journalism as part of their degree, most students, if given a truth pill, would tell you this isn’t what they signed up for, it was the sexy stuff – writing stories, presenting shows and the buzz of bringing in the story – they wanted from their degree.

Author Kevin Williams seems to have written his now classic text with this in mind and I’ve lost count of the students who have told me how much they had enjoyed this book, often reading on way beyond what they needed for a specific essay or presentation. This book inspires students to get interested in journalism history, and in so doing allows them to appreciate the full context of journalism. That interest will develop through their degree, often concluding with a satisfying dissertation on a weighty historical topic.

Williams is an arch advocate of the importance of media history and has done much to raise its profile and inspire others. His later volume, Read All About It!, is an accomplished narrower history of newspapers, which is equally interesting. But it is as a first year-orientated introductory text that GMAMAD must be celebrated, with its logically divided chapters which must have helped form the parameters of dozens of Media/Journalism context modules in universities up and down the UK.

Williams’ style is to present key information in easily digestible chunks, typically around an hour’s worth of reading, arousing the reader’s interest with description and specifics of note, before offering useful and succinct analysis. He brings alive the importance, excitement and big personalities of journalism.

He is not as opinionated as other texts, which is useful for students trying to simply understand the landscape for the first time, rather than finding a detailed critique. We are fortunate to have Curran and Seaton’s Power Without Responsibility to perform that function and indeed a recommendation of GMAMAD, followed by PWR often forms the bedrock reading for a decent first university essay.

Williams updated GMAMAD in 2010, to take a much-needed look at standards and the digital landscape, but the original 1998 edition, which lines so many university library shelves, is still just as useful on historical content and so, happily, is not a first edition made obsolete by its successor.

The obvious drawbacks for journalism lecturers and students are the regular excursions into the history of cinema and other entertainment media, which disrupt the flow of the journalism narrative. But even that can be useful for students in setting some of the wider context of mass communications in the UK, and as this book is intended for this wider audience, it can’t be a legitimate criticism.

So here we don’t have the most critical or insightful journalism text ever written, but we do have the book which in its interesting style and accessible format provides the most popular available entry to the context of our subject and as the book that lets our students delve deeper into their new subject and inspire further inquiry, does both them and us a great service.

Get Me A Murder A Day! A history of media and communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams, 2nd ed published by Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. 336 pages. ISBN 978-0- 3409-8325-6; RRP: £21.99. 

Review: Magazine Editing in Print and Online, third edition, by John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw

by Jenny McKay, University of Sunderland

The range of books available to journalism lecturers to offer to students as reading has grown from zero in the 40 years since journalism was introduced into universities in the UK. Now there are scores of texts on news, broadcast and online journalism.

Most of these either guide the beginner in the ways of the craft or inform a reflective approach to the activities of journalists. Some of them even mention ethics – an idea that would have been laughed at in the past.
This is all to the good but the assumption still seems to prevail that news and news outlets are all that really matters when journalism is under scrutiny: few books, even today, are concerned with magazines.

This is as surprising as it is unfair given the significance of the UK’s magazine industry, or industries as Morrish and Bradshaw suggest is the accurate term. Publishing may have suffered because of the financial crisis and the rise of the digital universe but no one could argue convincingly the outlook for magazines is as bad as it is for newspapers. As the authors note: ‘In the decade since the invention of the World Wide Web, consumer spending on magazines actually increased by 48 per cent,’ and the UK’s publishing market is ‘one of the hungriest . . . in the world’.

Whatever the reasons for this unjustifiable neglect, the consequence is a dearth of books that focus on magazines whether covering journalism, design, careers, history or the perspectives of cultural theorists.
One of the few texts available (since 1996), is John Morrish’s informative Magazine Editing. For this welcome, fully revised edition Morrish has teamed with Paul Bradshaw to ensure there is comprehensive coverage of all things online to sit alongside other aspects of magazines such as writing, production, marketing and finance.

The book’s title implies it is aimed not at students or academics or even journalists in general but at the small band of those who edit their own publication or ‘content proposition’ as publishers now label what we used to think of as magazines.
It may be hard for devoted subscribers to think of curling up on the sofa with a ‘content proposition’ instead of their favourite title, yet those who work in magazines, teach about or study them, must keep up with the latest jargon and the thinking it exemplifies. This book will help them do that without overwhelming them with management gobbledegook.
So whatever its title suggests, Magazine Editing has a potentially wide and growing audience. It is, and was in its earlier incarnations, a valuable and thorough guide to all the aspects of publishing editors and their staff should know about.

When magazine journalism training was first formalised publishers said it was important for their editorial teams to have a sound understanding of the business aspects of publishing. That remains the case and is now reflected in the inclusion of ‘Business of Magazines’ as a topic in many university degrees.

For students on those courses this book offers a readable introduction to the industry so it should definitely be stocked by every library where magazine journalism and publishing is taught.
If I have a quibble it’s over the limited extent to which references are given. There are some sources listed at the end of chapters but probably not enough to satisfy the demands of a student essay writer. Editors though, the main target readers, should know where to check.

Magazine Editing in Print and Online, third edition, by John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw, published by Routledge, 2012. ISBN 978-0-415-60834-3 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-415-60835-0 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-203-80464-3 (e-book) 

Review: What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves

by Julie Freer, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Much has been written by media commentators about the economic and technological squeeze that broke the business model of the UK regional Book Reviews press.

Loved by the Stock Exchange in late 90s and the early years of the new century when acquisitions were aplenty, margins were high and money was to be made, quick profits masked declining circulations. Attention was fixed to the share price rather than meeting the challenges and grasping the opportunities of the digital age.

By the time the recession hit post 2008, the availability of content away from the mainstream gave readers fewer reasons to be loyal to their local titles. Advertising drifted away to the emerging online sites and the regional press was in trouble.

What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-roots Journalism – its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves draws together 33 chapters which chronicle why the regional newspaper industry and local radio fell into decline. The book also looks at how local media is trying to re-invent itself through hyperlocal sites, local TV and various other digital distribution tools. In conclusion, it examines the bigger picture and the impact of the decline on local democracy.

It is described as a ‘hackademic’ volume in that is a collection that ranges from the fully referenced academic paper to media commentary and personal anecdote.

While it may not be one for the academic purist, the more personal chapters offer some of the more interesting and salient points.

Chris Oakley in his chapter ‘The men who killed the regional newspaper industry’ concludes: “In a couple of decades, managements who overpaid for acquisitions, over promised to City investors and failed to recognise the threat and opportunity of the internet, have come close to destroying an industry.”

He tells the story of his own role in management buyouts, subsequent flotation on the Stock Exchange and sale of titles, and asks the reader to judge his team’s culpability in creating the financial climate that brought this about.

He also makes the crucial point that if the industry had supported the Fish4 digital advertising site, regional newspapers would have sewn up the property, cars and jobs market and sites such as Rightmove would not have been the success they are.

While the future may be hyperlocal, Richard Jones in his chapter on his Saddleworth News hyperlocal website points out that while there is job satisfaction to be had, the responsibilities of a mortgage and a child meant it wasn’t sustainable in the longer term.

The site is now being operated by students at the Oldham campus of Huddersfield University. Indeed, he believes there is untapped potential in university journalism department in terms of underused equipment and talented students.

In a later chapter, David Hayward asks whether universities can save local journalism. Drawing on the US model, he cites examples where teaching has been combined with real quality practical journalism and where partnerships are being created between news organisations and the universities.

More radically, he points out universities could launch their own news start-ups. With universities’ own business models being challenged and pressure on staff to create new income streams, it is a model that could work for mutual benefit. While universities are not in a position to give away their facilities nor should they should they be seen as a source of cheap labour, a report by the New America Foundation quoted in this chapter points out the industry could do more to financially support innovative thinking, research and curriculum development and in turn, universities should increase coverage of communities.

What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves, published by Abramis, 2012. 268 pages. ISBN 978-1-84549-540-4; RRP: £17.95. 

Review: Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange

by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I used to get a cheap laugh from students when introducing the craft of specialist journalism by telling them amongst the scores of fishing magazines there was even one called Total Carp.

They loved the concept so much one group even brought me a copy at the end of their module. Imagine my amazement (and horror) on a recent visit to my local newsagent to find no less than seven magazines for our carping piscatorial brethren enticing me from the shelves. If I can buy seven separate (and there are probably more…) magazines about one fish, the era of specialist journalism is truly well established.

Now thanks to Barry Turner and Richard Orange we have a useful and interesting edited collection from which our students can begin to study this now essential part of any Journalism course’s curriculum.

The editors’ introduction provides ample evidence of the need for specialism and indeed its value in a journalistic market which forever moves from the general and towards the specialist platform, with the rise of specialist newspaper sections, specialist magazines and of course every type of digital specialist facility.

An impressive range of authors describe specialisms ranging from the areas we might expect – sport, crime, politics, war – to others which have more recently elbowed their way into the mainstream, environmental, media and wine, for example. Other areas covered include business, automotive, fashion, food, science, medical, legal affairs and travel.

Contributions are knowledgeable and interesting, if a little uneven between their approaches, some favouring a more sociological analysis and others offering more in the how-to vein. The hugely informed Paul Bradshaw, for example, offers excellent pointers on how to cover the media beat using the very latest and most effective technologies, as those familiar with his work would expect. Other contributors tend more towards talking about the legitimacy and impact of the specialist, rather than how they actually do their job on a day-to day basis. This is hard one for the editors to handle because on the one hand this text will be a real bonus to students looking at specialism for an essay, dissertation or research project, but students trying to find their feet and possible future career specialism might have liked more on what the day-to-day work of a specialist actually involved – contacts, research, diary, sources etc.

Chapters were also of varying length, which left me longing for more on political journalism, where, for instance, Kevin Rafter dealt very well with Westminster lobby journalism, but didn’t have the space to develop his analysis into the rest of the vast area of political journalism outside that narrow village, but Paula Hearsum had space to include lots of insider comment on music journalism, in a chapter likely to be well-thumbed by students.

Given editor Orange is well known for his own agency work, I might also have hoped he would have offered a chapter on news agency journalism, a much under-exposed area, especially in post-Leveson times, but he took legal affairs journalism as his brief instead. No problem in itself, but perhaps a missed opportunity – or better still maybe a starter for volume two…

So overall, this will make a great impact on journalism courses across the UK and fits in well with the way the industry and its study is going. It is an interesting and useful addition to the journalism bookshelf and the university library, and though I do have a couple of little gripes, in the great scheme of the value of this book, they are certainly nothing to carp about. Recommended.

Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange, published by Routledge, 2013. 216 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-58285-8; RRP: £21.99. 

Review: Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices by Tony Harcup

Review by Granville Williams, National Council, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and UK Co-ordinator, European Initiative for Media Pluralism

The metamorphosis of the hand-to-mouth production of alternative magazines and newspapers like Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP), the Tuebrook Bugle (Liverpool), Leeds Other Paper and Grass Eye (Manchester) into the objects of academic study must come as a big surprise to the survivors who worked on them back in the 1970s and 80s.

In the nineteenth century the ‘unstamped’ or pauper press – The Republican, The Black Dwarf, The Poor Man’s Guardian, and so on gave a voice to the dispossessed, the powerless and the marginalised, but I wonder whether the editors, writers and sellers of those publications ever conceived they one day would provide the material to engage academics across a range of disciplines in studying their efforts and analysing their significance.

These thoughts are prompted by reading this collection of Tony Harcup’s work. Indeed there are direct connections between the issues covered in his book, which mainly focuses on alternative media and community publishing, and that previous era. He points out Leeds was the birthplace of one of the most widely read oppositional papers of the 1830s and 1840s, and it was also the birthplace in January 1974 of Leeds Other Paper (LOP), renamed later as Northern Star.

His lively wide-ranging introduction leaps from the Sheffield Register published during the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, and points out ‘times of flux tend to lead to bursts of new alternative media and more widespread questioning of old certainties…’.

Harcup spent ten years working on LOP, and much of the material in this book is shaped by that experience. Reading it reminded me of how I first met him. Back in 1991, after Bob Franklin and David Murphy published What News? The Market, Politics and the Local Press, I approached them and said the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) would like to do a couple of public meetings around the book’s themes. Tony Harcup turned up for the one in Bradford, at which the then Northern Organiser for the National Union of Journalists, Colin Bourne, was speaking, along with Franklin and a local newspaper editor.

The CPBF from its inception in 1979 has been interested in supporting alternatives to mainstream media and so there was a clear connection which meant later the CPBF published both Harcup’s pamphlet on the history of Leeds Other Paper and his chapter on the alternative press during the 1984-85 miners’ strike in the book Shafted, which I edited. These are included in this latest collection in parts II and III, which provide material focused on drawing insights from his, and others, work on LOP to clarify ‘alternative media’ and ‘alternative journalism’ and to analyse the practice of alternative journalism and how it differs from mainstream media.

Part IV of the book takes a broader but very interesting perspective, based on his research into journalists who started out on alternative or oppositional publications, before moving into mainstream journalism. He devotes two chapters to analysing the responses he received to a survey he conducted.

There is another piece of history in this book which connects me with the author and another person. I met Chris Searle in 1969 when we were at Exeter University. He went to teach in Stepney where he did something the school governors considered sackable – he published the children’s poetry in Stepney Words. Harcup writes vividly about this experience and his involvement in the subsequent strike in support of Searle. It was clearly a formative experience and Harcup dedicates the book to him. Later Searle approached the CPBF with the manuscript of a book on racism and The Sun. We were proud to publish Your Daily Dose in 1989.

Inevitably there is mixture of the personal and political, the subjective and objective in this review, but in a sense that is what much of the best writing in the alternative press was about, and this book is a valuable contribution to the exploration of its place in the history of journalism.

Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices by Tony Harcup, published by Routledge, 2012, ISBN 978-0-415-52189-5. RRP: £24.99 

Reviews welcome

by reviews editor Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Welcome to the reviews section of this the third edition of the most interesting and useful new journalism journal on the block. This time we are continuing to focus very clearly on books which we hope will be immediately useful for lecturers and students – particularly Journalism degree students.

What Do we Mean by Local? was the latest of John Mair and his collaborators’ ‘hackademic’ series when it appeared a year ago and is a welcome addition to the thin ranks of useful texts on the regional and local press in the UK. Its vast array of contributors and topics should make it indispensible for researchers and students studying this area.

Specialist roles in journalism have grown incredibly over the last 20 years, so Barry Turner and Richard Orange’s edited collection on that theme will again be useful to students exploring these areas.

Stalwart AJE member and prolific author Tony Harcup has encapsulated his long-standing interest in alternative journalism in a new text and in today’s environment of diverse platforms, there can’t be a better time for students to get to grips with this topic.

And despite all the doom and gloom in newspapers, the magazine sector remains vibrant. So who better than Jenny McKay, co-editor of this journal and author of the acclaimed Magazines Handbook, to offer a verdict on the latest work in this field?

The history of journalism doesn’t miss out in this section either, with Kevin Williams’ invaluable history of our whole sector joining the ranks of the classics from the journalism bookshelf.

The editors and I are very grateful to all our reviewers for their contributions this time and in the previous editions, but we are all very conscious of how busy everyone is these days and we have called in many of the favours we have accrued over the years to fill the first three reviews sections with interesting and relevant titles from authoritative reviewers. So we would repeat our appeal for colleagues to volunteer to review books or vol- unteer books for review and suggest classics from the journalism bookshelf for the next edition, compilation of which has already begun.

Anyone with an interest in reviewing for this section will be warmly welcomed. Please contact any of the editors or Tor Clark if you would like to get involved.

Educating for a better newsroom culture in a Leveson compliant future

You can download a PDF of this section by right clicking here or please go the bottom of the page to send to your reader, share on social media or bookmark for later.
Complete footnotes, tables and bibliographies are published in the journal.

By Chris Frost, Liverpool John Moores University

Amidst all the argy bargy about royal charters and last minute bids for political unity it’s often difficult to remember that Leveson was originally charged with finding a way to drain the morally fetid swamp that newspapers had come to represent for the public.

His brief was not just to build a new regulator or highlight the corruption apparently endemic amongst the national press, the police and politicians but to inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

Leveson talks in his report very little about the future for journalism and for journalists. He did take some evidence about the way newspapers had developed their business models over the past ten years or so and in doing so outlined some of the challenges to our present and future students:

The Inquiry has heard different interpretations of the impact of these economic pressures on newspaper business models. It is common ground that falling revenues and the increased need to produce copy 24 hours a day has resulted in fewer journalists having to do more work. Editors have argued that the financial levels affect staffing levels but that this simply means that journalists work harder and that there is no reduction in the quality of journalism. The Inquiry has been told that the economic difficulties have not affected training of journalists. Others have suggested that the effect of journalists having to produce more stories in less time and with less resource is that material is not as thoroughly checked as it once was, press releases are reproduced uncritically and stories are recycled around the media with little development or additional checking. The impact on regional newspapers has been more severe, with a number of titles merging or closing… Across the press the same challenge faces all titles in respect of how to make money from content online in a world where advertising revenues and revenues from physical circulation continue to decline, whilst readership online is growing… That is not to say that… there are not parts of the UK press that are profitable and, in some cases, highly profitable. (Leveson 2012: 98)

As can be seen he clearly identifies the stark reality of many modern journalists having to work harder and longer at the same tasks as their colleagues of ten years before. He comes to no conclusion about whether this ramping up of workloads reduces the quality of journalism but it is difficult to imagine in the era of 24-hour news that the technological advances of twitter, digital cameras, i-pad editing and Facebook can make up the deficit in newsrooms with half the staff of 20 years ago.

He also identified that the industry for which we are preparing students is one that generally wants to behave well:

The press… does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct. Newspapers, through whichever medium they are delivered, purport to offer a quality product in all senses of that term. Although in the light of the events leading to the setting up of this Inquiry and the evidence I have heard, the public is entitled to be sceptical about the true quality of parts of that product in certain sections of the press, the premise on which newspapers operate remains constant: that the Code will be adhered to, that within the bounds of natural human error printed facts whether in newsprint or online will be accurate, and that individual rights will be respected. (Ibid. 736-737)

Leveson mentions hardly anything about the way journalists are trained throughout his report. Indeed there is far more about the training of police and their dealings with the media than there is about training and educating journalists. Nevertheless it is clear from the above that he sees high standards of the press as something to be desired and something that the industry, and therefore employers wants.

Going on from that he identifies that training is one of the key tools in the regulatory toolbag:

“Most of these tools could form part of any regulatory tool kit whether it was self-regulatory, co-regulatory or statutory regulation. The purpose of regulation is to deliver an outcome that society wants. However, regulation is not the only way to influence or change behaviour. I thus turn to the categorisation identified by Mr McCrae of the different ways in which changes to behaviour can be encouraged and influenced, namely: enabling, engaging, exemplifying and encouraging… This includes removing barriers (of whatever sort) to the desired behaviour, giving information and providing viable alternatives, including through capacity building, skills, training and facilities.” (Ibid. 1742-3)

Of course neither Lord Justice Leveson nor McCrae are alone in identifying training as crucial in encouraging ethical behaviour. Betrand identifies it as one of his M*A*S (Media accountability systems) and other writers on ethics such as Keeble, Frost and Harcup all see its central importance both in preparing the student and developing the journalist.

Despite mentioning training infrequently Leveson is also clear that it has a role in improving standards:

“For example, the PCC has worked hard to improve the coverage of mental health issues. To this end, the PCC has produced a guidance note on the subject and has delivered training to journalists.19 It is difficult to form a clear judgment about this, but the sense I have is that press reporting on some aspects of mental health issues has improved, and the insensitive and in many cases offensive language deployed in some sections of the press ten years ago is now rarely used.” (Ibid. 1519)

He is also confident that training and education as happens in the newsrooms of AJE members is also important:

Finally, I would also like to add a word on journalism training. I have not sought to look at the adequacy of the training available to, or provided to, journalists. However, a number of professors of journalism have given evidence to the Inquiry and it is apparent from their evidence that the schools of journalism are committed to offering high quality training in which ethical journalism plays a full part. Largely as a result of the financial pressures on parts of the press, journalism training is increasingly moving away from newsrooms and into the universities. There is also an important role for ongoing in house training, including in relation to new laws and ethical or compliance issues that are highlighted by particular cases. A number of titles have told the Inquiry that they work with the PCC to deliver training on specific issues as appropriate. It is clearly important that the industry generally, and employers in particular, should place a high priority on training to ensure, inter alia, that all journalists understand the legal and ethical context within which they work. (Ibid, 736)

So what should we be doing in our institutions to pick up on Levesons’ exhortations? As he correctly identifies, training is moving away from newsrooms and into the universities. Indeed I would say that trend is now virtually complete with hardly any entry level training now being carried out at newsroom level. Of course there continues to be an important role for ongoing in-house training, as Leveson identifies but even here more of this is moving towards the universities. Part time masters programmes, CPD sessions and summer schools as well as partnership of all sorts including Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are all becoming more common and as universities plan for the inevitable fall off of applications to master programmes – already happening in some places – these will take on even more significance.

Most journalism schools have already been looking at their training and of course have been including the developing saga in court 59 as part of their curriculum.

The NCTJ has also been keeping an eye on developments and an early comment at Leveson: in one of his seminars: “One seminar attendee suggested that the National Council for the Training of Journalists does not teach ethics. The Inquiry would be interested in experience of how ethics are taught and promulgated amongst journalists.” (Leveson, 2012 p21) stung it into action and it has now introduced a new ethics module into its diploma that will be a required element of all NCTJ-accredited programmes. The BJTC has long insisted on teaching about regulation and ethics teaching. The AJE, in common with many other industry groups, has based its summer conference around the theme.

So what about our own changes? The first thing to consider surely is admissions. What type of programmes should we be offering our students and how do we select the next intake of future journalists? I think the outcome of Leveson will combine with the pattern already identified of the lessening attractiveness of post-graduate programmes. Students already up to their ears in debt, looking at a potential career in an industry which admits to pressurising its journalists to work ever harder for fewer rewards, both financial and in a newsroom culture that is prone to bullying and dissatisfaction are going to be less inclined to consider journalism as a career and there is already evidence in some centres of falling numbers applying. This is most likely to affect applicants in 2015.

Leveson does suggest though the importance of in-house training and CPD. This opens up opportunities in the post graduate field for part-time programmes either of a traditional type or more innovatively looking at patchwork MAs, distance learning and specialist programmes on day release, summer school or good old-fashioned evening classes.

It is also worth looking at the criteria used for admissions to mainstream journalism degree programmes. Evidence on newsroom culture could be said to imply too little rebellion in the newsroom, too little determination to challenge decisions from the top. Are we selecting people for study who are too willing to do as they are told; too easily prepared to go along with the prevailing wind? Journalism has traditionally attracted odd-balls, rebels and eccentrics. Has the move to degree programmes made journalism more mainstream and less rebellious and if so, is that a good thing? I merely ask the questions here but it could be that our decisions at application time are making a huge difference in the way they industry runs in terms of newsroom culture.

Newsroom culture is important as Lord Leveson identified. He picked up comments made by Professor Christopher Megone, who has worked extensively with industry bodies (mainly in finance and engineering) on issues of workplace ethics. He told Leveson that the culture in a newsroom was paramount and needed to be considered alongside and code of standards:

“If there is an unhealthy culture then an organisation can have an ethical code but it will have little influence. Members of the organisation can undergo ‘ethics training’ but it will have little effect. As soon as they return from the training to their desk or office, the pervasive culture will dominate their decision-making. The culture brings to bear all sorts of ‘accepted norms’ which an afternoon’s training will be relatively powerless to affect. (I do not, of course, think that good ‘ethics training’ is pointless, but simply that its effectiveness depends on whether, or to what extent, other factors are in place in the organisation…)” (Ibid. p86)

Leveson felt that against that background an operative code of ethics would have therefore a number of potential functions and in doing so he identifies many of the areas in which we should be concentrating our education. Indeed it clearly helps identify the difference between journalism training and education, a complex and much-agonised component of any degree programme. Leveson felt such an operative code would:

“serve as a reminder of the special importance and roles, the freedoms and privileges, the power and responsibilities of the press. It would, in other words, provide a full context for the choices which fall to be made in practice so that they can be made in accordance with the principles to be derived from this context. It would, in short, explain what ethical (or, as it is sometimes described, ‘public interest’) journalism is.” (Ibid. 87)

He goes on to identify very clearly the sort of outcomes a good journalism degree should have and identify the sort of education we should be working hard to fit alongside the training that is a central core to virtually all good programmes. Such a code would, he says:

“help journalists to understand the circumstances in which they are called upon to make ethical decisions. It would help them to make the right choices in practice. It would do this not as a matter of rigid and disconnected prescriptions and prohibitions, but by promoting ‘a stable disposition to act in certain ways for the right reasons’. It would recognise and explain the circumstances in which the temptations and motivations to act unethically (including commercial motivations) may be especially strong, and why they need to be resisted… It would not expect to stand alone. It would take its place in a context of ethical culture, sources of advice and guidance… It would have consequences in terms of how individuals and organisations are perceived, in terms of rewards and sanctions. (Ibid.)

So our education should ensure that students get this support to the code, the assurance that they understand the contexts to help them make the right ethical choices, an understanding of the pressures they will face and why they need to be resisted and that the code, any code, is not expected to stand alone but is part of an armoury of guidance, knowledge and understanding.

Part of this is understanding the culture in newsrooms and learning to deal with it. We need to ensure that we do not have the double standard in our training newsrooms that was identified in the AJE’s evidence to Leveson:

AJE members who have been practitioners (they continue to think of themselves as journalists) are well aware of a difficult double standard. That they should teach what is right, but also teach what is actually done. Honesty to the student requires that they be made aware that while there is a right way to do things, they might well be asked to do something different in the newsroom. This double standard can be reinforced by anecdotes from visiting speakers from the workplace. (AJE 2012: 10)

We need to provide more certainty to students that while they may well be expected to do things differently in the newsroom, that doesn’t mean they are obliged to do them just because everyone else does. We should be explaining that doing things the right way is important for all the reasons identified in Leveson and the thousands of other books and journal articles discussing the importance of journalism. As we told Leveson in our evidence:

“Ethics is not something to be left at the university door with the academic gown but needs to be nurtured and developed alongside other professional skills in the newsroom. (AJE 2012: 9)”

We should also be hoping that if anything has come out of Leveson it will be a profound sea change in the newsroom culture that on the one hand often saw editors bullying staff into unethical behaviour and on the other led senior staff to seemingly take a macho pleasure in behaving badly and encouraging their juniors with bar-side boasts to join them in their unseemly antics. Yes, journalists do have to behave unethically with regard to a private individual’s rights on occasion if we are to prove the wrongdoing or abuse of the public’s rights by those in power. We need to teach our students to understand the difference and to be able resist the blandishments of colleagues and the threats of editors.

One way of doing this, of course, is a method most of us already use, which is to present good practice as example whether through inviting journalists to speak to students who we identify as exemplifying good practice or by providing examples of good practice in seminars for discussion. Leveson strongly recommends this:

Exemplification includes leading by example and achieving consistency in policies. The Inquiry has heard many references to examples of excellent journalism and adherence to excellent ethical standards within the British press. The Inquiry has, however, heard fewer instances of use of such examples of excellence within the industry to promote ethical behaviour. The PCC receives complaints and, unless mediated, produces adjudications on them which lead to reminders to papers and journalists of the nature of the code and the production of additional guidance on good behaviour. The Inquiry has been told of many examples of excellent investigative journalism, ethically conducted, being lauded within the industry: examples include Thalidomide, phone hacking and MPs expenses. (Ibid. 1744)

The honourable Lord’s words do remind me that one criticism that the PCC has faced in the past (see evidence to the 2010 PCC review of governance from Frost or Jempson) is that the over-reliance on mediation, so prized by the PCC led to a reduction in the number of adjudications and so a reduction in the guidance the PCC could offer to the industry. Ofcom, for instance, produces lengthy reports of both the complaints adjudicated and its decisions and the reasons for them. This provides sound guidance to journalists and academics on how Ofcom interprets its code. Whilst the PCC adjudications are reported, often the details of the complaint are too limited (although sometimes this is for good reasons of maintaining privacy) the reasoning behind the PCC’s decision is also often too limited. One thing the AJE should be pressing whatever regulator we finally get, is more resolve to adjudicate all but the most simple of cases and more detailed reporting on the reasons for adjudication decisions. This would provide far more detailed tools for us to use in ethics seminars and as examples alongside the work students are doing in their practice modules. We should be doing all we can to avoid a divide between theory and practice that would allow students to assume one can be more easily ignored or even discarded.

Finally in our armoury for training and educating the next generation there is assessment. Most of us test and assess learning from our law and ethics modules in some form, but there is always a risk of ghettoising the assessment of ethics and good practice to the ethics module. We should ensure that our practice modules also test good professional practice alongside the practice skills those modules are designed to foster. We need to make it clear to students that the ability to spot a good story and present it in a form that commands attention are important skills, but they also require an ethical approach and consideration of the rights of individuals.

The Leveson inquiry may have covered 16 months and 2000 pages, and Leveson may not have concentrated the full force of his analysis on academe telling the inquiry: “I have not sought to look at the adequacy of the training available to, or provided to, journalists.” But his words do have resonance for us and we do have our own part to play in improving the standards of press journalism.

Supervision in the ‘Hackademy’: Reflections on the research journey of journalism practitioners

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Complete footnotes, tables and bibliographies are published in the journal.

Chindu Sreedharan, Bournemouth University


The relationship between professional journalists and journalism academics has at times been marked by mutual mistrust and antagonism. Many journalists view academics as ‘dreamers’, removed from the practical realities of newsrooms. Some academics suggest journalists do not always reflect on their practice and its larger implications, a point recently underscored by the Leveson inquiry. Despite this tension, recent years have seen an increasing number of journalists entering the academy, and taking up scholarly research in various forms. This study aims to provide insights into the supervision of such ‘hackademics’. Drawing on personal interviews with research supervisors and journalists entering or wanting to enter the academy, it focuses on the issues that come to the fore as practitioners work with the ‘theory people’ on scholarly pursuits.

Learning theory cannot make me better at what I do. Studying at the London School of Economics is not what makes a good business journalist. Everything is on-the-job; practice makes perfect. –A mid-career business journalist

You academics are half the problem! You over-intellectualise what is happening in the industry. You give it a fancy name, read meanings into it, and before you know it, there is a new ‘theory’. –A senior online editor


The quotations above, both from working journalists, are a good indication of the antipathy that many industry professionals have for journalism scholarship. Their disdain is reciprocated by at least a section of scholars, who believe that unreflective practice and purely practice-led teaching cannot produce wholesome journalism. Studies undertaken in different parts of the world have remarked on this tension. Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch (2009) write of journalists and journalist-turned-educators sharing a relationship of “uneasiness and ignorance” with their scholarly counterparts (2009:14). Barbie Zelizer (2004) notes that “the terrain of journalism’s study” (2004:3) has often resembled a war zone of competing intellectual paradigms, claims and counter-claims; further, some scholarly work “has made things worse” for journalists, contributing to the poor public standing of the profession (2004:7). The ‘media wars’ in Australia (Turner 2000), spurred by journalist and educator Keith Windschuttle’s (1998; see also Bacon 1998) argument that the inclusion of cultural studies theory in journalism curriculum provides a ‘schizophrenic’ view of reality to students, have seen an intense debate on these contradictory positions (see also Thomas 2008, Oakham 2006 and Hirst 2010). Similarly, in the UK, Tony Harcup (2011a) speaks of journalism studies being an “uncomfortable bedfellow with journalism training”, and there being “evidence of a pervasive disconnect between research and teaching, as between theory and practice” (2011a:1).

These challenges notwithstanding, journalism education is burgeoning, as evidenced in the growing number of university-level courses globally and the expansion of scholarly journalism publications and research networks in the last decade (Cottle 2009, Cushion 2007, Franklin 2009, Tumber 2005). This trend has witnessed a steady rise in the number of journalists and ex-journalists entering the academy to teach journalism (Greenberg 2007, Kenny 2009). Many such ‘hackademics’ –a “combination of ‘hack’, slang for journalist, and ‘academic’” (Harcup 2011a:2) – have also begun to engage in research activities. While doctoral-level journalism research in UK universities is still not significant compared to that in other disciplines (Errigo & Franklin 2004, Harcup 2011c), it is indicated that more ‘hackademics’ are now interested in taking up academic inquiries than ever in the past. And it is reasonable to expect this interest will grow in the years to come. The higher education funding structure that favours universities with research-active staff (Kearns, Gardiner & Marshall 2008), and the resultant university regulations for progress in the academy, are significant factors in encouraging this interest. Vigorous arguments from ‘hackademics’ who have bridged the theory-practice divide, too, have been supportive of this, and there appears to be a growing acceptance that research comes with the territory – that it is part of being in the higher education system – and engaging in it while teaching can, as Light, Cox & Calkins (2009: 42) argue, “integrate the whole of academic practice within the larger context of continuous learning”.

Given this situation, the scholarly process of journalists and ex-journalists studying theory is of particular pedagogic interest. The Practice vs Theory tensions sketched above, it can be argued, are likely to influence the supervisory environment. While the pedagogy of supervision in general has been studied extensively, there is little scholarly work on the supervision of journalism practitioners specifically. What kind of dynamics exist when scholars supervise journalists in their research journey? This study aims to shed light on the specific issues and challenges that come to the fore in such situations.

Journalism education: pedagogic tensions

Formalised journalism education is relatively new – not much older than a century. When the first journalism courses became part of university and college curricula in the United States in the early 20th century, journalists were “not educated individuals … and most assuredly not literary people” (Carrey 2006:16). The first journalism school opened at the University of Missouri in 1908 (Cushion 2007). For decades after that start, American reporters continued to be “a rag-tag” bunch, an “unlikely collection of itinerant scribblers … without much refinement” (Carey 2000:16). Unsurprisingly, the journalism education of that era was far from sophisticated. Carey describes it thus:

What was taught was rather unsystematic – largely the transmission of the accumulated folk wisdom of the craft, organized around the professional and technological separation of the media: newspapers here, magazines there, radio and television somewhere else. The craft was presented somewhat haphazardly without much historical understanding, criticism, or self-consciousness. Despite vainglorious local histories, largely testimonies to self-delusion, this was pretty much the situation at all American journalism schools (Carrey 2000:13).

Though the London University ran a journalism diploma from 1919 to 1939 (Hunter 2012), dedicated postgraduate and undergraduate provisions arrived in the UK much later. Postgraduate courses came in the 1970s, in the form of programmes at the Cardiff University and City University (Greenberg 2007). Undergraduate courses followed in the early 1990s, and the number of journalism undergraduates increased almost fivefold from 415 in 1994/95 to 2,035 in 2004/5 (Hanna & Sanders 2007). As listed on the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (2013) website, there are 492 journalism-related bachelor degrees on offer in the country. In addition, journalism master’s courses were listed in 160 venues on the Postgrad.com (2013), a popular source for MA programmes. Also listed were scores of doctoral-level research opportunities – traditional as well as practice-based PhDs – in universities with media and journalism departments across the UK.

In the US, journalism education had largely developed in the university environment, thanks mainly to Joseph Pulitzer. With a personal donation of $2 million, he had persuaded the Columbia University to open its door to journalism in 1912 (Cushion 2007). But in the UK, such education was imparted in the industry – through newsroom apprenticeships – until journalism became part of the university curriculum. This, according to Harcup (2011b:163), led to a situation where there was no tradition of journalism research in the UK until towards the end of the last century. Since then, besides practical training to produce industry-ready reporters and editors, journalism education has expanded to include scholarly inquiries into the practices of the profession (Hanna 2005). By 2005, the new subject area of journalism studies – as the academic exploration into aspects of the profession has come to be known – had emerged, and journalism itself became an object of investigation (Greenberg 2007). Still too new to have its own subject benchmark statement in the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency, the area is listed as part of ‘Communication, media, film and cultural studies’ (QAA 2008).

Despite its belated birth, journalism studies appears to be evolving fast, witnessing what Bob Franklin (2009) calls a “giddy whirl of expansion, innovation and change” (2009:729), not just in the UK, but across Europe, China, India and Africa. Pulitzer, when he put forward his $2 million idea of a “College of Journalism” to Columbia, had visualised an institution that taught not just vocational skills but a range of academic subjects, which would “raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession”(Pulitzer 1904 cited in Allan 2010:151). He was thus the first to propose “a method of building established disciplinary knowledge into journalism” (Adams 2001:321), and it is interesting to note that, a century later, when such a discipline did finally emerge, it was, as Pulitzer wanted, interdisciplinary, drawing on subjects such as ethics, sociology, politics and economics – or as Loffelholz describes it, a “pluralistic, differentiated, and dynamic field of research” (Loeffelholz 2008:15).

While Pulitzer’s immense foresight is commendable, his notion of what journalism education should be arguably underlies the suspicion and mistrust that have pervaded the relationship between practitioners and scholars. It is difficult to find fault with Pulitzer’s basic premise for wanting an education that imparted a broader knowledge to students – a knowledge that would equip them to practise their craft more efficiently, would make them better journalists, who will make better newspapers, which will better serve the public (Pulitzer 1904 cited in Allan 2010:151). But the multi-subject study and theory practice mix he counted on to transform journalism into a ‘learned profession’ – what essentially is being increasingly seen as desirable in journalism education today – have brought about their own set of issues.

Greenberg (2007) argues that besides “negotiating the boundaries between theory and practice”, the main issue is a “clash of underlying philosophy” (2007:292-3). As she sees it, one of the two main disciplinary homes of journalism is communications, which focuses on how to ‘control’ the mass audience rather than serve the needs of the citizens (as required by journalistic values). The other is cultural studies, which aims to deconstruct practices and the tacit theories that lie behind them – particularly using the concept of social constructionism to question the journalistic notions of ‘truth’, ‘reality’ and ‘balance’, and unmask the perceived journalistic belief in objectivity. The more radical forms of constructionism, Greenberg writes, question the very existence of an external reality. She adds:

This often creates a problem for dialogue between those based in journalism practice and their counterparts in cultural studies discipline or one of its offshoots. Any practitioner, however innovative, is likely to value the importance of testing stories against external reality and to see a radical rejection of distinctions between truth and falsehood as being just as its opposite, an unquestioning acceptance of objectivity (Greenberg 2007:293).

Wright (2011) appears to support this thesis when she suggests the arguments about journalism education are because the area lacks a “meta-theoretical structure” to “enable those working in the field to embrace the critical advantages of constructionism” (Wright 2011:156). The dominant ontology guiding theoretical work in journalism is constructionism – which directly contradicts the commitment to realism inherent in most journalistic practice and training. Harcup (2011c) appears to make a similar point when he describes the tensions in ‘hackademy’ as arising from a clash of two worlds: the ‘familiar’ world of journalism and a world in which journalists feel “like outsiders even after many years” (2011c:47). Wright’s solution for this quagmire is to develop a ‘mid-range’ theory, a third option that stands between the opposites of constructionism and realism. The middle ground she suggests is a version of critical realism (CR), which can serve as an ontological underpinning for journalism studies, as it allows us to “articulate notions of reality, truth, and knowledge in ways which acknowledge the important contributions constructivist work has brought to journalism research” (Wright 2011:167). She summarises her argument thus:

“CR [Critical Realism] offers journalism scholars a model of reality which gives them the theoretical means with which to move from the empirical to the abstract without oversimplifying issues. It enables them to form well-founded ‘‘macro’’ theories about the nature of journalism, as well helping them answer specific research questions about particular kinds of news coverage, journalistic organisations, or even particular individuals … [It] enables scholars to articulate questions about the decision-making processes which journalists face, with reference to both their agency, and to the social and material restrictions within which they work … offers journalism researchers a way of using CR to engage in research about changes in journalistic practice without disregarding the variability of production cycles” (Wright 2011:167).

A more practical issue that needs to be addressed is the way some scholarly work – arguably a product of the ontological gulf discussed above – has ‘belittled’ journalistic practices. There is “distaste among practitioners for the apparently hostile tone in much current theoretical work about practice” (Greenberg 2007:294; see also Zelizer 2004, Harcup 2011b). For their part, some journalists tend to be severely sceptical about the ability of scholarly writings to provide insights into what is happening in the industry. Zelizer (2004), a journalist-turned-scholar, captures this sentiment in Taking Journalism Seriously when she says she felt she had entered a “parallel universe” and “nothing I read as a graduate student reflected the working world I had just left” (2004:2). In the same vein, many practitioners believe that theorists are, as Roger Scruton put it, “talentless individuals who can’t get jobs in the media” and “there’s nothing really to learn except by way of apprenticeship” (cited in Peak & Fisher 2000:320). Understandably, such sentiments are unlikely to be productive, and there appears to be an acute need for a culture of mutual respect, which, hopefully, would provide for an environment where reflections on journalism from both sides are possible without one or the other side feeling their work ‘diminished’ or ‘belittled’.

It is unfair to pin the blame for the mutual animosity on ontology alone, however. The separation that existed between journalism training and academy for much of the 20th century can also be seen to have contributed to it. Trainers were distanced from an environment where critical reflection and conceptualisation were the norm; and scholars worked on their own, without access to newsrooms and the practical realities of day-today journalism. Consequently, to borrow Zelizer’s (2004) description, both sides existed in ‘parallel universes’, ill-informed about each other’s contributions. For instance, many from the industry – and here I draw from my own experience of transitioning from journalism to academia, as well as anecdotal evidence from ex-colleagues and other ‘hackademics’ – have rarely been exposed to academic literature, and their understanding of what theoretical study involves is at best cursory. This makes it difficult for them to see the relevance of scholarship to their own work; moreover, it often produces a certain defensiveness, a ‘fear of the unknown’, which arguably contributes to an antipathy to theoretical work. Jackie Errigo (Errigo & Franklin 2004) acknowledges this in so many words when she writes she is fearful that any topic a “mere hackademic generates will be knocked back with scornful disdain” (2004:44). The dynamic, she points out, is between “peers … and suppose what I write doesn’t cut the mustard with the peer group? Professional humiliation may lurk around the corner” (Errigo & Franklin 2004:45). It is true that many – if not most – academics are also prey to such fear, but for an entrant from a ‘parallel universe’, it can only be more pronounced. Here it is interesting to note the argument that journalists are not “inherently averse to engaging with theoretical discourses” (Machin & Niblock 2006:178). Duffield (2009) believes they would make very good researchers, given the information-gathering and analytical skills required in their profession. In fact, according to Niblock (2007), many practitioner-academics have a “burning desire” to engage in research and connect theory and practice. The problem, however, is that many “are uncertain about how to begin to fulfilling such desire” (2007:21).

It is heartening to note this state of affairs is changing and, as Keeble (2006) observes, the case for journalism as an academic study has gained ground. There is now “a slow, but steady move away from a conservative, skills-based curriculum,” argue Wahl-Jorgensen & Franklin, “toward a more reflective curriculum, taught by research-active academics” (2008:182). Such a move is at least in part driven by different motives. On the part of academic disciplines, the main motivation is a need to attract students with courses that offer vocational or transferable skills training: on the part of the practitioners, it is the recognition that they need to broaden the scope of their education “if journalism is to have a long-term future as a tertiary subject” (Greenberg 2007:294). The expansion of the ‘hackademy’ can also be seen to have contributed to this: the plethora of new journalism courses that universities have launched has placed a significant number of practitioners within the academy, facilitating a much-needed dialogue between the two sides.

With these changes underway, an argument can be made that more practitioners are likely to undertake research – be it traditional doctorates, practice-based PhDs, or other forms of scholarship – in the years to come. There is evidence of a new openness to theoretical study, encouraged as it is by, among other factors, peer influence brought about by the increased interaction among scholars and practitioners, a higher education funding structure that rewards universities producing research, institutional demands spurred by such a funding structure (for instance, research activity is an important factor in guiding pay progression in many institutions), and the new levels of accessibility offered by the internet revolution. There is also a conscious effort on the part of many institutions and scholars – a new academic attitude, so to speak – to be more inclusive, founded on the belief that practitioners have much to offer, not just as vocational trainers but to journalism research as well. In such a scenario, it is important to understand more about the research journey of practitioners.


Owing to the nature of this exploration, which required insights from supervisors and practitioners who have experienced supervision, personal interviews were chosen as the method for this study. Twelve semi-structured interviews were carried out during a two-year period (2010-2012) by the author and a research assistant – six with supervisors and six with current or recent supervisees. Eight of the interviews were face-to-face, while four were carried out over the telephone. The interviews lasted 45 minutes on an average, and were taped and subsequently transcribed. All participants were affiliated to UK universities. All were guaranteed anonymity.

All six supervisors interviewed were overseeing doctoral research of practitioners or had supervised journalists to completion. Supervisor A was working with his first PhD student. Supervisors B, C and E were experienced supervisors, who had overseen multiple doctoral completions, while supervisors D and F were former journalists who had made the transition into academia.

Of the six supervisees, Supervisees 1, 3 and 5 were close to submission when interviewed. Supervisee 2 was roughly midway in his research journey, while supervisees 4 and 6 had recently received their PhDs when they spoke to the interviewer. All supervisees had considerable journalism experience, having worked in the industry for at least five years.

Findings and discussion

The semi-structured interviews focussed on the supervisory process. The interviewees were asked about the issues that arose when they interacted with their respective supervisor or supervisee during the research journey. The themes that emerged are discussed below.

Fear of the theoretical

Even for a student straight off a master’s or undergraduate course, a PhD is a big step-up. Many find it quite daunting, particularly in the initial months, which can be, as Supervisor E described it, a “period of confusion”. This appears to be true in the case of the journalism practitioners interviewed, who, though confident in their practice, found the transition quite unnerving. Coming as they are from a “parallel universe” (Zelizer 2004:2), it would appear the fear of “personal humiliation that may lurk around the corner” that Errigo & Franklin (2004:45) noted was quite pronounced in their case. Supervisor A commented explicitly on this “confidence issue”:

“They are very confident about their own work, but as soon as you take them out of the domain… They are perfectly capable of understanding it and engaging with it critically, but there is a period in which this unknown conceptual and theory of work does seem alien and there is a confidence issue.”

The confidence issue came to the fore in the interviews with supervisees, who expressed it in different ways. Supervisee 3, a PhD student nearing completion, said he felt “like a duck out of water” and for a long time, it made him “despondent” to work in an unfamiliar area. Others spoke of the process being “very different”, “taking time to get into it”, and about the critical feedback they received from their supervisors initially. Supervisee 1, who was preparing to submit her thesis, shed more light on this, looking back at the time when she first entered academia, fresh from the journalism industry:

“I was a little bit intimidated. Some of the academic teachers, saying the academic language, some of the academic theories … it was all a little bit intimidating. My vocabulary was completely different at that time. And the way that I approached things was very different. It was definitely challenging. I was probably more worried about it than I needed to be, I think. I was really worried about making the transition.”

While not unexpected, it is interesting to note the strong sense of journalistic identity that the practitioners bring with them. The above respondent, despite having been fulltime in academia for four years now, and having undertaken a master’s in journalism studies before starting a PhD, still identified herself as a journalist – as she put it, “once a marine, always a marine; once a journalist, always a journalist”. This potentially has implications for the way practitioners approach their research. One aspect of this – in tune with the theory-practice divide highlighted in the works of, among others, Cushion (2010), Greenberg (2007), Harcup (2011a, 2011b, 2011c) and Wright (2011) – is a hesitancy – if not reluctance – to engage with theory. There is, as both supervisors and students remarked, an insufficient understanding of what constitutes theory, and how it can inform practice. Supervisee 3spoke about this:

“The supervisor was talking about things I hadn’t thought about in those terms. He was going on about it in a clinical, precise way – it was about news values, I remember, about Galtung and Ruge – and I couldn’t understand a thing. I had just come from being a practitioner… in journalism, we work with rules – when you are subbing a copy, you do this, this and this, when you are reporting, you do this. Not with theories. So I was thinking this was all bull.”

It took him a long time to see where the rules of journalism intersect with theory, he said. Supervisee 1 put across her bias against theory, saying that initially she found the prospect of engaging with the theory unnerving, as – and here we hear support for Wright’s (2011) argument that journalism practice is driven by realism – “journalists work in concrete and theory in journalism studies is abstract”. Supervisee 4 elaborated:

“Theory is the academic Bible. But interviewing and being able to write and knowing what a story is and having that old cliché of a nose for news – that’s what you need as a journalist, and theory doesn’t come into it. So, yeah, that was a really difficult transition.”

Supervisors, too, spoke of this, of “academic work not being valued” sufficiently, and having to inculcate in their supervisees an interest of such work over a period of time. Supervisor C, a professor who has overseen a number of PhD projects, summarised this sentiment:

It does take a while for them to get past their own initial scepticism of the value of a PhD, before they really get into it. But once they really get into it, the transformation is wonderful. And here I am not saying wonderful in the sense that I want everybody to be an academic – I don’t … but wonderful in the sense that it encourages people to think differently about themselves, about the world, so that they have the benefit of contemplating – really getting into the issues that are of interest to them.

There appeared to be a consensus that the “resistance” to theory was, as Supervisor D – a former journalist currently supervising a practitioner – put it, based on a “misunderstanding” of what theory is seen as in the “parallel universe” (Zelizer2004:2) of journalism. Supervisor E attempted to explain this in terms of the cultural differences that exist between the journalism industry and academia:

“They [journalists] have been shaped by a professional culture which says, ‘Concentrate on facts. All that academic stuff is not important. Just go for the story and don’t get too distracted by high faluting intellectualisations about it.’ So, some may be wary of theory … largely due to having been socialised as a journalist, having their core professional identity as a journalist and therefore having been shaped by that culture.”

Supervisor D made a similar point, attributing the suspicion about theory to the “culture shock” that most practitioners undergo when they begin academic research.

“[Journalists] enter from a world where there is no systematic kind of approach to knowledge. So when they move into academe, they find it to be quite a culture shock, I think. It will change over time, people will realise the importance of theory over time. There is tension between academics and practitioners, but at some point people recognise they need this kind of theory, especially if they want to go into academe.”

Supervisee 4 shed further light on the extent of this “culture shock”. The pressure from supervisors to engage with theory can be particularly stressful and had led to several “existential crises” in her case:

I had a panel of three supervisors, and I had one who was a methods man, big into discourse analysis, and theoretical frameworks. “Are you Fairclough, are you Foucault, Van Dijk? What theoretical frameworks do you use?” And I ended up bursting into tears. I walked into my [main] supervisor’s office and said, “I have no theory, I have no theoretical framework.” And she said, “Yes, you do.” “I have no research questions.” “Yes, you do.” “I have no argument.” “Yes, you do.” “No, I really don’t!” And she was like, “Yes, you do!” It was crazy, but there were a couple of times like that where my inadequacies about doing a PhD, or being a journalist doing a PhD, came over.

As scholars have noted in earlier studies, despite the uneasiness about theory, journalists are not “inherently averse to engaging with theoretical discourses” (Machin & Niblock 2006:178), but are quite often not sure how to go about it (Niblock 2007). Supervisee 4 appeared to exemplify this situation, in that she was unsure about how conceptualise her research and attained clarity only later in the research process. She seemed to acknowledge this when she goes on to say:

“But at the end of the day it didn’t really matter, because I had it all there, and I did have a theoretical framework, and I did know where I situated myself discourse analysis-wise. But it was my own feelings of inadequacy as a journalist, and not being part of the academic club that kind of nearly derailed the entire train.”

Supervisors felt how long it takes for a student to feel “part of the academic club” – in effect, make the “wonderful transformation” that Supervisor C mentioned – was dependent on the individual, on their educational background, what they hope to get out of the research degree, etc. This, and the related issue of being in an ‘alien’ environment, could mean in general the supervisory support needed for practitioners could be different from those coming via the traditional academic path. Observed Supervisor B:

“A traditional student would come in with a research question. So a lot in the initial stage is guidance towards reading, advising on building a conceptual framework. With someone coming in from the industry, it is much more about exploring the questions they want to raise. Because they would come with a lot of issues and grievances within practice, but not necessarily coherent questions that are PhD-worthy.”

Supervisee 5 appears to be touching on this need for supervisors to approach practitioner supervision differently when she remarks on how her own approach to her supervisors had to be changed midway. She felt her supervisors treated her like a “young academic colleague” before she was ready, rather than someone from a different work culture, used to functioning in a vastly different way:

“My supervisors understand I came from journalism, but they didn’t quite understand. I thought I could work with them more as editors. But it is more like “Give me your chapter whenever you are ready.” Who knows when it’s ready? So the first years it was, like, yeah, whenever it’s ready. But that didn’t work. So I told him, “You know what, what about if you give me a deadline?” And he looked at me and said, “Okay, so when do you want to hand it in?” And I was like, no, no! This is not working! It was very hard because I know as a journalist I needed to have an iron hand, to tell me, “If you don’t hand in this, you’re out!” My supervisory team, they didn’t quite see that. They viewed me more as a young colleague, as starting an academic career. They didn’t see, “Oh, you come from a journalism world, therefore…” Now that we’re reflecting on it, it would have helped if they actually see your background. I mean, your routine, your rhythm, your way of work.”

Critiquing own practice: difficulties

An important aspect that emerged in the interviews is the journalists’ initial inability to consider their own practices in a dispassionate and neutral manner. Supervisor A pointed out:

“They could be very defensive of the traditional, established values of journalism. So when you start talking about critiquing that, they often see that as a personal attack, rather than a way of looking at things critically in order to understand things differently.”

While this is possibly related to the strong sense of journalistic identity (and the culture of animosity towards journalism scholars that that identity has arguably cultivated), the fact that they are ‘fresh from the field’ and still ‘too close’ to their own practice need to be considered as well. The same supervisor appeared to touch on this when he said, “being able to step back from the practice they have been doing can be difficult”. He elaborated:

“Many a time, when you are discussing newsroom dynamics, there are assumptions about what is actually taking place. It is those taken-for-granted procedures that they don’t even see. Or they might not think it is actually worth noting, because it is day-to-day practice, and they can’t see why it should be important. But for the scholarly study of journalism it might be incredibly important.”

The other supervisors interviewed, too, commented on this. Getting practitioners to take a step back is part of the initial process of supervising such PhDs. But this is easier said than done. Supervisor F spoke of this:

“In journalism, there is a no-nonsense approach. Journalism tends to simplify rather than to problematise things; academics tend to do the other way around. So I can see a lot of journalists being too close to what they used to do because a) it was very successful, and b) it’s a practice they’re used to. That has a knock-on effect in the way they assume and receive criticism from their supervisor.”

For their part, the supervisees interviewed appeared to agree with this thought. Supervisee 3 spoke of this:

“Had I not been a journalist, I would not have had too much ‘baggage’. I would have been more open-minded, more receptive, and my own response to supervision would have been more proactive than reactive. I had to fight to keep my baggage out before I could accept what my supervisors were trying to tell me.”

Supervisee 1 provided further insights, linking the inability to be critical to a ‘different’ notion of objectivity that journalists have. What academics see as dispassionate, she said, is very different from what journalists define as objectivity, and part of the problem is shedding this idea of objectivity and understanding that a scholar is allowed to have a ‘voice’ and is in fact expected to offer an analysis, an argument in their work. She expanded:

“I felt I needed someone else’s voice to critique on my behalf, that my own voice was not enough. And that’s what we do in journalism – even if you are doing an analysis piece, you are using someone else’s views to get your point across. You are taught to distance yourself … be ‘objective’. When you are critiquing in journalism, you are getting others to do it for you. So I didn’t feel my own voice was appropriate. And I really, really struggled with it.”

Issue of style

Academy has its own vocabulary, its own style of writing, and adapting to this was a “big struggle” for all the researchers. All supervisors interviewed spoke of this, as did all supervisees. Despite their time in academia, three of the six interviewed said they still ‘struggled’ with academic writing. Supervisee 3 spoke of the “sense of despondency” he felt when what he wrote was repeatedly critiqued as “too journalistic”. When he began, he couldn’t “think of a single sentence” that could be seen as academic writing, and it was a “spar with my supervisors for about 3-4 years”. Supervisee 6 spoke about how his first few chapters were critiqued and he was told “this is not the way to write”.

Supervisee 2 appeared to be making the same point when he said, “last summer I produced quite some PhD work. But the supervisors raised their eyebrows and said it might have to be completely rewritten.” The problem, he continued, is that as a journalist he tries to write in simple, clear prose, accessible to the layman, which is not always appreciated in academia. “When I talk to my supervisors I will use the word ‘epistemological’,” he said,

“but if I’m talking to a journalist about my PhD I’d not use that term – because I think it would alienate them and they’d think I was bullshitting.” Supervisee 3 added: “Words like ‘systemic’, ‘indicative’, ‘endemic’, these have now become part of my writing!”

Supervisee 4 described that the most common criticism that she received throughout her PhD was that her work was not “academic enough”. As she put it:

“I can remember there were a few times where she [supervisor] and I got into … where I was like, “What do you mean by it’s not academic enough?” She finally had to break it down, and said, “You need to have longer sentences. Your sentences need to be longer, they need to be waffly, they need to have at least three or four commas and clauses.” She was going over the top when she was saying it but it really hammered it home.”

The issue of writing style appeared to be a topic of intense debate in many supervisory sessions. The supervisees interviewed came across as passionate about the way they expressed themselves in their research writings and reluctant to adopt the alien style of academia, which they saw as verbose and aimed at – as one of the interviewees put it – “profoundising things”. Supervisors felt this sensitivity about refashioning what is a well-established and successful writing style in journalism into something more formal and fitted for a doctoral submission could be an impediment in the successful completion of a PhD by a practitioner. Supervisor E, who criticised “some of the shibboleths of academics scoring style” as “worse than useless and part of the mystification of academic knowledge”, provided some insights into the issue:

“There have been occasions where I have said, ‘well, no, I think that’s not appropriate’ because … it may trail a set of assumptions or preconceptions that isn’t appropriate, you know, in a scholarly work where you need to be dissecting and deconstructing. There’s also something about the casualness of vernacular expression. It’s not just because it’s slang and you can’t use that; it’s not that there is an absolute rigid dogma about it. It’s that the use of vernacular expressions can suggest a kind of slackness of thought. Now if there’s a kind of vernacular expression that does not do that, it’s fine. But it’s where the vernacular may associate with a laziness or glibness of thought that I would be unhappy with it … that’s the kind of thing that can creep in under or as part of a journalistic style, I think.”

There appeared to be a consensus among the interviewees that the transition from a journalistic to academic style – or to be more precise, a writing style acceptable in academia – is part of the PhD process. Supervisor D, a former journalist himself, said it took time and patience, and required constant reminders from the supervisors to achieve this. But the exercise of writing a thesis might not always achieve a complete conversion from the part of the practitioners. As three of the supervisees pointed out, it was about finding a ‘compromise’ style. Supervisee 4 gave voice to this sentiment, articulating her reservations about the “highfalutin’, mumbo-jumbo” of academic writing. As she put it:

“It was difficult, but I like to think now that I’ve reached a bit of a medium. I can write academic, highfalutin’, mumbo jumbo, but I can give it a bit of an edge. I want someone to enjoy what they’re reading, and the majority of stuff I had to read for my PhD, I didn’t enjoy. It was horrendous, absolutely horrendous, and it’s supposed to be a creative process, a structured creative process, and you’re supposed to have something valid and reputable at the end of it, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it! So for me it was a happy medium, and that has actually served me quite well because when I let people read stuff now that I’ve written, I’m able to break it down into easy concepts that people can understand.”

The precision that is required in academic writing – which, supervisees felt, could at times be frustrating – also came up for discussion. “In journalism you don’t have the time to negotiate every word, every comma,” Supervisee 1 said. “But here sometimes the process of negotiating one single paragraph might take 20 times more time than I took to write it.” This was good in a way because it made her think more about her writing, “take ownership of it”. But it was also “very difficult” to come to terms with.

Expert versus expert

Being practitioners, experienced in the ‘real thing’, journalists are capable of bringing a wealth of knowledge into academic research. However, this expertise could also create tensions in the research environment. Supervisor A spoke about this “potential for conflict”:

“You could have a situation where the supervisee says, I am the expert because I am the professional here. And the supervisor says, I am the expert, because I am the academic here. The journalists need to realise that their expertise lies in the profession. And the PhD, when they are entering into that realm, is an academic undertaking, which in effect the supervisor is the expert in. So yes, they have the subject-specific expertise, but I have the expertise in how to conduct research, how to conceptualise or theorise what they are going to be studying. There needs to be that realisation.”

Supervisee 3 acknowledged this tension. He admitted he wasn’t initially convinced about his supervisor’s ability to oversee his research project:

“I was coming into academia after 25 years in journalism. I had a lot of ego – ego as a journalist who had done a lot of things. I looked upon my supervisor as a non-journalist. He hadn’t been there and done the things I had. How could he handle my project?”

It took Supervisee 3 almost a year to get over his “false sense of superiority”. He added, “the conflict resolved itself when I understood the role of the supervisor. It went away once I realised that this was my project, and the supervisor was only there as a guide, to advise me on it.” Supervisor F, a practitioner-turned-supervisor, explained this tension in terms of a general perception among journalists that academics do not understand the difficulty of their practice – it is an “easy shot”, “easy to criticise from the outside”. As he put it:

Journalism is a very difficult practice, in which you have to struggle with different elements of power in order to produce articles in very little time. The main criticism you get from practitioners of academics, or practitioners towards their supervisors is, “you may think this is easy, but you have months, years to write an article or a book. I have a day to produce two or three articles. How dare you criticise my work? You should be under such pressure before you try to make any criticism.” And I think that argument underpins the general views of a lot of practitioners towards academia.

Supervisors appeared to be mindful of this potential area of tension. Supervisor C spoke of the “need to be sensitive about this expertise”, as did Supervisor B, who spoke with enthusiasm about the “passion that practitioners bring to research” and the need for giving them credit for their experiences. All three seemed to be of the opinion that academics need to be more sensitive in the way they dealt with practitioners. Supervisor C spoke more about this:

“The important starting point, I find, is to tell journalists that they are already researchers. The idea that they are here to get a completely brand new identity of an academic, it is false. They are already researchers. Every good journalists knows how to find information, where to look for it, how to interpret it and understand it, say something about it. The same goes for theory. They are theorists already. But they might just not think of it in those terms.”

The willingness to acknowledge journalistic expertise is interesting to note and is arguably part of the new thinking that has come about in recent years. At least in part, it has been brought about by the increased interaction between scholars and practitioners, and also the recognition that both have important lessons to learn from each other. The new attitude is helpful in negating the feeling of ‘belittlement’ that scholars such as Greenberg (2007) and Zelizer (2004) have noted.

The problem of delayed gratification

One aspect of the research process that appeared to frustrate the supervisees interviewed was the pace of output. Used as they were to by-lines or other forms of editorial products every day, they found the slow nature of academic work quite trying. Supervisee 2 touched upon this issue:

“Unlike doing a news story when you can take notes and then fashion a story, the breakthroughs in a PhD tend to come after you’ve absorbed a lot of complex ideas and then allowed them to stew. So it is like using a different part of the brain to regular reporting.”

Supervisor C spoke about how different the two work environments are and the lack of “instant gratification” in academic research. For journalists who are always “on the go, on the telephone, jumping into cars and so forth, every day sitting in front of the computer for hours and grinding away” is very different. And this can go on for months, even years, “with nothing to show for their effort but – if they are lucky – a pat on the back from the supervisor”. Missing is the sense of recognition that journalists had in their profession almost on a daily basis, a “reaffirmation that they are good at what they do”.

Supervisor E saw this as a more universal issue, which all doctoral candidates experience:

“I think this frustrates quite a few people. Even for those who are quite happy to be academics, it can still be frustrating. It’s such a long road, and that by the time anything comes out of it, you’re so annoyed with it you can hardly be bothered to send off the article for publication. I can imagine that there will be a particular sharpness to that frustration for some journalists, but it’s a common experience.”

Five of the six supervisees interviewed said they struggled to come to terms with the issue of ‘writing but not publishing’ (Supervisee 6 worked part-time as a journalist during his PhD, so had opportunities for publication elsewhere and appeared not to be affected in the same way as the others). Supervisee 5 compared the processes in journalism and academia:

“If you submit a paper to a journal, it takes like a year to see it printed and you’re not even sure if it’s going to be printed. All this process of submitting the abstract and then the paper and then they send you feedback and if it’s accepted, it takes six months to a year to see it printed, and when it’s printed, nobody cares! It’s not like journalism! I started journalism when I was 18, studying for my Bachelors. I remember the first time an article of mine was printed. Everybody came to congratulate me, and I was a celebrity for a day … when you see it printed, it’s there!”

Acknowledging the lack of an immediate sense of achievement, Supervisee 5 spoke of her way of coping with it:

“In the beginning what I did was, of everything I read, I wrote up a one-page synopsis. That helped me to feel that I was accomplishing something, because at the end of the day I had two or three sheets of little reports. As I got further into my PhD, I began doing conference papers and stuff like that, and those became my achievements.”

Supervisor F, who had struggled with the same issue during his transition from a practitioner to scholar, provided another perspective: journalism, while providing instant gratification to the author, is more transient; academic articles, however, are capable of engaging a readership years after being published. The first journal article he published, he said, didn’t bring him much satisfaction, as he didn’t really value the importance of peer-reviewed publication then. He noted:

“The satisfaction came, I remember, when I got two emails from colleagues I didn’t know, one from Australia and one from Germany, and they wrote asking me for additional information about the paper, and I thought that was actually brilliant. Then I saw that one of them cited the work in a book, and that was a breakthrough … in the case of academic work, yes, it is going to be read by far fewer people, but it is going to be more far-reaching in terms of time. Any of the stuff I wrote 13 years ago when I was still working as a journalist, that’s all disappeared. Nobody quotes it, not even on the internet. Academic work is more permanent in time.”

Supervisee 4, though missing the instant responses and gratification that journalism provides, appeared to make the same point when she said:

“In journalism, it’s instant. You see it instantly, but at the same time you see the mistakes, and it’s like, oh, I would wish I had more time, and then you move on. But with the PhD I know what I’m publishing. The rhythm in academia is quite different, slower … but perhaps the gratification is more.”

Supervisor D felt this was an issue supervisors needed to be mindful of, and help supervisees with by placing them in the “right context”. He saw it as an “issue of motivation”, one of the responsibilities of a supervisor. He noted:

You have to get your student to kind of know where they are. I know many PhD students lose interest because, you know, it’s a long process, sometimes a very lonely process, so it could be very demoralising. So it’s a matter of motivation and of warning people from the beginning. They need to be warned… not scared off but cautioned about the process. You have to keep them motivated throughout the process.


This article aimed to throw light on the supervisor-supervisee relation in the ‘hackademy’ – essentially, to bring to the fore the challenges that arise when journalism practitioners embark on academic research. The interviews recorded for this study indicate that journalists undertaking scholarly pursuits struggle with a series of issues. Many tend to experience a “culture shock” and find it intimidating to work in an unfamiliar environment. Misconceptions about the nature of the theoretical work they are expected to undertake, and a lack of confidence in their own capability to engage with its unfamiliar demands, can be seen as possible reasons for this uneasiness. The cynicism that some practitioners seem to harbour about theory, and their belief that it has no value for practical journalism, arguably accentuate this state of affairs.

Another concern that came to the fore was an initial inability, if not reluctance, on the part of the practitioners to step back and look at their own profession in a critical manner. Some journalists are likely to be defensive about established newsroom practices and find it difficult to critique them in a dispassionate manner. There also appeared to be a related egotism about their expertise in practice — a sense that they had practiced journalism while scholars had only studied it – among some practitioners, which made them less receptive to feedback from supervisors and brought with it the potential for conflict in the supervisory environment. Adopting the academic style of writing, which is starkly different from the style of journalism, was a major challenge for the practitioners interviewed. They were passionate about the way they wrote, defending it strongly against the language of academy, which they saw as verbose and confusing. Often they required time to come to terms with the demand of academic writing, or to negotiate a middle ground that suited scholarly expectations. Their progress was further marked by a sense of frustration at the slow process of academic research in general, used as they are to the gratification of seeing their writing in print very quickly.

For their part, the supervisors interviewed found inculcating the value of theoretical work in a hands-on practitioner to be often challenging and time-consuming. Much patience was required on their part, particularly in the initial period of a research journey, to help practitioners get over their scepticism about theory and see its significance for journalism practice. Also required of the supervisors was a heightened sensitiveness to enable a productive relationship with their supervisees and ensure that their critique and approach did not ‘belittle’ the practitioners or their practice. This was particularly true of the journalistic style of writing, which needs to be viewed as part of the professional identity of the practitioner. Constant reminders and flexibility are required from supervisors so that compromise solutions can be negotiated where needed, and the matter of style does not become an impediment in the research journey. Admittedly, some of these issues are applicable to other supervisory environments as well. For instance, it is usual for many researchers to find the PhD journey quite daunting, and many practitioners – not just journalists – find it hard to adopt the academic style of writing. However, given the troubled relation that journalism practitioners have with their scholarly counterparts, it is conceivable that they would feel these issues more acutely.

The author wishes to thank Nicolette Barsdorf-Liebchen for her research assistance on this project.


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