Professional Perspectives: Placing Lived Experience at the Heart of Journalism Education

Professional Perspectives: placing lived experience at the heart of journalism education

Karen Fowler-Watt, Bournemouth University.

This paper will consider the importance of the blend of theory and practice in journalism education.  It posits that in order to be equipped for a lifetime in journalism, students need to operate as reflective practitioners, with a well-formed sense of professional and personal identity. Now more than ever, in a post-Leveson landscape, they need to know who they are, what they stand for and to have their own individual ‘voice’. Drawing on the example set by the BBC College of Journalism and my own doctoral research, for context, I also use a case study from my own teaching to illustrate the point: Professional Perspectives operates a programme of visiting speakers from industry that provides students with differing perspectives on current and key issues in journalism, such as ethics, original storytelling, impartiality. In the final assignment, students address a key challenge, placing quotes and ideas from the practitioners into a theoretical context supported by wider reading. In addition, they reflect on their own sense of self as a journalist. The paper will conclude that active learning from the lived experiences of others can enhance the lifelong education of journalists, informing their self-understanding and encouraging an ethical approach to their craft.

Keywords: self-reflexive; good practice; ‘lived experience’; challenge; identity; self; ethics

One learns about education from thinking about life and one learns about life from thinking about education (Clandinn and Connelly, 1998:154)

This paper explores how stories of ‘lived experience’ are used in journalism education and how, through active learning from the storied selves of others journalists can reflect on their own practice.  My background as a journalist, now working as a journalism educator, has encouraged me to consider the role of personal stories in journalism education, since they are ‘hard-wired’ into journalism as a craft (Marr, 2004).  This paper also aims to assess the utility of storytelling drawn biographically from personal experience in an educational context. It engages with the ways in which stories are told and re-told, so that both educator and students are involved in a learning process which is immersive and interactive. For many journalists, the relationship between professional and personal identity is one of symbiosis: this paper posits that in order to be equipped for a lifetime in journalism, students need to operate as reflective practitioners, with a well-formed sense of personal and professional ‘self’.

This study is informed by the definition of self as core being. As Taylor (1989) reminds us, there is

a sense of the term where we speak of people as selves, meaning that they are beings of the requisite depth and complexity to have an identity

(Taylor, 1989:32)

A sense of self is constituted by our interpretations of ourselves, which are never fully explicit (Taylor, 1989). Identity is taken to mean what we make for ourselves out of that concept of self, whilst aware that ‘identities can no longer be seen as rigid categories’ (Clarke, 1996:195). It is located in ‘social order, jointly maintained by organisms sharing a geographical-historical setting’ (Erickson, 1975:46). Context and location are crucial to a sense of personal and professional identity.

Working lives and professional identity;

One by one and two by two, the sober responsible men emerged from the main door again to go out for lunch: The Foreign Editor, the Literary Editor, the Diplomatic Correspondent and the Rugby Football Correspondent made up a party to share a taxi to the Garrick

(Michael Frayn, Towards the End of Morning, 1967)

Frayn’s  (1967) witty observations of the male-dominated world of newspapers, with its long alcohol-fuelled lunches were mirrored in the working practices of broadcasting organisations at the time, where jobs for life were the norm. A life – long career in journalism often meant a lifetime in the same newsroom. Harold Evans uses the first instalment of his autobiography, My Paper Chase, to paint a picture of ‘true stories of vanished times’ (Evans, 2009). Visiting London from Manchester, where he was a regional newspaper editor, in the mid-1960s, he describes Fleet Street as a magical place:

Nearly all the national newspapers had their headquarters in the street or nearby, with their presses roaring in the basements, the press barons barking in their penthouses … and enough watering holes for a thirsty newsman, gossip diarist or cameraman to run from one to another without getting wet  (Evans, 2009: 269-70)
In this personal account, he also describes a male-dominated environment, akin to Frayn’s (1967) parody and a system of professional promotion, which resided in armchair chats, with jobs handed out, without interview, over a whisky. It was a cosy, clubbable world.

Autobiographical writing by journalists can usefully illustrate how men and women construct stories about themselves, both in the newsroom and in the field. For many, like former war correspondent, now TV anchor, Jon Snow, professional and personal identities are intertwined – inextricably – so that his own campaigning zeal informs his craft.  Often hailed as a modern day George Orwell, Snow’s autobiography,  ‘Shooting History’ (2004) is infused with a desire to change the world, to challenge inequality and unfairness, whilst reporting impartially for Channel 4 News. If journalism is defined as a craft, or even a trade (Marr, 2004) rather than as a profession, these examples from journalists’ autobiographical writing illustrate how individuals seek to place themselves within their working world, cognisant of the constraints imposed by working practices and the remit of impartiality, but where ‘self’ as individual, as storyteller is also central.

In a contemporary environment dominated by short-term contracts, freelance shifts and ‘portfolio careers’, a journalist’s professional identity is shifting dramatically. The research conducted by Mishler (1999) on the narratives of identity of craft artists shows how, rather than romanticising their craft, potters and artisans ‘were keenly aware of “how the world is made” and tried to find ways to continue with their work within that reality’ (Mishler, 1999:161). The same could be said of journalists, keen to stay true to the craft of storytelling, but encouraged to diversify as a result of editorial constraints (deadline and the remit of impartiality) and economic imperatives (low pay and shortterm employment in a digital age).

Changing perceptions of self-identity:

Autonomy of journalists on the individual or organisational level does not necessarily translate to autonomy on the societal level that is needed for democracy to function (Ornebring, 2010;574).

As artists often feel removed from the reality that they are trying to reflect and to change, so for journalists there is often a gap between the democratic and romantic ‘vision’ of changing the ways in which people see the world and the reality of hitting ceaseless deadlines. Arguably, for journalists feeding the 24/7 news cycle, operating in a workplace where fewer reporters are producing more news, a sense of self is more important than ever.  Moreover the journalist’s self – identity in the first decade of the 21stt century is constructed against a backdrop of the intense scrutiny of critical friends from within the profession and, most recently, the fallout from the Leveson Inquiry and editorial failings at the BBC.  In 2004, the political journalist, Andrew Marr (2004) depicted his ‘trade’ as affected by a crisis of trust and a tendency to exaggerate; Nick Davies’ (2009) views on journalism’s reliance on the churn of the PR industry are well – rehearsed. In addition, the digital landscape has led observers to question the viability of impartiality and objectivity:

Invented in an age of information scarcity, their relevance in an age of information abundance is now being questioned. Does a neutral voice hold the same value today as it did a century ago? (Sambrook, 2012:3).

Even stalwarts of impartiality within the BBC such as its Director of Global News, Peter Horrocks, have subjected this key tenet of its journalism to critical scrutiny and called its relevance into question (Horrocks, 2012).  After 2012, many observers feared that the double impact of the publication of the Leveson Report and the Savile crisis at the BBC could induce cowed and risk – averse journalism (Thomson, 2013; Laville, 2013). These fears are particularly pertinent within a media environment, where journalists operate across platforms and where movement between jobs and roles is more fluid than before. The cultures of the press and broadcasters could arguably become less distinctive as a result and a lifetime in journalism would lack colour as well as job-security. Post – Leveson, the spotlight is on journalism education, implying a heightened sense of responsibility (Frost et al, 2012; Greenslade, 2012).  Now more than ever before, journalists need to know who they are, what they stand for and to have their own individual voice. For some observers, re-imagining journalism education is the priority:

Only by rethinking and re-invigorating journalism and journalism education will it be possible to institutionalise journalism as a profession that is equipped to fulfil its societal task (Donsbach, 2010:47)

They argue that journalism education should be seen as the standard bearer for good practice, as Roy Greenslade observed on his Guardian blog:

While the next generation of journalists may take ethics seriously, their bosses may not. That’s the challenge for Leveson – to come up with a way to build a new ethical foundation for our journalism that overcomes the reality of newsroom pressures (Greenslade, 2012).

This acknowledges the roles that newsroom cultures and professional contexts play in an individual’s life and, raising questions of ethics and informing good practice. The future of journalism would appear to rest with the journalists of the future and this presents a challenge to their educators (Greenslade, 2012; Frost et al, 2012).

Sharing stories, self-reflection and good practice:

In the end, journalism is an act of character (Kovach, 2001:230)

This paper builds on the concept of critical reflection as an important element of journalism education and the point at which journalism practice and journalism theory meet. Critical reflection is a prerequisite for understanding because it “is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb 1984;38).
Gone are the days when journalism education or training could focus solely on practice. It is no longer sufficient to teach the practical skills (both technical and conceptual) without reference to the academic debates that circulate around journalists, their place in society and principles they have always held sacrosanct (such as impartiality). If a professional practitioner is defined as ‘a specialist who encounters certain types of situations again and again’ then the specialist’s awareness of self, or ‘knowing in practice’ becomes ‘increasingly tacit, spontaneous and automatic’ (Schon, 1995:60). This can lead to complacency or narrowness, the sort of ‘I know it when I see it’ view of journalism: a practitioner’s outlook could quickly become narrow and jaundiced.  A lifetime in journalism lived well, should seek to avoid ennui. Through reflection, a practitioner can embrace critical analysis and re-learning, looking at things from a different perspective and bringing a freshness of approach. Whilst it is important to avoid narcissism and excessive naval-gazing, ‘there is a constant need to reflect on one’s work, what one is trying to achieve’ (Moon and Thomas, 2007:7).

Research conducted for my doctoral thesis, The Storytellers Tell Their Stories: The Journalist as Educator (2013) indicates that the use of stories in journalism education can provide a route to ‘good practice’. Here, the concept of critically reflecting on and sharing lived experiences that are believable, that are authentic (and, as one participant observed, ‘credible’) and translating them into something ‘useful’ can inculcate good practice in others.  Each of the participants in the study, which focused on practitioners who had become educators at the BBC College of Journalism, defined themselves through journalism practice (Usher, 2000) and contributed to a set of conclusions about the role of lived experiences in journalism education. These are some of the themes that emerged in conclusion:

Stories that are useful and credible:

Crucially, all of the participants acknowledged that not everyone is able to engage in or is suited to this method of teaching by sharing experiences.  The simple act of telling and re-telling stories is not sufficient; it has to be a product of reflection on self-identity (Schon, 1995). It is not about sitting on a stool and telling ‘war stories’ since it involves the development of principles that have emerged over time as a result of practice.  The notions of utility and credibility and the awareness of the importance of audience articulated by all of the journalism educators that I interviewed arguably mitigate the danger of falling into the trap of self-indulgence.

As a journalism educator, a deconstructed personal experience cannot simply be imposed on others in the shape of an anecdote because it is important to consider how it might be received, just as a journalist should consider the audience in reporting news stories. Awareness of the role of others is central to the ways in which an experience might be translated to make it useful. Stories are not simply re-told, but analysed and interrogated into a format that others can learn from – they have to be useful and to manifest ‘learning points’.  Given the inquiring nature of journalism, journalists are unlikely to learn from a ‘top down’ or directional style – involvement in the process, the sense that ‘we are all in it together’ in an interactive and honest exchange of experiences (as newsroom cultures are ideally based on the sharing of ideas) can create a credible, useful educational experience for educator and student. There is authenticity here, a fit between journalistic practice and educational practice. One participant reminds us that good journalism should avoid imposed narratives and should aim to tell stories where the evidence ‘speaks for itself’.  Self – reflexivity is core to ‘good’ journalism and to ‘good’ journalism education.

Critiques of bad practice:

Encouraging students to critique examples of ‘bad practice’ provides another method by which journalism educators can share their own principles derived from practice that have emerged over time. For one participant, a foreign correspondent, this is manifested in a critical analysis of the writings of others, through the prism of his own experience as a writer to elicit ‘rules’ or codes of practice for ‘good’ writing as an educator (in this context, news reports and features.) The students engage in a process of critical analysis of the stories of others in written form to develop their own approach in conjunction with the experiences that the journalism educator shared with them.  For some journalism educators, the vocabulary that they use to teach others is developed through a sense of self, rather than direct experience.  At these times, they see themselves as ‘coaching’ or ‘facilitating’.  When they are teaching values, which are intrinsic – such as impartiality – the examples come from their own experience as editors and producers and from the vocabulary that they have devised to work with reporters and correspondents – from direct and indirect experience. One participant felt that sharing her own experiences ‘brings to life’ a personal sense of ethics. Another used storytelling to teach impartiality as, what he termed, an ‘active value’.

Where the educators are teaching ‘what they do’ the master/apprentice construct provides a useful model for the application of experience to journalism education. This is particularly evident in the approach adopted by the correspondent teaching writing skills: He defined journalism as a craft rather than a profession that is fashioned through instinct and stated that the learning and acquisition of skills took place through ‘informal apprenticeship’, taught by those who draw on and share their own experiences.

Immersive and experiential learning:

All of the journalism educators displayed a keen awareness of context; a recognition of the challenges facing journalism and a desire to shape the future by inculcating ‘good practice.’  They do not seek to impose models of good practice, based on rules and codes, and the educational value of an immersive, experience-centred approach could be questioned on this basis  – as one notes, there are no obvious, tangible ‘intended learning outcomes’ that can be written down.  The sharing of lived experiences in an educational context flirts with the realm of therapy, it is transactional and immersive and highly personalised.  However, none of the interviewees hold themselves up as role models, even though they might be perceived in this way and some students might draw aspirational modes of conduct from the experience, it is not an intention of the educators.  They all manifest a passion for the craft of journalism, which is projected onto the education of others and in this sense they lead by example.  But it is not a blind passion, one participant articulates a sense of tiredness about the state of journalism and the impact that ‘bad’ journalism – journalism that lacks trust, that is based on flimsy or faulty evidence  – can have on people’s lives.   For some, there is a feeling of dissonance and a sense that connectivity must be restored with each offering different approaches to routes out of the mire, but they are all driven by a sense of social responsibility and the desire to ‘give something back’.
All of the participants care about inculcating good practice: For one, whose passion is data journalism, it is important to focus on ‘changing the prejudice’ and ‘breaking habits’ with a return to evidence – based storytelling, rather than assumption – led journalism so that the standard approaches are overturned. Others seek to break down conventions through encouraging journalists to ask ‘disruptive’ questions and so attain originality in their storytelling. Another seeks honesty and fairness through the recognition that journalists are part of the stories that they tell, they can report with an impartial, fair-minded and honest approach to the lives of others. This is particularly challenging in conflict zones, where the concept of impartiality is complicated by the experience of bearing witness and the journalist’s craft is thrown into sharp focus. Sharing these ‘uncomfortable notions of self’, as he calls them, with honesty, acknowledging that identity is shaped by the stories that journalists report  – in this case stories of conflict, often partially ‘known’ as a result of the fog of war – can provide an exemplar, which usefully illustrates good practice in journalism and in journalism education.

Professional Perspectives: a case study:

My research into the ways in which journalists use stories of ‘lived experience’ as educators informs my own approach to journalism education. This case study is intended to show how I utilise my own professional practice and background as a journalist to deliver a unit, for final year undergraduate multimedia journalism students, which focuses on employability. It encourages students to consider the importance of a self-reflexive approach to jobs and career opportunities. Professional Perspectives aims to develop critical reflection on journalism practice and through a visiting speaker programme it engages students with practice in a theoretical context. The final assignment urges them to debate current challenges and issues in journalism within a conceptual framework.

The Programme of Study:

The unit is divided into two parts: the first five weeks are comprised of employability workshops, which are interactive and focus on the key skills that third year journalism students need at graduate entry level in a competitive workplace. These range from advice on social media usage and online profile to lessons from industry professionals on how to pitch ideas in order to get them commissioned. The workshops complement the students’ research for their final major project, where they have to pitch an idea, develop it, produce and publish it as an online multimedia piece. The remainder of the unit is devoted to a weekly class, where a visiting speaker from industry shares ‘lived experiences’ and ideas with the students in an interactive session, which assumes a ‘press conference’ format. The classes are structured so that they address current issues in journalism. The programme of study is designed to provide an iterative experience for the students: the first session sets out the key issues for debate to provide a context. For example, in 2013/14, the post-Leveson landscape highlighted issues around ethics and trust, original and creative storytelling, investigative journalism and reporting conflict. The importance of developing an individual ‘voice’ is also explained within the context of the challenges presented by ‘an autobiographical age’ (Plummer, 2000), where journalists are expected to put more of themselves into their reporting.  This section from the unit guide provides an example of how the biographical details of speakers are shared with students to set up the session:

Week 6:   Martin FEWELL:  The Only Way is Ethics:

Martin is former Deputy Editor Channel 4 News and has been Head of Communications, Metropolitan Police since September 2012. Martin started his career at the BBC at Radio Solent before moving to BBC Radio 4 News and Current Affairs, where he was deputy editor of The World at One. At Channel 4 News, Martin championed the programme’s original journalism, presented by award-winning anchor Jon Snow. He wrote a submission to the Leveson Inquiry for C4 News.  A team player and a highly intelligent editor, Martin will discuss ethics, trust, police-media relations post-Leveson as well as providing insights into the arguably the most impressive news operation in the UK (Channel 4 News) and testing your ethical prowess.

The teaching method is experiential and interactive, with each of the visiting speaker sessions following a similar format of an hour of ‘lecture’, with slides, clips of video and audio, online examples followed by an hour of questions. The students ask questions and ignite debate. Sometimes there are interactive exercises, for example one speaker, Becky Milligan from BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, illustrated her talk on the importance of original approaches to storytelling with audio clips from interviews that she had not yet broadcast. The students were able to discuss issues of emotional journalism, taste and decency and ethics within the ‘safe’ classroom environment, whilst drawing lessons from her own experiences and her own ‘take’ on how she would approach these challenges. These were dynamic examples from of her own experience, distilled and focused so that the students could engage with the issues and reflect on their own practice. In order to present this class, Becky had reflected on her own practice to find learning points that she could share. In turn, through examples of things that work and some that didn’t, she involved the students in an exchange of ideas, through which they in turn reflected on their own practice.

In Martin Fewell’’s session, “The Only Way is Ethics’, which ran in the weeks after the publication of the Leveson Report, the students worked together, guided and facilitated by him, to devise their own code of ethics for journalists.

This is the code that they produced in a workshop in 2012:

‘The Only Way is Ethics’ – A Code for Journalists

  1. Always act for the public good:  a) audience b) interviewees
  2. Always act in the national interest
  3. Honesty
  4. Balance/objectivity
  5. Law – abiding
  6. Accuracy
  7. Protect the rights of minors
  8. Protect sources
  9. Perform to a ‘gold standard’ which is examined/endorsed (NCTJ)
  10. Do not intrude into the grief of others
  11. Check sources carefully
  12. Protect privacy
  13. Scrutinise government
  14. Expose corruption
  15. Do not mislead – the importance of truth
  16. Fairness
  17. Do not plagiarise
  18. Do not cause harm

Devised by third year BA (Hons) Multi Media Journalism students at The Media School, Bournemouth University.  Tuesday February 28thh, 2012.

The students place their code into the context of regulatory codes and editorial guidelines produced by OFCOM, the (former) Press Complaints Commission and the BBC. They also engage with ethical concepts based on moral philosophy and utilise the applied ethics that they have already studied earlier in the course, integrating these with the visiting speaker sessions to reach their own judgements. The aim is to expose them to the blend of theory and practice, to encourage them to operate as reflective practitioners. The production of news is an instant and immersive activity, so it is important that journalists understand the thought –processes, attitudes and personal values, which shape the story. This chimes with Schon’s (1995) notion of ‘knowing-in-action’, the opportunity to reflect on the knowledge of practice. The stated aims of the unit, published in the student guide are to:

Review the multi media concept against the background of regulatory and technological change;

Establish a reflective overview of concept and practice of journalism with particular reference to ethical and professional issues;

Review the concept and practice of journalism against the background of other national and international developments in the media domain;

Provide an opportunity for students to engage with practitioners.

(Extract from the Professional Perspectives unit guide, 2013/14)

Assessment and Feedback:

The workshops and visiting speaker programme support the production of a final piece of assessment – a case study of a key challenge in journalism. The assignment brief outlines the requirements:

In the light of the experiences of the Visiting Speakers and wider reading and research, write a case study of 2,000 words, which considers the challenges facing journalists under one of these headings: you devise the angle, there are areas of overlap, but it is important to define HOW you are tackling the challenge:

  • The journalist as original storyteller – what is ‘original journalism’? The role of audience, impartiality, techniques of storytelling
  • The journalist as purveyor of truth – ethics, compliance issues, trust, media ownership, investigative journalism
  • The journalist as responsible professional – the exercise of power, sense of self and professional identity, relationship with sources, emotional journalism

The assessment and feedback for this assignment is informed by the criteria, incorporating journalistic core skills. It states that an exegesis blending theory and practice is a key requirement:

Assessment Criteria

Your assignment will be marked according to the following criteria:

The extent to which you have defined the challenge, which you have selected to analyse.

The extent to which you are able to give examples to illustrate your topic both from the Guest Lecture programme and your own reading and thinking.

The overall coherence of your arguments and structure of the case study

The quality of presentation, punctuation, spelling, grammar and referencing.

It is hoped and intended that these criteria are sufficiently broad and flexible to encompass a diverse range of approaches and individual arguments. The framework is provided by the three key challenges, but the students effectively set their own question or posit their own standpoint beneath the ‘umbrella’ title. The aim, as a tutor, is to convey the importance of respecting individual and diverse voices within the journalism profession through the assessment criteria. It is also hoped that the students will feel confident to reflect on their learning and to share a sense of ‘self’ through the case study. The other assignment for this unit – a portfolio of work from placement and a reflective essay – reinforces this and encourages the students to consider how their studies inform their practice.

Student and industry feedback:

The unit is evaluated with mid unit, qualitative feedback. The students have found this unit useful in developing their professional profile and in enhancing their employability. One student rep, writing on behalf of the 2013/14 cohort said:

The feedback we received on the unit was that everyone really enjoyed the guest speakers and found them all to be interesting and relevant to our future careers. I also know that fellow students found it helpful to have to put together a portfolio for this unit, as it was something we would need for future interviews etc.

The Careers Forum held at the end of the unit, at which alumni and industry speakers share opportunities and experiences is very popular and supports the assessed work aimed at developing their own individual ‘voice’. This is noted as a mark of good practice by the programme team in its annual report reflecting on the academic year:

The students respect the importance of employability initiatives and the quality of visiting speaker programmes and the Careers Forum.

Source: 2012/2013 ARFM for BA (Hons) Multi Media Journalism, Bournemouth University

In his June 2011 report, the external examiner from industry, Pete Clifton executive news editor of msn said that ‘the focus on future careers for the students is also very striking’. In 2012, he held up the Professional Perspectives case studies as an example of good practice:

I was very impressed by the Professional Perspective Programme. The quality of the work produced by the students on the back of these presentations was good. The range of speakers was impressive and the topics discussed demanding. But it was easy to see how much the students got from these sessions, and I really liked the way they weaved the insight from the speakers into their written pieces.

Journalism as craft-artistry

Journalism education has got to get across that journalism is different. It’s a very specific, closely defined thing (Marsh, 2012).

This statement by Kevin Marsh, the former editor of the BBC College of Journalism, supports the notion of journalism as craft artistry, a thing that is made. In order to create something of value (accurate, fair, trusted) journalists need journalism education to imbue them with a sense of confidence.

The multi-layered experience of learning through stories drawn from the lived experiences of others in that ‘safe place’ of a classroom environment can have a powerful effect. Removed from the competitive and deadline – driven context of the news room (Davies, 2004), individuals can reflect through interacting with an experiential, therapeutic form of education, on how they are personally affected by the culture of the workplace.

Their understanding of self and  — in tandem with this self-reflexive process – of key tenets of journalism practice – can be heightened, as the journalism educator is also continuing to learn about ‘self’ through sharing personal experience with others.


We are all tellers of tales. We each seek to provide our scattered and often confusing experiences with a sense of coherence by arranging the episodes of our lives into stories (McAdams, 1993:11).

As journalism is a human activity, so good practice in journalism could be encouraged

by the exercise of an approach to journalism education, which centres on the narratives of identity of journalists who are aware that they are shaped by the experiences they share within an educational context, which in turn shapes the personal and professional identity of student and educator alike.  Active learning from the lived experience of others can enhance the lifelong education of journalists, equipping them for a lifetime in journalism through informing their self – understanding.  This virtuous circle of learning about self through the lived experiences of others does not allow for the construction of a specific educational model, predicated on learning outcomes but it does indicate that good practice and a pride in the craft-artistry of journalism could be inculcated through placing the autobiographies, the storied selves, of self-reflexive practitioners at the heart of the learning experience.


Clandinn, D.J., and Connelly, F.M., (1998) Personal Experience Methods, in Denzin, N.K., and Lincoln, Y.S., (eds.), (1998) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials, California: Sage

Clarke, G.M., (1996) Conforming and contesting with a) Difference: how lesbian students and teachers manage their identities, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 6:2: 195-214

Davies, N., (2009) Flat Earth News, London: Vintage

Donsbach, W., (2010) Journalists and Their Professional Identities in Allan, S., (ed.) (2010) The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism, Abingdon: Routledge

Erickson, E.H., (1975) Life History and the Historical Moment, New York: W.W. Norton and Company

Evans, H., (2009) My Paper Chase, London: Little Brown

Frayn, M., (1967) Towards the End of Morning, London:Flamingo

Fowler-Watt, K., (2013) The Storytellers tell Their Stories: The Journalist as Educator, Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Southampton

Frost, C., McKay J., Temple, M., and Allan, S., (2012) Journalism Education, 1:2, 6-7

(Accessed 7.2.2013)

Greenslade, R., (2012) ‘Why teaching journalism ethics is only part of a cure’, 20th February, 2012, Guardian blog

(Accessed May 14th 2012)

Horrocks, P., (2012) ‘Delivering International News: Challenges and Opportunities’, speech to World Media Summit in Moscow on July 6th, 2012       (Accessed,8.10.2012)

Kolb D.A., (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T., (2001) The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, California: Three Rivers Press

Laville, S., (2013) speaking in Professional Perspectives lecture at Bournemouth University

Marr, A., (2004) My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, London: Macmillan

Marsh, K., (2012) research interview by Karen Fowler-Watt

McAdams, D.P., (1993) The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, New York: William Morrow and Company

Mishler, E.G., (1999) Storylines, Craftartists’ Narratives of Identity, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Moon, J., and Thomas, G., (2007) The Challenge of Reflective Writing for Media Production Students and Some Proposals to Encourage Better Practice, CEMP research paper, Bournemouth University

Ornebring, H., (2010) Reassessing Journalism as a Profession in Allan,S., (ed.), The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism, Abingdon: Routledge

Plummer, K., (2001) Documents of Life 2: an invitation to a critical humanism London: Sage

Sambrook, R., (2012) ‘Delivering Trust, Impartiality and Objectivity in the Digital Age’, paper delivered to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, July 2012

Schon, D.A., (1995) The Reflective Practitioner, Surrey: Ashgate

Snow, J., (2004) Shooting History, London: Harper Collins

Taylor, C., (1989) Sources of the Self, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Thomson, A., (2013) speaking in a Professional Perspectives lecture at Bournemouth University

Usher, P., (2000) Feminist Approaches to a Situated Ethics in Situated Ethics in Educational Research, London: Routledge


Work Placement Learning

Work placement learning: Journalism students’  perceptions of its value

Hazel Barrett, Liverpool John Moores University

Today’s journalism industry reflects a global society, and is characterised by relentless twenty-four hour news production to present the myriad of world events. Reporters wanting to enter the industry need to be multi-skilled, self-starters and able to work under the pressure of increasingly demanding deadlines. In this context, one way young journalism graduates may enhance their employment prospects is by gaining experience of professional working through work placements. The paper investigates the individual experience of work placements and learning of ten final-year undergraduate journalism students. It reveals surprising gender differences in the group following a range of work placements, in perceptions of self-efficacy and improvement in particular journalism and social skills.

Keywords: work placement learning, work related learning, professional identity, self-efficacy, and personal skills

Work placements can change lives, sometimes being the turning point when trainee journalists decide whether and where their future lies within the industry.
Placement learning is an essential bridge between higher education, vocational training and the world of work, which allows students to demonstrate acquired skills in a professional workplace environment, and to clarify future career aspirations. However, journalism is a competitive graduate field, where young journalists hoping to work within this industry face challenges and uncertainty. Today’s reporters have to be multi-skilled, self-starters, and able to work under the pressure of increasingly demanding deadlines and employment insecurity. This study explored a small group of undergraduate journalism students learning from work placements (and thereby their sense of skills development) to explore whether this could be sustained on return to university. The data gathered demonstrated indicate work placements play a transformative role in students’ personal sense of self-efficacy as journalists. However, the study also revealed an apparent gender difference in responses to these experiences, which may pose implications for future employment.

To date, research has seldom focused on the impact of undergraduate work placement learning on return to university. This study aims to explore student perceptions of placement learning; it does not involve any comparison or measurement of academic outcomes. Little and Harvey (2006: 2) argue studies of work placements cite skills development as an important feature of placement learning, but less is reported about the extent to which there is a positive transfer of learning from placement to subsequent stages of an individual’s learning. My project focused on the development of work-related learning as opposed to work-based learning. The former is more comprehensive, and prioritises the development of the individual, rather than the work-based location of that learning. There is an argument that evidence linking work placement experience with academic outcomes is weak (Bullock, 2009: 482). Duignan (2003) claims many of the benefits from placements cannot be measured by conventional methods. The research argument is that a relatively short exposure to work placement would be expressed in terms of development of personal/ transferable skills, rather than specific improvement in journalism competencies. Moreland (2004: 5) argues work-related learning promotes self-knowledge, and moves towards self-managed learning that students’ can build upon in their subsequent lives and careers.

The overarching research questions were: what are students’ perceptions and experiences of work-related learning, and was the learning from this sustained on return to university in the final semester of the undergraduate programme?

Work placements are a small but important part of creating the journalists of the future. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has produced student work experience guidelines. These argue students can benefit hugely from well-structured work experience placements that provide opportunities to practice newly learned skills, and experience journalism in a practical rather than theoretical environment. The guidelines suggest students get the best out of work experience by: being given a mix of roles and responsibilities; working on a range of jobs (i.e., court, political and news reporting, features, subbing and broadcast editing); by shadowing more experienced journalists; being able to work alone; and, by having their work supervised. The Union argues work placements should be a minimum of two weeks, in most cases; the firm offering the placement should identify a responsible individual to whom the student reports and feeds back; and that expectations of what the student will be able to do should not be set too high. However, with employment insecurity in the media industry, journalism work placements are competitive, and there is a perception that they may sometimes prove exploitative. Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, has argued would-be journalists are often required to do long stints of unpaid work experience at a variety of locations, incurring travel costs, without any promise of future employment. Despite this, journalism work experience can be seen as trade-off, offering free labour in exchange for an upgraded CV, enhanced job prospects, and contacts which could lead to employment. However, placement learning is complex. For example, some students’ self-knowledge could be enhanced in a professional setting, but confidence in skills could drop, with a greater awareness of professional requirements.

Educational context
Since 2000, several government initiatives have promoted work-related learning as a legitimate focus of higher-level study. These initiatives were set out in a number of key reports: HEFCE, 2000; The Future of Higher Education (DfES, 2003); and the Leitch Review of Skills, 2006. Findings from the government appointed Work Experience Group (2002), cited in Dacre Pool and Sewell (2007), are relevant to this study’s post placement research. The group found that employers value people who have had work experience, reflected on that experience, and then articulated and applied what they have learnt. The Pedagogy for Employability Group (2004: 5) provided a list of the generic or transferable skills that employers are looking for in graduates. Many of these are embraced by the World of Work development scheme introduced by my institution, Liverpool John Moores University. The 1997 Dearing Report recommended that all institutions should identify opportunities to increase the extent to which programmes help students to become familiar with work, and help them to reflect on such experience.

Work placement learning needs to be made meaningful for the individual concerned (Wenger 1998: 51). Theoretical perspectives for this study encompass concepts of personal development planning, career development learning, and employability. Work experience learning is a key element of vocational training and has underpinned a number of employability models (Knight and Yorke, 2004; HiIlage and Pollard, 1998; Bennett et al, 1999; see also Dacre-Pool and Sewell, 2007).
Of direct relevance to this study is research that suggests perceptions of capabilities help to determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they possess. Knight and Yorke’s (2004) USEM model is based on an individual’s understanding, skilful practices, efficacy beliefs, and meta-cognition. The USEM model is defined by the belief that personal qualities, such as self-theories and efficacy beliefs, colour everything else the student and subsequent graduate does. Bandura (1997: 2) introduced the concept of self-efficacy, and suggests that it influences how people think, feel, motivate themselves, and act. In an earlier study, Bandura (1986) wrote that expectations of outcomes influence behaviour (see also Bandura, 1977). Individuals who expect success in a particular enterprise anticipate successful outcomes. A trainee journalists’ sense of their own abilities is therefore key to their career progression. A range of research studies has established the validity of self-efficacy as a predictor of student motivation and learning, and may regulate whether a person will initiate and maintain certain career behaviours. Put simply, the higher the sense of self-efficacy, the greater the effort, persistence and resilience (Pajares, 1996). Self-perception of capabilities help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have (Pajares, 1987). Lucas and Wenberg (1997: 433) argue it may be difficult for strong interests to develop where self-efficacy is weak or neutral, or where negative outcome are foreseen. The view of self-belief as an enabling construct in human behaviour is a key part of work by a number of other scholars, including Dewey (1933), Maslow (1943) Pajares (1996) and Zimmerman (2000). However, it is also important to recognise that all students are individuals and have different approaches to learning (Dweck, 1999).

Students’ motivation to pursue opportunities on placement is related to the proactive personality construct. This is grounded in social interactionist theory (Bandura, 1977), which argues that people are not only influenced by their environment, but are capable of creating or enacting their environment (Bateman and Crant, 1993). Non-proactive or passive people do not take action when opportunities arise. They are more likely to adapt to environmental change, rather than enact it.

There is recognition of the proactive role of individuals in the world of work (Fugate, Kinicki & Ashforth, 2004), personal initiative (Frese, Garst & Fay, 2007), and proactive personality (Thompson, 2005), which present individuals as active agents, who initiate improvement in their work situation. Students in this context will be defined as ‘adults and young people seeking to position themselves with regard to the labour markets in which they wish to participate’ (Moreland, 2004: 4). Universities need to reflect the challenging ‘super-complexity’ of the workplace, to allow individuals to live effectively in a chaotic world (Barnett, 2000). Mandilaras (2004) suggests placement students mature more rapidly in an often competitive and professional environment; their ambition is likely to be stimulated such that they return to university more focused and determined to do well. The same author argues workplace responsibilities may enhance students’ reliability, so they may take coursework and exams more seriously, and work more effectively to deadlines. The project was based on the assumption that work-related learning has practical intentions and outcomes for students, underpinned by self-perceptions of employability.

Gender differences may prove especially relevant in the graduate search for employment. A Higher Education Policy Institute report published in July 2010 says male graduates in 2009 were far more likely to be unemployed than their female counterparts. Occupational psychologist Dr Robert McHenry, commenting on the report, argued women tend to be more hard-working and conscientious (The Guardian, 4 July, 2010: 5).

For journalism students, it could be argued that work experience can provide an opportunity to learn about another context (i.e., the workplace, economic and technological changes, etc.), as well as what skills may support their future employability, such as freelance working. In addition, there is recognition that work experience is more than a context in which students learn about work, it is also a context through which students can learn and develop. Beach and Vyas (1998) suggest three pertinent forms of learning with which students need to engage: ‘learning on the fly’ (i.e., making requests for help); ‘learning by collaborating’ (i.e., working, talking and undertaking low risk activities), and ‘learning by observing.’ Crebert et al (2004) argued the most important factors for effective learning at university, on work placement and in employment, appeared to be teamwork, being given responsibility and collaborative learning.

Little and Harvey (2006) found the majority of students interviewed following work placements reported improvements in their inter-personal skills, particularly oral communication and networking skills. Most reported improvements in personal skills, and centred around increased confidence, team-working, personal organisation, and, time management. Moreland (2004: 5) argues it is the degree-level processes of reflection that promote a critical stance, which are important for employability. Moon’s (2004) research supports the crucial role of reflection in the context of employability, namely to develop ‘the three S’s’ – self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Moon further suggests these provide a crucial link between knowledge, understanding, skills, experience, and personal attributes and employability.

Professional identity: what is a journalist?

Professional identity is a multi-layered construct. Journalism students’ perception and understanding of their skills, self-efficacy and professional identity, enhanced through work placements, is an equally complex matter. Willis (2010: 15) argues journalists’ learn what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from other journalists’, who have themselves learnt it from other journalists’. Deuze (2005) suggests that journalists’ occupational identity and ideology should be understood in the context of fast changing technology and society, which higher education journalism students are likely to experience for the first time on work placement. Duignan (2003) argues that the placement student is transient in the workplace, suspended between two worlds with distinctly different value and rewards systems, which can be manifested as de-motivation on return to studies, with a subsequent loss of learning transfer.

This indicative, interpretative study was aligned to the research aims to explore the relationship between work experience and learning, in the light of individual student experience. The aim was to explore student perceptions of placement learning, and so does not involve any comparison or measurement of academic outcomes. The focus was to explore journalism undergraduate perceptions of a month of unpaid work placements in the media industry, and the impact of these on return to university. Twenty-eight undergraduates out of a potential research sample of sixty-one in the final year of the B.A. (Hons) Journalism and International Journalism programmes at Liverpool John Moores University volunteered to share their reflections on their placement experiences. The research aim was to explore the impact of placement on students’ sense of self-efficacy and interpersonal skills, and whether this was sustained to the end of their undergraduate programme. Students’ self-assessment and interviews was conducted at three stages: specifically, before placement, immediately after placement, and three months later, at the end of their degree. Ten were eventually selected from the volunteers to reflect a fifty/fifty gender split, and those who had decided to specialise in one of four journalism media (i.e., print, radio, television and online journalism) and two others, who were undecided about whether to pursue a career in journalism.
Participants were treated as one population in order to narrow the research focus. No distinction was made between placement experiences in Britain and those outside the UK. The work placements were predominantly with regional, national and international news organisations. These included newspapers (such as the Liverpool Echo, Yorkshire Evening Post, the Independent on Sunday, Sunday People), broadcast outlets (such as BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Shropshire, Radio Four’s You and Yours programme, a CNN office based in Munich, ITV’s Tonight with Trevor MacDonald) as well as marketing and public relations companies.

Cognitivist learning theory is relevant here, where a person perceives stimuli and consciously interprets them in relation to his or her own mental frameworks (Dewey, 1934). Work-related learning takes many forms, occurs in many contexts and can have widely differing relationships to higher education (Brennan et al, 2006). It’s important to note sites offering work placements differ in terms of their complexity, insularity, power relations, and the nature of boundaries. There’s also a recognition that the length of the placements may determine the range and scope of activities that students will undertake, and the development of knowledge, skills and attributes that might be gained. As the work placements undertaken by the research participants were with a range of professional media outlets, some of the findings may be of interest to journalism and media educators in higher education, though not in a strictly ‘scientific’ way. Previous studies, as we have seen in our discussion above, suggest work-related learning is a complex, multi-faceted construct with both internal and external dimensions (Rothwell et al, 2007).

Pertinent research themes for this study include: What is the knowledge emanating from work-related learning? What are the complex characteristics and outcomes of work placement learning? Is the reality of work placement experiences a spur to further personal and professional learning?

The predominant research method was qualitative and involved face-to-face interviews to gain insight into the mind of the learner. A social constructivist approach was followed, enabling students to articulate their employability skills and experience (see also Nixon and Walker, 2009). Interviews were supported by students numerical grading of their own journalism and interpersonal skills at the three research stages using a 10 point Likert scale, with ten being the highest and zero, the lowest. Before their placement, students assessed their skills and completed a questionnaire to identify placement goals. Postplacement, they took part in face-to-face interviews and further skills assessment, and this was repeated at the end of their final semester, three months later. The intention was to reflect the complexity of work placement learning around the development of selfefficacy beliefs, because of the range of contributing factors to placement learning.

The approach to considering post-placement interview reflections was underpinned by previous research (Kolb, 1984; Little and Harvey, 2006; Schon, 1983, 1987). The interviews were arranged around three themes: placement learning in relation to personal development, enhanced understanding, and approaches to learning. Placement experiences may have shaped students’ future intentions, previous ideas and plans could be confirmed, new areas of interest within the broad subject area might have been opened up, specific areas of work rejected, and, future career plans changed accordingly. Selfperceptions of skills and employability associated with work placements should be seen in the context of the ‘widening participation’ agenda (HEFCE, 2007a: Bennett, Eagle, Mousley, and Ali-Choudhury, 2008) because of the range of ethnicity, nationality and social class among the student sample.

The interviews were semi-structured (Drever, 1995) to add depth to the research; that is, to gain some ‘thick’ description in order to identify themes arising from the actual placement learning. At the end of the final semester, the same students were re-interviewed, to assess any longer term impact of placement learning. The volunteers were selected according to gender, male (M1–5) and female (F1–5) specialising in the four media of print, radio, television and online journalism. Questions explored personal and professional learning from work placement experiences, as well as suggestions as to how that learning could be sustained in the final semester of the degree programme. There is recognition of the impact of power relations on the student-lecturer relationship, and its potential to distort questionnaire and interview findings. Care has been taken with the interpretation of their reflections. While not every student interviewed for this study presented experiences in the same way, their skills assessments were used to explore the value added by the placements, and to provide data to support findings from the subsequent face-to-face interviews. Participants were given the same skills assessment sheets at the three research stages regardless of their final undergraduate year journalism specialism and gender.

Findings: The journalism student experience of work placement
The pre-placement questionnaire revealed the reasons behind the choice of particular placements, ranging from gaining insight into the media industry; how acquired skills were applicable in the workplace; to supplement university learning with practical experience; and, to enhance their employability. However, there appeared to be wide variation in levels of participants’ confidence in relation to workplace engagement.

Post-placement interviews
Participants were asked questions to explore personal and professional placement learning; their expectations versus placement reality; how students were received, what they were more or less confident about; any effect on career aspirations, semester goals on return to university, and, whether and how they intended to sustain that professional edge. In practice, there was a range of work students were asked to do on their placements. Many were used in supportive roles to help existing news teams. Just under half provided assistance to functional teams and carried out research for television programmes, newspaper articles and marketing and public relations campaigns. A smaller share, about one in five, were required to produce up to five news stories on a daily basis for regional newspapers; others had their articles published in national newspapers and lifestyle magazines. Others covered industrial tribunals, door-stepped celebrities, and one was in a photo-shoot that led to coverage in a national newspaper.

Personal development –reception and feedback

Encouragement, or lack of it, had more weight than might be expected on the placement experience as a whole. How students were received appeared vital to the students’ emotional state and engagement, and whether the students had negative or positive work placement experiences. About one in five decided not to pursue a career in journalism following their placement, but had discovered new strengths and personal skills they didn’t know they had, which left them feeling, they said, ‘liberated and empowered’ by the confirmation that journalism was not for them.

Feedback about the quality of work the students produced on placement appeared to be of major importance to their sense of professional identity, motivation to pursue a career in journalism, and, being able to succeed as a professional journalist.

‘For professionals say you’re really good, and have got the talent to succeed, it blew me away. It was like thanks, I can do the job.’ (F3)

Personal development – Team working
Participants worked in a range of teams on placement, which ranged from a small group of foreign correspondents, with reporters in regional newsrooms, small editorial groups in national and regional newspapers, magazines, an online entertainment website, police press office, and, working for clients in marketing and public relations companies.

Personal development –self-knowledge
Participants were asked what they had learnt about themselves on placement. Responses tended to revolve around a sense of gaining confidence, self-knowledge and confirmation of future career direction. Female 1 said she wanted to gain confidence in her abilities as a journalist. Post-placement, the same student said she had learnt she was a much better journalist than she thought she was. Placements appeared to make research participants more self-aware and self-critical, better able to take criticism, more aware of others, and how to work effectively in teams.

Enhanced understanding – mentoring and feedback

Having a workplace mentor and being given feedback on the quality of work produced appeared essential to the overall placement experience (see also Lent et al, 1994:16; Lucas and Wanberg, 1997: 433). Regular feedback appeared to contribute to the depth of students learning, sense of self-worth, and, journalistic identity. In most cases, participants said this led to developing relationships with staff, good placement references and offers to maintain contact beyond the placement period.

‘I was looking forward to working for a hard task master, wanting to get hard feedback so I know what to do in the future. At the end of each week I had a meeting to be told what I had done well and what I needed to improve on.’ M3)

‘The deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday was always giving me feedback. He was quite strict…. I was making ridiculous mistakes. From the feedback I got on work experience made me feel sure I’m capable’ (F2)

Enhanced Understanding- the media industry

Participants appeared to be unanimous about the positive benefits of work placements, whether they had had good or bad experiences. Most believed in the benefits of professional working, which had a motivating effect and made them more self-critical of the journalism they produced.

Approaches to learning: returning to university
The majority of participants said they had noticed a different attitude to their studies, and found greater confidence and motivation to work hard to get a good degree, to enhance their employment prospects. Others described how placement had given them greater clarity about their future career paths, and wanted to complete their studies as quickly as possible. One female (F1) student gained enormous confidence from her placement at a regional weekly newspaper. She said she was like a ‘sheep’ prior to placement, but work experience had changed that, giving her the confidence to work hard to achieve her career ambitions.

However, between the two worlds of university and work, most of the participants said they found coming back to university from placement disorientating, even de-motivating. They seemed disenchanted with the prospect of further time at university, with its accompanying academic and social pressures (see also Bullock et al, 2009: 488). About three-quarters of them felt returning to university was a step back, which took them away from ‘real world’ working, and the valuable contacts they had made. Placements increased female participants’ work ethic in particular, making them more pro-active, driven, and organised.

‘I think it’s up to the individual now. It’s about driving yourself. Now is the time to do it yourself. It’s about pushing to the finishing line.’ (F3)

Skills assessment
Journalism skills
All of the participants said their journalism skills were improved on placement, but particularly newsgathering, demonstration of professional values, speed of working, idea generation, subject knowledge, writing and personal initiative.

Comparisons with the male group are shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Journalism Skills: Males and females average point scores, before and after placement

Personal skills ‘development’

The third stage of the research process was designed to explore any longer term impact of placement learning, three months after the placement period. Final interviews were

Personal development appears to be a major element of the placement experience
Gender differences were apparent in perceptions of the most marked skills improvements. To clarify, post-placement males sensed notable improvements in what could be loosely described as ‘assertive’ journalism skills: speed of working, critical awareness of reporting practice, newsgathering, news writing, demonstration of professional values, ideas generation, news judgement, and working under pressure. Lesser improvements were perceived in initiative, storytelling, subject knowledge and creative thinking and innovation. Females as a group sensed improvements in what could be described loosely as mainly ‘less assertive’ journalism skills’: preparation, demonstration of professional values, subject knowledge, initiative, and ideas generation. There was less improvement reported in relation to news judgement, speed of working, finding relevant interviewees, writing, storytelling, interviewing, working pressure and creative thinking and innovation. (see also Little and Harvey, 2006). Participants expressed improved interpersonal, organisational and time management skills. Increased confidence seemed to derive from a range of experiences, including having sought and taken on more reporting tasks, acquitting themselves well, realisation that communication skills had developed to a level where they felt comfortable communicating with a range of people more effectively, and, through a more informed sense of how their skills could be employed in a variety of situations in the workplace.

This learning was sustained on return to university, as many recognised that they had developed their capacity to plan and manage their university workload (Figure 2). There was a comparable sense of improvement in personal skills between the sexes, but again in different areas. Males believed there had been improvements in all attributes and especially organisation, communication, persistence, responsibility, team-working and confidence. Female participants meanwhile believed they had also improved in almost all of the assessed personal skills: organisation, work ethic, responsibility, speed of learning, team-working, timekeeping, communication, confidence and persistence.



Figure 2: Personal Skills: males & females average point scores before and after placement



Figure 3: Personal Skills: males and females, change in average point score between before and after placement, three months later

again organised around any sense of personal development, any enhanced understanding and approaches to learning. The de-briefing and reflection sessions appeared to help participants realise the full benefits of the placements, and provided a boost to morale, in the post-placement slump on return to university (Wallace, Murray, and Overton, 2009). Participants were asked what the university could do to keep them professionally sharp in the final semester. About one third of them spontaneously suggested post-placement reflection, as experienced in this study, claiming it had helped them to realise what they had learnt on placement.
Participants said they felt more confident, improved in their journalism competence, self-knowledge, personal organisation, motivation, and maturity. Females, in particular, expressed the need to excel, because of the difficulties associated with getting the first staff job. They understood they had to work hard to achieve their career goals.

‘It was the turning point, I think. I’ve been more enthusiastic, more confident, more outgoing. I’m more decisive, more assertive in getting stories….I just believed in myself more. I think work placements turned us from students into adults in a really short space of time.’ (F1)

‘It’s made me more focused. I knew before where I wanted to go. Now I know where I want to be.’ (F5)

‘It comes back to my drive and it makes you realise you do have a place in the world, and there is somewhere you slot in. You have to find a way to fit into it full time, which can be the tricky bit.’ (F3)

Enhanced understanding
Questions were designed to explore the relative depth of placement understanding for the students themselves. Responses ranged from greater commitment, persistence, focus, awareness of professional practice standards, and, clarity about future career aspirations. However, a number of male participants had developed a negative outlook.

 ‘To be honest, I’ve found it really hard to be motivated. I realised early on that my confidence was going….When you’re not in control of your own work, it’s kind of hard having confidence, so one of my goals was to rise above this (M5)


‘I’ve learnt that it’s really tough out there. It’s a lot more tough than it was a few years ago. On placements be pro-active, not reactive. If you want to be a good journalist you have got to have lots of ideas. It’s not easy. There are not many opportunities out there.’’(M4).


‘‘I knew work experience would be a real test. Everything you think about yourself will be tested because you’ll be playing in a much bigger pool with much bigger fish.’ (M1)


Approaches to Learning: returning to university

Again, participants said work experience appeared to lead to a stronger motivation for university studies, and increased work ethic. Many highlighted improved time-management, determination, organisation, routines, work ethic, goal setting, and confidence in personal capabilities. Students were asked whether they had been able to sustain their professional edge on return to university, with its academic and social pressures. Responses ranged from having a different approach to their university studies, greater maturity, motivation, determination, time management and responsible attitude, to ‘being more relaxed.’ However, some said being able to maintain a professional edge following placement was up to the individual’s personal motivation. Almost half of female participants and about one in five of the men said they were more professional, better in their journalism, and working more quickly and efficiently.

‘Because I believe more in my capabilities that is making me more determined.  That probably drives me a bit more. I know I can do it now (F2)


‘I feel like a journalist now and it’s not a practice anymore. I’m working a lot faster and now want to get the story online by tonight.’ (M5)


‘I came back from work placement a lot more efficient. A lot more grounded, more positive. My news sense was also better. Work experience motivated me so much…I thought this is what I want, this is what I’m doing, and I was meant to do this course.’ (F1)

Journalism skills ‘development’
Three months after the placements, both sexes felt there had been considerable improvement in their journalism skills, particularly with regard to finding relevant interviewees, generating ideas, preparation, and interviewing. However, compared to preplacement, males felt there had been a dramatic drop in their subject knowledge, creative thinking and innovation, and working under pressure. There were smaller ‘improvements’ in their sense of their news-judgement, newsgathering, storytelling, and interviewing, compared to female participants. In a pattern of continuing perceptions of journalism improvements, the ‘changes’ appear to have provided motivation that was sustained for three months to the end of the degree, to nearly double that for males. The female group showed more ‘improvements’ than males in the key journalism skills of newsgathering and news judgement. Seven areas seemed to improve: interview technique, idea generation, working under pressure, finding relevant interviewees, writing, storytelling, critical awareness of reporting practice. However, there was little or no improvement in three categories: preparation, subject knowledge, and initiative. There was a perceived drop in news judgement, speed of working and creative thinking and innovation. The complex pattern of gender differences in perceived personal skills in the final semester is shown in Figure 4


Figure 4: Journalism Skills: males and females change in average point scores afterplacement, and three months later


Personal skills
Perceptions of personal attributes had declined markedly by the end of the final semester for the entire research group, apart from work ethic and speed of learning. The same chart shows a drop in confidence and enthusiasm, particularly for male participants, although the assessments relate to individual research participants rather than specific gender characteristics. For females, it was a different picture, with a marked increase in their enthusiasm and speed of learning. However, there was a perceived drop in eight personal attributes: organisation, responsibility, confidence, communication, work ethic, timekeeping, team-working and persistence.

The overall motivating effect of work placement is revealed in Figures 5 and 6, in descending order. Placements appeared to sharpen both sexes’ sense of their key reporting skills, including idea generation of story ideas, newsgathering, preparation, finding relevant interviewees, and writing. Enthusiasm, creative thinking and innovation seemed to fall dramatically over this period.





Discussion and research outcomes
The study has highlighted the complexities surrounding student motivation to engage with the range of learning experiences typically made available via work placements (see also Maslow (1943) on self-actualisation theory). This could be interpreted as motivation to be a journalist, or, motivation to gain employment. Two participants’, one male, one female, who could be described as lacking motivation to be news journalists, appeared to demonstrate strong motivation when on placement, namely to display their transferable skills to enhance their employability. Both found work experience highly motivating, which subsequently drove a new career focus and their commitment to their academic studies in the final semester. In addition, it may have been highly motivated students who volunteered to take part in this study. It has provided a deeper understanding of the benefits and challenges associated with work placements, and the complexity surrounding the acquisition of professional knowledge and skills. There is a realisation that perceptions surrounding self-efficacy and work placement learning, explored in post-placement interviews, are highly individualised, with both internal and external dimensions (Rothwell et al, 2008; Bandura, 1995: 2, cited in Pajares, 1996).

Gender-related differences were apparent in the participants’ responses, but this study’s sample was too small to sustain generalisations. That said, it uncovered evidence to suggest male and female students often experienced work placement learning in different ways, particularly with regard to their perceptions of their own development of journalism and personal skills, and changes to these on return to university. More specifically, the women in the study group came back motivated, hungry to apply their new found sense of confidence for news days and individual projects. The males meanwhile appeared to be more reluctant to be back at university, wanted to be back in industry, and their confidence and own self-perception of their skills had definitely taken a nosedive when back at university in the final semester of their undergraduate programme. This lack of confidence could then go on to have a knock on effect on males’ motivation to apply for jobs to be a journalist, or a completely different job, to pay their way and pay off their debts.

This study has provided evidence that short workplace experiences can be hugely motivating for vocational students, in their perceptions of sense of self-belief and selfefficacy (as a journalist), transferable skills, and understanding of employment options. This research finding supports Bandura’s (1977) self-efficacy concept and Knight and Yorke’s (2004) USEM model, based on an individual’s understanding, skilful practices, efficacy beliefs, and meta-cognition. Skills-assessment sheets post-placement support these views, and show this led to subsequent improvements in students’ professional identity, time keeping and confidence, organisation, independence. Where the female participants were concerned, it appears to have led to increased motivation for their academic studies on return to university (see also Bandura, 1977; Bateman and Crant, 1993).

My overriding perception from the interviews conducted following this short period of work experience was that participants tended to focus on the benefits of their placement, rather than concentrating on specific skills development. Three months after the placement period, participants continued to express a holistic sense of development, rather than improvement in specific journalism and personal skills. This supports a previous studies (Duignan, 2003 and Little and Harvey, 2006: 1) where it has been argued that many of the benefits from placements cannot be measured by conventional academic methods. However, the data highlighted surprising gender differences in the research group, in perceptions of improvement of particular journalism and personal skills. Only females over the length of the research period sensed a marked increase in their journalism skills, greater than the males as a group. This supports previous research (Mandilaras, 2004), which showed female students in competitive environments often outperform their male counterparts, and go on to achieve higher degree classifications. Male participants anonymously sensed stronger interpersonal skills three month after placement compared to their female counterparts. It was therefore fascinating to discover females, as a group, sensed stronger development and confidence in their journalism skills, which were sustained on return to university. Female participants felt the greatest improvement in their perception of their own journalism skills. This challenges earlier research (Betz & Hackett, 1981) which suggested women lack strong expectations of personal efficacy in relation to many career related behaviours, and therefore fail to realise their capabilities and talents in career pursuits. Skills assessment data confirms a number of studies that the benefits of placements tend to be improvements in personal transferable skills valued by employers, such as team-working, communication and learning skills (Bullock et al, 2009; Little and Harvey, 2006; Lucas and Tang, 2007 and Bennett, 2008). Supporting Little and Harvey’s (2006) study, in particular, the majority of students interviewed also reported improved confidence, motivation and personal organisation. However, differences between placement organisations and length of placements activities make comparisons between gender difficult. Measurements are unreliable because of the brevity of the placement period, number of placements within that time, and variety of placement tasks undertaken by both sexes. In addition, each research participant and their placement organisations would have had particular priorities in terms of the placement learning outcomes, and these would have been met differently in the contexts provided (see also Guile and Griffiths, 2001).

The degree to which any one placement will provide opportunities for a student to further develop a full range of personal and/or journalism attributes is questionable (Little, 2000: 124). However, the explicit identification of certain skills for this study could have served as a useful prompt to foster student reflection on placement learning. Analysis of how and whether placement learning was sustained was complex, because of varying student motivation for journalism as a career, and the variety and length of placements, which make simple comparisons unsafe. However, many participants said their placement


TABLE 1: males average skills scores and changes by placement stage

experiences largely depended on what they were prepared to put into them. At the same time, the research has shown that a month of work placements can have a marked effect on journalism students’ sense of self and professional efficacy. Face-to -face interviews revealed the complexity surrounding the development of self- identity and self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997) and that students’ have different learning needs on their various

paths to employment. The research argument that a short period of placement would reveal improvements to personal rather than journalism skills signalled a more complex pattern of change. Figures for females as a group in Table 2 reveal a range of improvements in a number of journalism skills, and that they had become better organised. Post-placement interviews showed placements have strong potential to enhance


Table 2: Female average skill scores and changes in placement stage

students’ professional identity and career aspirations, alongside their sense journalism and personal competencies.

‘After Christmas, I thought I couldn’t be a journalist, At work experience, I went out and really did it, and learnt I’m much better than I thought I was (F1).


‘The placements have made me more confident about my news-writing, newsgathering, being able to conduct interesting interviews, and getting  information out of people’ (M4)

The findings appear to strongly support previous studies on the benefits of work placements for students in higher education (Little & Harvey, 2006; Lucas & Tang, 2007, Blackwell et al, 2001). Irrespective of whether participants had positive or negative work placement experiences, all participants believed time on placement had been personally significant. Overall, the study has provided evidence that short work placements can provide intense, complex and multidimensional learning experiences for individuals, aligned to social constructivist theory, in relation to the background and culture of the learner, and, sustaining the motivation to learn (Wertsch, 1997). However, there is awareness that any assessment and measurement of related self-efficacy beliefs is fraught with problems, not least their complex nature and range of contributing factors making accurate measurement difficult. Pajares (1996) argues that judgements of capability may vary across realms of activity, different levels of task demands within a given activity domain, and under different situational circumstances.

No clear conclusions can be drawn from these data because of the complexity surrounding the formation of self-identity and self-efficacy constructs. The findings relate to individual perceptions, and do not provide evidence of the development of specific skills per se. The research revealed the importance of pre- and post-placement preparation and reflection, to challenge and support students on undergraduate journalism programmes, to maximise their work related learning and employability regardless of their apparent confidence in relation to these.

The findings do not in any way identify, differentiate or describe the varying personalities or career motivations of the participants. Participants varied in the length and number of placements they experienced during the month long period (ranging from a month, a fortnight, and a week). For example, one spent an entire placement month with CNN in Munich. Gender comparisons are also unreliable, because of the internal and external dimensions associated with individualised self-identity and self-efficacy beliefs. As a footnote, almost one half of the research sample secured full-time paid employment during graduation month, which may have been a result of the newfound confidence and experiences gained from work placements. However, female research participants, it should be added, secured three-quarters of the new appointments. There could be another gender dynamic at play. Many gender differences in cognition, motivation, emotion, and social behaviour may be explained in terms of men’s and women’s different thinking, feeling, and behaving. (see also Cross, S.E. & Madson, L, 1997). Females tend to be more self-critical, more honest about their need to improve, kept working hard and pushing on until they get the job they want. Is it this critical honesty about their perception of skills that drives women to get the jobs?

It must also be remembered the findings are specific to the research individuals, and reflect the small sample size of ten participants, so comparisons are unsafe. They are suggestive, rather than definitive. With the placement period just a month, the consistency of these observations would need to be tested over a longer period of time, ideally in a longitudinal study with a larger group of journalism students a year after graduation. However, findings from this study will be used to prepare journalism students for work placements, and to explore ways to consolidate placement learning on return to the university. Ultimately, the value of work placements may be beyond measurement, marks and grades, but interesting questions are raised regarding the research participants’ motivation for their academic and practical studies on return to university, which highlight the relative advantages and disadvantages of applied placement learning. However, for the individuals concerned, differences in skills perceptions may well be of greater significance.

Bandura, A (1977) ‘Self efficacy: towards a unifying theory of behavioural change’. Psychological Review. 64: 191-215.

Bandura, A (1986) Social foundations of thought and actions: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall.

Barnett, R (1997) Higher Education: A Critical Business, Buckingham, SRHE and Open University Press.

Bateman, T.S. & Crant, M.J. (1993) ‘The pro-active component or organizational behaviour: a measure and correlates’. Journal of Organizational Behaviour 14(2) 103 – 119.

Beach, K & Vyas, S (1998) ‘Light Pickles and Heavy Mustard: horizontal development among students negotiating how to learn in a production activity’. Paper presented at the Fourth Conference of the International Society for Cultural Research and Activity Theory, University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Bennett, R, Eagle, L, Mousley, W and Ali-Choudhury, R (2008) ‘Reassessing the value of work experience placements in the context of widening participation in higher education’, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol. 60. Issue 2, June 2009, 105-122.

Betz, N.E. & Hackett, G (1981) ‘The relationship of career-related self-efficacy expectation to perceived career options in college men and women’. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 23, 329-345.

Blackwell, A, (2001) Bowes, L, Harvey, L, Hesketh, A, & Knight, P (2001) ‘Transforming work experience in higher education’. British Educational Research Journal , 27 (3), 270 – 285.

Brennan, J, and Little, B with Connor, H, de Weert, E, Delve, S, Harris, J , Josselyn, N, Ratcliffe, N, and Scesa, A (2006) Towards a Strategy for workplace learning, Bristol; Higher Education Funding Council for England, http;// rd09_06/report.htm

Bullock, K, Gould, V, Hejmadi, M & Lock, G (2009) ‘Work Placement Experience: should I stay or should I go?’ Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 28, No. 5, October 2009, 481–494

Crebert, G, Bates, M, Patrick, C.J., and Cragnolini, V (2004) ‘Developing generic skills at university, during work placement and in employment: graduates perception’. Higher Education Research and Development, Vol. 23, No 2, 147-165.

Cross, S, and Madson, L.  (1997) ‘Models of the self: Self-construals and gender’,

Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 122(1), 5-37.

DfES, (2003a) The Future of Higher Education, HMSO, London: DfES. Available at:

Dacre Pool, L & Sewell, P (2007) ‘The key to employability: developing a practical model of graduate employability’, Education +Training vol.49, No 4, pp.277-289

Dearing, R (1997) The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education: HE for the 21st Century. London: HMSO.

Dewey, J (1933) How We Think. Boston: D.C. Heath.

Dewey, J (1934) Experience and Education, The Kapa Delta Pi Lecture Series, MacMillan, New York.

Deuze, M (2005) ‘What is Journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered’. Journalism, 2005, 6, 442-464.

Drever, E. (1995) Using semi-structured interviews in small-scale research. Glasgow: Scottish Council for Research in Education.

Duignan, J (2003) ‘Placement and adding value to the academic performance of undergraduates: Reconfiguring the architecture – an empirical investigation’. Journal of Vocation Education and Training, 55(3), 335–350.

Dweck, C.S. (1999) Self-Theories; their role in motivation, personality and development,. Philadelphia, Psychology Press.

Frese, M, Garst, H and Fay, D (2007) ‘Making Things Happen: Reciprocal Relationships and Personal Initiative (PI) in a four wave longitudinal structural equation model’, Journal of Applied Psychology. 92.1084-1102.

Frost, C, (2002) Reporting for Journalists, London, Routledge.

Fugate, M, Kinicki, A.J. and Ashforth, B.E.(2004) ‘Employability; A psycho-social construct: its dimensions and applications’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour. 65(1) 14-38.

Guardian (2009) (http;//

Guile, D and Griffiths, T (2001) ‘Learning through work experience’. Journal of Education and Work, 14, 1, 113-131. URL:

HEFCE (2007a) cited in Rothwell, A (2007) ‘Self Perceived Employability: Construction and initial validation of a scale for university students’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour 73(2008:1- 12).

HEFCE, (2000) Widening Participation from…/ps0103_ widening_particpation.pdf

Higher Education Academy ‘Personal Development Planning’. Available at: (accessed 16 December, 2009)

Hillage, J & Pollard, E (1998) ‘Employability: Developing a framework for policy analysis’, EfEE Research Briefing No.85. Institute for Employment Studies. Available at: d=12855&resultspage=1.

Kolb, D. A .(1984) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey, Prentice Hall Inc.

Knight, P and Yorke, M (2004) Learning, curriculum and employability in higher education, Routledge Falmer. London.

Lent, R.W., Brown, S.D. & Hackett, G (1984) ‘Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice and performance’. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 45, 79 – 122.

Little, B and Harvey, L (2006) Learning through work placements and beyond. Centre for Higher Education Research and Information. Open University.

Little, B (2000) ‘Undergraduates work based learning and skills development’. Tertiary Education and Management, 6, 119-35.

Lucas, U. & Tang, P.L. (2007) Developing a reflective capacity within undergraduate education: The role of work-based placement learning. York: The Higher Education Academy.

Lucas, J.L. and Wanberg, C.R. (1997) ‘Development of a Career Task Self Efficacy Scale: The Kuder Task Self Efficacy Scale’. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 50, 432-459.

Mandilaras, A (2004) ‘Industrial Placement and Degree Performance: evidence from a British Higher Institution’. International Review of Education Economics, 3(1) 39-51.

Maslow, A.H. (1943) ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’. Psychological Review, 50, 370396.

Moon, J (2004) Reflection and Employability, York: The Higher Education Academy.

Moreland, N (2004) ‘Work related learning in higher education’. Learning and Employability Series Two. York: The Higher Education Academy.

Nixon, S and Walker, C (2009) ‘PDP – inspiring capability’, in Enhancing Student Centred Learning, Newbury, Berks: Threshold Press.

Pajares, F (1996) ‘Assessing self-efficacy beliefs and academic outcomes: The case for specificity and correspondence’. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, April, 8 – 12.

Pajares, F (1987) ‘Current directions in self-efficacy research’, in M.Maehr & P.R. Pintrich (Eds) Advances in motivation and achievement. Vol. 10, (1-49) Greenwich, CT; JAI Press.

Revans, Reg  (1971) quote from the International Foundation for Action Learning from

Rothwell, A, Herbert, I and Rothwell, F (2008) ‘Self Perceived employability: construction and initial validation of a scale for university students’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 73 (2008 :1-12)

Rothwell, A & Arnold, J (2007) ‘Self perceived employability: development and validation of a scale’, Personnel Review Vol .36. No.1, 2007 pp 23-41.

Schon, D.A. (1983) How Professionals Think in Action, New York: Basic Books.

Schon, D.A. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner, California: Jossey-Bass.

The Pedagogy for Employability Group (2004) Pedagogy for Employability. Available at: process=full_record&section=generic&id=510(ac cessed 17 December, 2009)

Thompson, A.J. (2005) ‘Proactive personality and Job Performance: A social capital perspective’. Journal of Applied Psychology. 90:1011-1017.

Wallace, R, Murray, R and Overton, T (2009) Effective Practice in Industrial Work placement,  The Higher Education Academy, Physical Sciences Centre.

Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice; Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1997) Vygotsky and the formation of the mind. Cambridge, MA.

Willis, J (2010) The Mind of a Journalist, London: Sage.

Zimmerman, B. J (2000) ‘Self-Efficacy: An Essential Motive to Learn’, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 82-91.