To study journalism was always going to be a bit of a grind. The profession is so often ad hoc and whimsical that to learn the basic skills over a three-year period based primarily in a classroom seems almost inappropriate.
Admittedly, the subject does become tedious. Constantly learning to write ‘like the BBC’, abiding by the bland structure and format of news writing with very little creative room eventually saps all of the energy out of you and wipes out any imaginative tendencies you once had. It’s as if the NCTJ dislike fun.
In learning media law, it felt like we were being taught how to bend the rules to breaking point and escape the clutches of Leveson, rather than try to refurbish the profession, retain some credibility and not make the same horrendous mistakes that journalists have made for decades.
But the criticisms can become just as tedious too, the most common of which is that the subject topic isn’t anything to do with sport. Sports Journalism students may not be all that interested in Public Affairs, but all journalists (and to be a sports journalist you have got to be a journalist first) surely have to have at least a basic knowledge of politics. In fact, most people – especially those able to vote – should know how government works, or understand the electoral system.
And, while the deepest, inner workings of the media may only be of interest to a select group of people, if you’re not interested in how the media works, or the consumption of media, or the effects of media: you’d have to ask yourself why you planned to go into the media when you chose the course.
It’s true that there would be a better way of teaching these sometimes unwanted subjects – having a semester of just Public Affairs, Media Studies, Shorthand and News & Online Writing (for the third time) was a particular toil – but the whinging bordered on the farcical when shorthand became ‘irrelevant’, simply because people couldn’t do it.
It may well be possible to use a dictaphone for face-to-face interviews but a journalist’s job – particularly at a lower, local level, where you will in all likelihood need to excel before climbing the ladder – is so often done from the desk, with only a phone and a notepad to hand. Good shorthand is also, as we are so often told, a lot more reliable than technology and, if nothing else, will be an invaluable tool just in case it is needed.
During my stints on work experience I have realised that everything we are taught is (shock) relevant, important and incredibly useful. Being able to quickly churn out a news story with a good structure makes all of the dull repetition at uni almost worth it, and even a basic level of shorthand comes in handy for the many phone interview tasks the editor sends your way. The degree gives you a foundation from which to work from outside of university, and it is the outside work which will be more important than anything done in the classroom – but you can’t know how to do the outside work unless you’ve studied the subject.
But it is undeniable that university is not the experience that it is sold to be. As Sann De Boar wrote in the Independent, you would expect fellow students to be like-minded and interested in the subject, but it sometimes seems that that is very far from the truth. Maybe it’s the course more than a widespread issue, but most of the students seem more interested in football more than actual journalism and, in the realisation that journalism is actually a massive ball-ache, they’ve almost given in and are basically waiting for the three years to end. Nobody seems to be interested in the media or journalism or, frankly, many other sports.
Although, to be blunt, I’m not even sure I want to go into the industry anymore. I refuse to give in – I’m paying to be here so I’ll get my money’s worth, thanks very much – but it feels like I’m halfway between wanting to be a journalist and halfway to really not giving a damn. But then I force myself to stick at it and do as much work as possible because to do the opposite seems pointless; yet the more I do it, the more I work in newsrooms and the more I learn about journalism, the more I hate it all.
I do think that the media is one of the most interesting subjects out there but when the industry’s dying and job numbers are falling, is it really the right career to go into half-heartedly? I recently spent a week on a local sports desk where it was very much all barrel-scraping and desperation in filling the paper. There was no real enthusiasm, but you have to think there would be some because why on earth would you put yourself through that for the intermittent working hours and very little reward, in terms of pay, readership and decorum?
Before university, I was one of those keen football bloggers who believed I basically had all of the tools necessary to make it as a journalist because I could reel off football facts and analysis that the traditional media didn’t. But you quickly realise that you can’t be a journalist from your bedroom and that there’s a bit more to it than just writing and looking at stats.
Now writing seems more of a chore, although that comes from having to think about it more. I’m going to keep ploughing on with the journalism work outside of uni and get as much experience as possible, but it is becoming more of an inescapable task rather than a passion, and I’m not sure how much longer I continue that charade.