Once a journalist… always a journalist

D’ya know what inspired me to take up journalism in the first place? Here’s a clue. He’s Belgian, has a dog called Snowy and has a Sea Captain called Haddock as his best friend. Yes, that lovable boy reporter Tintin was my inspiration. As was Clark Kent. But that was more out of a love for DC comics, more than anything else. There is of course, a reason why I’m rabbiting on here.


The other day, I attended an ‘assessment day’ for a particular role within a PR company, which shall remain anonymous (though if you want the name, just check out IPG). At this particular ‘assessment day’ I was surrounded by marketing, PR and business graduates. There was only one other journalism graduate. She was however rather quite loopy (what does that make me then?). Anyhow, the day progressed and upon completion of the various tasks that were set, we were joined by senior members from the company. Before I knew it, I was introduced to a certain Martin Frizell, Executive Director of Media at said PR company. My ears pricked up when I heard his name. This man after all, was the husband of that insanely annoying TV presenter, Fiona Phillips. After having worked as a successful journalist for twenty years he decided to move into the dark arts and transfer his skillset to PR.

As we got talking, I mentioned to him that I had completed a broadcast journalism degree. He seemed rather taken aback by this, and re-called to me how he became a journalist. He’d done it the old-fashioned way by completing an NCTJ course and getting indentured with a local newspaper and radio station. Okay, so the man has the experience, great. Kudos to you sir. But please don’t belittle the degree that I spent three hard years working for. I also spent three further years studying print journalism as a degree. Funnily enough, those indentures aren’t around anymore. And to do the NCTJ course now, would cost you an arm and a leg. Not very helpful if you’re hoping to be a foreign correspondent.

So here is my retort to you Mr Frizell, and all those other old-school types who bang on about ‘real journalism’. Read it. You might learn a thing or two.

Mark Twain once wrote, “The only place where success comes before work, is in the dictionary.”

This quotation is ever relevant in the discussion of the use of studying journalism, as it expresses the ubiquitous belief of study that is commonplace in all eras and fields. Such association of studying and achievement is the method palpable in all areas of studying and thus it is a basis for examining the need to study journalism, in order to become a journalist.

Traditionally, journalism can be defined as it is in the dictionary as: ‘The profession of collecting, writing and publishing news through newspapers and magazines, or by radio and television.’

This connotes a sense of importance, and thus one can assume that the study of journalism is required. Although this is true, background information on the history of journalism suggests that studying journalism is not the only means of access into the industry, and so the value of studying journalism needs to be evaluated in light of this information.

Historically, the profession of journalism has been synonymous with the truth and exposing it. The initial stories covered by the media, purport to offer their audience honest accounts and so it can be assumed that journalists have to study journalism in order to promote accuracy. Indeed, Emile DeGiradin expresses that ‘the power of words is immense’. This is in keeping with the view, that a career in journalism is reliant upon the understanding of the importance of what is said – for words are a powerful means of communication.

Despite the history, the word ‘journalist’ now has many different connotations, as the use of this word is increasingly abused in order to sell copies of newspapers and so on. So, the various notions of journalism need to be discussed in order to analyse the extent to which studying journalism is needed to work in the industry.

For many people, modern examples of writers such as Pippa Middleton and some reality tv show types can be viewed as proof that one does not need to study journalism to have a career in journalism. All of  the aforementioned write columns in famous magazines that are sold all around Britain, without having studied journalism, and yet are classed as journalists – in the modern sense of the word.

Despite this, the credibility of such ‘journalists’ is debateable – as without the relevant education, such writers cannot be classed as reliable or plausible sources. Therefore, a negative stigma is attached to such writers who enter the industry, and so in the true sense of the word, journalism can be considered as prestigious as ever.

Catherine Belsey expresses the opinion commonplace that perceives any theory learnt as better than nothing; ‘…there is no practice without theory, however much that theory is suppressed, unformulated or perceived as “obvious”. In view of this, we can acknowledge how the study of journalism foregrounds the process of creating journalistic work.

On the other hand, renowned journalists such as Trevor MacDonald and Jeremy Paxman have had successful careers in journalism despite only having studied English Literature. These days though, if you acquire a degree in journalism at University it is viewed as an advantage because you gain, at first hand, a greater depth of knowledge and a greater insight into the subject. Education was created for the purpose of enlightening and benefiting students, and so one can perceive the study of journalism to be essential to a career in journalism.

Today, the lack of journalistic study before a career in journalism can be perceived as a short coming. Due to the fact that journalism remains to this date a competitive industry, the more knowledge you have, the better your position in the employment hierarchy. Despite the increasing emergence of celebrity writers, and social media, journalism is still commonly regarded as a profession of skill. Indeed news reporters, for example, provide the public with what is essentially the first draft of history. This places importance upon their role, and as legal requirements are to be learnt in order to be adhered to, it can be said that you need to study journalism in this instance. This highlights how the relevance of studying journalism is dependant on the type of journalist you wish to be – as although celebrities such as Pippa Middleton can be described as journalists because they write for magazines, they are writing their opinions rather than writing news and so their lack of journalistic qualifications limits their careers. Additionally, it is not uncommon for their writing to be discriminated against, because they do not have sufficient qualifications to make respected or valued judgements.

Furthermore, today’s society is one where courses in journalism are increasing and so this works to support the argument, that the necessity for journalism studies in a rapidly growing industry, is becoming ever relevant. A foundation of successful studies is an invaluable foundation, as 21st century employees face the competitive world of work. ‘Becoming a professional writer is not an easy task. The new writer faces stiff competition from the experienced writers who have proven track records.’

There is, however, an argument for working your way up in a company that can be derived from this. Indeed, if you leave school to become a journalist without gaining a degree in journalism you may adopt the notion that work experience is paramount. This is true, as work experience does provide a basis for a career, and it does not mean you are a bad journalist if you have not had formal training. However, most degrees now offer students the opportunity to gain work experience during the second or third year of their course. This gives such students, the upper hand and means that aspiring journalists with work experience alone, are not certain of securing a career within the industry – and so one can conclude from this that the study of journalism is needed for a successful career.

Traditionally, journalists are viewed as people who are to work whilst abiding by laws. The working definition of Libel, Contempt and the Human Rights Act, need to be revised in order to be implemented during journalistic practice. The study of such legal requirements is essential, by law, and so it can thus be argued that you cannot be a journalist in the legal sense of the word if you do not study journalism.

Kudos to you, if you read all that and kept up with me. The fact remains that to be a journalist, one must study journalism in today’s world. The ever-increasing social media driven world, extols the virtues of blogging and tweeting, which are all well and good, but nothing replaces the solid art of journalism. So to all you journalism students/graduates out there, be happy that you’ve EARNED your journalism degree. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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