Leading journalism academics have dismissed former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie’s attack on them last week as ‘old fashioned’and ‘out of touch’and even offered him some training.
In an interview with City University’s alumni magazine XCity – part of which was carried in The Independent – MacKenzie condemned journalism degrees as ‘make-work projects for retired journalists”, adding that aspiring journalists would do much better to join their local newspaper straight after A-levels.
Richard Tait, director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University said: ‘My reaction is that it’s a really old fashioned view, it’s out of date.
‘Kelvin is just harking back to a golden age, which I am not quite sure really existed.
‘I think Kelvin loves stirring things and people shouldn’t take what he said too seriously but I’d be worried if any young sixth-former reads that piece and says: ‘oh gosh, this is what I’d better do’. It’s fantasy to believe that youngsters can learn everything in newsrooms.”
Beth Brewster, director of journalism studies at Kingston University said that MacKenzie was ‘completely out of touch”, adding that ‘things have moved on a lot”.
She said: ‘The sort of jobs Kelvin is talking about just do not exist anymore. This is something he doesn’t realise. I think he is a bit of a dinosaur.”
Both Tait and Brewster said it is important to make a distinction between the era MacKenzie alluded to and the current situation.
Tait said: ‘Journalism needs smart people and most of the smart people now go to university.”
According to academics, entry-level journalists are nowadays expected to start working in a newsroom already having acquired a full range of skills.
Tait said: ‘Employers’ expectations are very high. There aren’t many jobs around, there’s lots of competition, there’s lots of talented people trying to get into the profession and quite understandably employers are saying: ‘we want you to be able to do everything, you need to know the law, you need to know the regulation framework, you need to know how to shoot and edit a video, you need to know about search optimisation, you need to blog, you need to know how a business runs’.
‘All those things you’ve got to know, you can’t just pick them up in a hard-pressed newspaper office or local radio station, where people are too busy.”
Professor Tim Luckhurst and Ian Reeves, from the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, have written to The Independent stating they would be ‘pleased to help’MacKenzie to learn new skills.
They wrote: “A degree in media studies is not a preparation for a career in journalism and no student should be misled into imagining it is. Beyond that his argument is utterly misguided, deplorably out of touch with modern journalism and atypically devoid of common sense.
“There are in British universities a handful of excellent degrees in convergent multimedia journalism that combine high academic standards in traditional disciplines including history, politics and law, with superb teaching of print, broadcast and online skills. They can be identified via two key characteristics: exceptionally high admissions standards, usually including interview and written test, and professional accreditation by the National Council for the Training of Journalists…
“The world has changed a lot since print skills alone made a good journalist. Today’s reporters need computer and broadcast skills Kelvin has never acquired. Perhaps he would like to learn. We’d be pleased to help.”