If there is one thing journalists like talking about, it is themselves and each other. Just over a week ago Crikey published a list of about 350 names of graduates of journalism courses who are now working in the industry.
This effort was provoked by this Cameron Stewart piece, which, although he has contacted several of those mentioned protesting that it isn’t so, was widely read as a fairly nasty sledge at journalism educators. I’ve responded to what he said about me here.
But time to move on. The response to the publication of the list, and the flood of new information, was overwhelming. As a result, today we publish a new improved list, containing 826 names.*
Here is the list sorted alphabetically in order of surname.
Here it is sorted by educational institution.
And here by employer.
It is still very much an incomplete list, and the method for compiling it was unscientific. I did a call out on Twitter, and through the Journalism Education Association of Australia.
Charles Sturt University, in particular, is a notably under-represented institution, yet one of the oldest journalism schools. There should be more names from University of South Australia, and doubtless from Monash, La Trobe and other universities.** This list, I am sure, contains a minority of the people who have done journalism degrees who are now working in the industry.
The best represented institutions are Queensland University of Technology, with 159 names on the list, RMIT (150), UTS (111) and Edith Cowan University (92), but no firm conclusions should be drawn from that — it represents the effort the staff put into providing me with data, as much as the success of their graduates in finding jobs.
Meanwhile the biggest employers of people on the list were, in order, the ABC (123), Channel Nine (25) Channel Seven (22) and The Sydney Morning Herald and SBS on 19 a piece. But if you put together all the various arms of News Limited, it comes to about 72, placing it second only to the ABC as an employer of graduates on the list.
You can certainly argue with how the list has been sorted. I haven’t attempted to group the various arms of News Limited, for example. And doubtless there are updates to people’s place of work, since a great deal of information was drawn from the memories of journalism educators. Some errors in the earlier list have been corrected, and marked as corrected. Please contact me with any other updates, corrections or additions at [email protected]
Nevertheless the list as a whole reinforces the point that journalism education is no longer an exception, an aberration or some suspicious activity best stamped out. With journalists of the calibre of Leigh Sales (ABC), Michael Crutcher (The Courier-Mail) and others speaking well of their courses, the idea that there is something essentially wanky and postmodern and useless about journalism education should be laid to rest.
And by the by, a big cheerio to one of the earliest journalism educators, Rod Kirkpatrick, whose students at what used to be Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (now University of Southern Queensland) remember him and his course fondly.
The people on the list from that course, and others, underline the fact that the first graduates of journalism courses are now nearing the ends of their careers. They are among those who helped build the industry we have today.
The majority of those who contacted me with comments on their courses gave them the thumbs ups, but there were also negative comments, not all of them on the record, from journalists who reckoned they learnt nothing at J-school and would have been better off in the workforce.
One former RMIT student declared: “I don’t think I learnt anything there I didn’t learn in my first couple of weeks (on a major newspaper).”
But Lisa Martin, (AAP), also an RMIT graduate, thought differently: “Very practical training in all mediums … Lecturers awesome,” she said.
Lauren Day (ABC) said this of UTS: “The course I studied from 2007-2010 … was highly educational, inspiring and fantastic preparation for entering the industry … taught by some very inspiring staff.”
Meanwhile, the exercise brought to light some interesting research on journalism education. Dr Janet Fulton, of the University of Newcastle (self described as “one of those communication academics who researchers journalism”), recently conducted an ethnographic study of 36 journalists, examining how they interacted with various structures and institutions, including education.
She came up with figures that accord with those of Folker Hanusch’s 2008 study, quoted in my first article on this topic, which found in 2008 that out of 100 working Australian journalists 74% had a university degree, and of those 75% had specialised in journalism or another communications field.
Fulton’s thesis (available here) critiques the rather romanticises idea that journalists are born, not made — an idea frequently reflected in some journalists’ claims that you can’t teach journalism.
In fact, as commonsense would suggest, good journalism (and bad) is the result of fairly complex interactions between individual talent, background, education or the lack of it, context and circumstance.
It is worth noting that the list doesn’t include graduates from other kinds of university degrees who nevertheless learnt their early skills through student media, including newspapers and radio stations. People who got their start this way include Sue Spencer, Sharon Davis, Geoff Parish and many others in ABC.
Before community radio, editorship of student newspapers was the first experience for people such as David Armstrong, Alan Hogan, Richard Neville, Wendy Bacon, Brian Toohey and many others.
Interesting insights into the growth of courses came from Andrea Ho, an RMIT graduate now working as manager of local content for ACT ABC Radio.
Responding to those who like to rubbish journalism courses she wrote:
“For a period, J-schools were the only way to actually learn any journalism skills. In the recession of the early ’90s … many major media outlets were under terrible pressure. No one was offering cadetships. We had to learn somewhere, and J-schools were it. A number of our teachers were ‘hard-bitten real journalists’, who made us thump stories out on typewriters to strict deadlines, tore up inadequate stories in front of the class, etc. Economic times got better, but most cadetships didn’t reappear. So it’s fine to criticise J-schools, but not from the assumption that the old ways are better option when they aren’t an option any more.”
Another issue that keeps coming up is whether it is right for universities to produce so many journalism and media graduates, when the mainstream of the industry is shrinking. I have written on this before here.
But a few additional points. Nobody criticises universities for producing arts or science graduates just because not all of those who study English literature or physics will enter relevant vocations.
In a world increasingly driven by media, knowing how media works and how to make media content is an important set of understandings for any citizen.
The skills a good journalism course teaches are endlessly transferable. And most good journalism courses also incorporate decent doses of law, ethics, politics and other disciplines. As they should.
Meanwhile, journalism and communications degrees are now the foundation education for many of our most valued journalists. For that reason if for no other — the fact that they have had a hand in moulding the backbone of today’s profession — journalism educators have earned a place at the table when the standards and future of the industry are under discussion.
As for the courses themselves, they merit the industry’s constructive engagement, rather than its dismissive contempt.
Really, it’s so obvious that it shouldn’t need stating.
In the profile of The Australian editor Chris Mitchell published in The Monthly last year, he was quoted as saying that journalism lecturers are “meant to be preparing young minds to work for people like me”.
Well look around the newsrooms. They have.
*One name should not be there. Raphael Epstein is a good journo, but told us he was rejected from the RMIT course twice. So we put him there as a joke.
**Declaration. I have had a role in launching two journalism degrees — at Swinburne University of Technology and now at University of Melbourne. The first Swinburne graduates will hit the market at the end of this year. University of Melbourne students have only just started their two year masters program.