Oct 13, 2014

Note to Sharri: students aren’t passive information sponges

The Australian's "exclusive" on the apparent left-wing brainwashing in uni media courses sells students short, writes UTS J-school student Max Chalmers.

It’s an exciting time to be a student of journalism in Sydney. Sure, the digital editing workshops can be a little dull, and there’s little pleasure to be found spending your evenings pacing the long corridors that wind around the University of Technology Sydney’s high-rise towers. But thanks to the intrepid efforts of The Australian’s media columnist Sharri Markson, we all know there’s a lot more going on behind the doors of Sydney’s media classrooms than the sleepy expressions of classmates in my 6 o’clock tutorials would let on. Today, Markson had a fresh scoop, an "exclusive" revealing the indoctrination occurring at two of Sydney’s major universities, both prolific producers of media studies graduates. Cleverly disguised, Markson went undercover to get the inside word on what was being taught to students in media degrees at the University of Sydney and at UTS. She sat in on some lectures, she read some course materials. In the spirit of deep, hard-hitting reporting, the piece ran with a selfie of Markson dressed as a university student. It was classic Woodward and Bernstein stuff. The evidence for Markson’s accusations, aside from an interview she conducted with News Corp company group editorial director Campbell Reid, was that lecturers at the University of Sydney had been critical of, God forbid, Rupert Murdoch. Others had been so brazen as to suggest News Corp may have tried to tip the 2013 election in favour of the Coalition. There was nothing too new about Markson’s jabs. On The Australian’s long list of enemies, academics -- especially those calling the shots at UTS -- have been a highly prized target for some time. Yet as a student who has studied at both the institutions referenced in the piece, there were some particularly galling features about this particular story. The problem with Markson’s dig is it fails to acknowledge the critical environment that universities foster, and the intellectual capacities of the people who study there. Universities foster extremes because they allow ideological debate to expand beyond the narrow remits of public discussion, and far beyond the often honed agendas on display at papers like the Oz. When I spoke to friends studying media at the University of Sydney this morning they agreed some academics were very left-wing. But they scoffed at the idea any agenda had been shoved down their throats. Reflecting on my own postgraduate study at UTS, the critique that seems most obvious to me is the exact oppose of the one Markson makes (in fairness, she referenced the undergraduate course, but she didn’t seem to think the indoctrination was limited to any particular section of the media department). Both my Television and Radio lecturers were former ABC employees but both have encouraged us to engage with a broad range of media, explicitly including conservative shock jocks, to get a feel for the whole media environment. UTS is ruthlessly pragmatic in its approach to training young journalists, and students receive a never-ending flow of emails pushing internships and job openings, frequently including News Corp gigs. After editing the University of Sydney student rag Honi Soit I saw many of our reporters, alleged victims of the media world’s equivalent of the Ludovico technique, land sweet jobs at Sky News. If I had any objection with the media training I’m currently receiving it would be that in the mad rush to develop vocational skills to make us competitive in an industry where jobs are scarce, we don’t spend enough time tackling big questions. Markson may cringe, but there is great joy and benefit in dealing with challenging and ideological media debates -- how can reporting avoid favouring elites? What can we take from radical critiques of the media business? How do we report on politics without reducing ourselves to giving spin a platform? Notably absent in Markson’s writing was any word from actual students. Most insultingly, she seems to think we can’t tell when a lecturer is a bit of a lefty or a Tory. That’s the reason that just about every media student in Sydney is laughing at Markson this morning. Some of us come out of our degrees with a burning hatred for News Corp, just as many will go on to work for the company, none of us are defenceless to interrogate any of the criticisms, ideologies or arguments put to us in lectures. The only interesting element of The Australian’s investigation was an anonymous piece run next to Markson’s by an unnamed student from an unnamed institution attacking the progressive culture of media schools. It raised the question: if this student managed to put up their own, independent critique, why does Markson think others are incapable of doing so? *Max Chalmers is a journalist and editorial assistant at New Matilda.

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20 thoughts on “Note to Sharri: students aren’t passive information sponges

  1. Bob's Uncle

    Was this Sharri’s first experience attending lectures for a journalism degree? This would explain quite a lot.

  2. klewso

    Sharri, not everyone is happy to have a lobotomy as a prerequisite to employment……

  3. SusieQ

    One assumes New Corp is happy to accept graduates from both of these course? Maybe they have to do an internal ‘re-education’ course first??
    You have to wonder whats wrong with the poor old Oz these days – they have the government they want in Canberra, so instead of reporting actual news or breaking actual stories, they seem to be endlessly casting around for someone to pillory, be it left leaning women, the ABC, the Greens etc

  4. Luke Hellboy

    Just a continuation on News Corpse/LNP war on facts, knowledge, education and especially introspection.

  5. paul holland

    As employers they are merely showing how those with an open view to society are not welcome at their rag. Those with independent ideas might as not even think about applying for a job, after all they have been more than happy to fire those who did have them.

  6. Yclept

    Strangely, even though I don’t attend uni, I’m getting an anti-Murdoch message as well. Manly from buffoons like Markson. Oh well, that can’t be bad…

  7. rumtytum

    “defenceless to interrogate”? “any objection with”? “if this student managed to put up their own independent critique”? “the exact oppose of”? Is this person really a journalist or just Markson in disguise?

  8. Kevin Herbert

    Talk about embarassing yourself in public…BIG TIME.

    What a dolt Markson is.

  9. Margaret Sinclair

    Er. There wouldn’t be any way to study journalism and avoid mention of Rupert Murdoch, would there? Media ownership is very concentrated in Australia. Murdoch papers would draw criticism because they did run a very biased campaign during the 2013 election. If the shoe fits, wear it. But then an independent audit would offer evidence. Much better than opinion.

  10. The Pav


    Beat me to it.

    Obviously as Sharri is no longer capable of independant that she assumes that nobody else is.

    Of course perhaps Sharri regards balanced observation as being anti Murdoch.

    BTW isn’t there something in the AJA Code of Conduct about concealing a reporters identity….or perhaps Sharri doesn’t qualify …I mean most of News Ltd faild the first three words in the first line and Bolt the whole of the first article

    AJA Code of Ethics1984-present

    Respect for truth and the public’s right to know are overriding principles for all journalists. In pursuance of these principles journalists commit themselves to ethical and professional standards. All members of the AJA section engaged in gathering, transmitting, disseminating and commenting on news and information shall observe the following code of ethics in their professional activities. They acknowledge the jurisdiction of their professional colleagues in the AJA judiciary committees to adjudicate on issues connected with the code.

    1 They shall report and interpret the news with scrupulous honesty by striving to disclose all essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts or by distorting by wrong or improper emphasis.

    2 They shall not place unnecessary emphasis on gender, race, sexual preference, religious belief, marital status or physical or mental disability.

    3 In all circumstances they shall respect all confidences received in the course of their calling.

    4 They shall not allow personal interests to influence them in the course of their professional duties.

    5 They shall not allow their professional duties to be influenced by any consideration, gift or advantage offered and, where appropriate, shall disclose any such offer.

    6 They shall not allow advertising or commercial considerations to influence them in their professional duties.

    7 They shall use fair and honest means to obtain news, films, tapes and documents.

    8 They shall identify themselves and their employers before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.

    9 They shall respect private grief and personal privacy and shall have the right to resist compulsion to intrude on them.

    10 They shall do their utmost to correct any published or broadcast information found to be harmfully inaccurate.

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