Monday, 3 October 2011

Trust, The Media, and the Journalists Of Tomorrow

An interesting first lecture for the Level Five students, in the Journalism in Context module, looking at Media, Power and Democracy. I've wondered over the summer what effect the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry would have on the teaching of journalism to the next generation. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account problems that only exist within the lecture theatre.

When the lecturer polled a room of about fifty students on who was interested in 'politics', about three hands went up. The disconnect from the byzantine and brutal struggles of Britain's political elite has never felt stronger than in a room with the future gamekeepers of the so-called 'Fourth Estate'.

Failing to engage the 16-24 age gap is either a crucial error of disenfranchisement or a cynical masterstroke by a political process that strives to focus power in the hands of the few, ensuring power is inherited down controlled lines. That's a cynical topic for another blogpost. The concern here is how to not only instill in students a respect for, and interest in, the maneuverings of our administration - but also to educate them against the unethical practices employed in Murdoch-dominated newsrooms.

The lecture was given by Catherine O'Connor, who is Head of the Centre for Journalism as well as lecturing on several modules, an NCTJ Examiner and a former print journalist and deputy editor on regional papers. The introduction was a quote from Lionel Barber's address to the Fulbright programme which described the "conspiracy of silence" colluded in by Scotland Yard, Downing Street and Wapping. What followed was a discussion of the PR-centric motivations of each power group, and why they either broke the law - or ignored those who were. The group was shown how a culture of permissiveness can exist, especially in the quasi-dictatorial proprietorship of News International.

It became clear that we were being shown the exacting nature of the newsroom, and the vague ethical lines it operates along, in the 'safety' of the lecture hall. Here, the green hacks of tomorrow can be introduced to the mechanics of newsgathering, editing, and producing, without being exposed to the clearly toxic moral code that has permeated much of modern British journalism.

More than that, was a clear hope that we would be the journalists operating with true transparency and impartiality. The closing statement of our lecture was a quote from Jeff Jarvis' article in the Guardian where he suggested that "Now, at last, is our opportunity to reverse that flow and to recapture our public sphere."

We might not be the generation that fights this battle against the monolithic News Corp - discussion of the Leveson Inquiry and regulatory framework comes next - but we could be the first journalists of the potential brave new media world.

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