Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Who's afraid of Media Studies?

Whenever I hear the likes of BBC Radio 4's John Humphrys or Radio 5 Live’s Peter Allen knocking Media Studies degrees, I wonder what these guys are afraid of.

Do such critics really believe that the media are so transparent, so unproblematic, so inconsequential and with such little impact on the way we think, consume, vote, choose our friends, choose our enemies, etc., that they are not worthy of critical study? Would they prefer it if students didn’t learn about such things?

It’s usually around the time that A-level results come out that those of us who teach Media Studies find ourselves having to defend our existence against a barrage of mainly media-inspired propaganda against such courses.

The argument rumbles on with this article that appeared in the Independent On Sunday. The debate sets up the usual positions of academic-vs-vocational education and the value of each although the article does attempt to offer a balanced view.

There are still many media organisations which look to media course providers to concentrate on vocational skills and ditch the theory. But this leaves open the scary prospect of newspapers and broadcasters staffed by people who know how to use a computer or microphone but have no idea how to construct an intelligent argument or give an objective interpretation of what’s happening in the world. We've all witnessed the inane gibberings of those lifestyle journalists, television continuity announcers and local radio presenters who fit into this category.

It’s interesting that the article equates Media Studies with Journalism courses. One of my family members is studying for a Joint Honours in Media AND Journalism at De Montfort University, which clearly does draw a distinction between the two disciplines. I teach on a degree at UCE which offers a wide range of specialist routes through Media Studies - journalism, radio, TV and video, web design, photography, music industries and, interestingly, PR.

PR has been (still is) traditionally seen as part of the domain of business schools and degrees in Marketing. However, its agenda-setting influence on other media practices (especially journalism) and its central role in promotional culture makes it an important and valid – some would say vital – object of study for students of media and culture.

If media studies graduates spent three years simply learning which buttons to press, then the critics might have a point. But a degree course is more than a training programme. It should be encouraging would-be media workers to address some fundamental questions about media production – not only ‘how do we do it?’ but also ‘what is it doing to us?’

Filed under:
Media Studies   journalism education   journalism training    Independent   UCE   
De Montfort University   PR education


Pete Wilby said...

Thanks to Caroline Wilson for pointing me to this article in yesterday's Guardian on Cambridge University's list of undesirable A-levels. Is this more evidence of the university's elitist stance? Their admissions director says no.

Sherrilynne Starkie said...

Hi Pete. I wrote about this on Strive Notes...I can't find your track back and it seems you didn't get an automatic ping. Just fyi.

Pete Wilby said...

Many thanks Sherrilynne. I've added a reply. All best wishes.