Friday, June 24, 2011

In defence of duFresneism

Several people have responded to my recent post about the academic takeover of journalism training, including a couple of the individuals mentioned. Herewith, in no particular order, are my responses:

1. Martin Hirst of AUT, writing under his cutely enigmatic nom-de-blog Ethical Martini, asks when I was last in a journalism school or spoke to a journalism tutor. In fact it’s several years since I was last in a journalism school (it was Wintec). I can visit a journalism school only if I’m invited, and oddly enough my post box isn’t jammed with pleas from journalism tutors for me to come and speak to the students. I suspect the reason is that they don’t want their students to hear what I might have to say; it might conflict with their theoretical models.

Hirst says I have a standing invitation to visit the AUT journalism school. I don’t recall any such invitation, and in any case a “standing invitation” is pretty much like saying “we must catch up over coffee some time” without intending ever to act on it. Besides, I’m in Masterton and AUT is in Auckland, and I don’t have a taxpayer-funded travel budget.

I certainly wouldn’t expect an invitation anytime soon from one prominent journalism school whose head, a former student told me, was in the habit of badmouthing me in front of his students. (The aforementioned head of school, it almost goes without saying, is a man with no mainstream journalism experience.)

However I have had some dealings with tutors. I attended the Jeanz (Journalism Education Association of NZ) conference in 2007 and would happily go again if given the opportunity. I don’t have a closed mind. I also have occasional social contact with some former journalists who have become tutors. In general they are people I respect.

2. Martin Hirst also claims that as part of my “long list of errors”, I wrote that Sean Phelan teaches journalism. Wrong. It worries me – and it should certainly alarm Hirst's students – that a man who is proud to use the honorific “Dr” has such poor comprehension skills that he didn’t see my very explicit acknowledgment that Phelan teaches media studies. But since Hirst raises the issue, it’s worth noting that the Massey website includes Phelan in the profiles of its journalism staff. That suggests to me that his role includes getting inside the heads of journalism students with his thoughts on “post-Marxist discourse”, whatever that may be. Hirst urges me to check the facts. It seems he could do with a good fact-checker himself.

3. Bomber Bradbury, according to Hirst, has plenty of mongrel in him. I certainly wouldn’t dispute that. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if Bomber Bradbury howls at the moon. Listening to Bradbury’s splenetic outpourings on Jim Mora’s Panel, I often imagine there’s a nice man in a white coat waiting outside the studio door to lead him (Bradbury that is, not Jim) gently back to the secure ward. But when I lament the lack of “mongrel” in academically trained journalists, I’m not suggesting – and I suspect Hirst knows this – that simply being a noisy non-conformist and exhibitionist is qualification enough for being a good journalist. You’ve got to have proven journalistic skills too, and to my knowledge Bradbury has none. He’s a polemicist and political activist who has no place as a “role model” in a journalism school paid by the state to turn out graduates for an industry he appears to despise and hold in contempt.

4. Samantha Ives challenges me to visit her journalism school (Whitireia, obviously) and praises her no-nonsense tutor Jim Tucker. Fair enough. Jim and I have had our disagreements but I respect him as someone who has “done the business” (he’s a former editor of the Auckland Star), and I’d be surprised if his teaching was contaminated by leftist ideology or flawed theoretical models.

5. I thank Sean Phelan for doing me the honour of naming something (du Fresneism) after me. If he’s so stung by my criticism that he feels impelled to write long (and I daresay impenetrable) articles in rebuttal, I’ll take it as a compliment.

6. Finally, I’d suggest that my academic critics have it all arse-about-face. They seem to be calling on me to justify myself, but I’m just a lone voice in the blogosphere wilderness. I don’t have my hand in the taxpayer’s pocket and I’m happy to stand on my journalistic record, which is far from flawless but is out in the open for anyone to see. My attackers are the people who need to be held accountable. They’re the ones who are paid by the hapless taxpayer to teach the next generation of journalists, and who use this publicly funded sinecure to promote a highly politicised model of journalism that is at odds with, and hostile to, the one followed by the industry that employs their graduates. It’s they who should be justifying themselves, not me.


Max Ritchie said...

As one who has complained to Jim Mora about Bradbury’s rants – the issue was Mora allowing Bradbury to say that terrorists deliberately killing civilians with a car bomb was the same as civilian casualties from an American air strike – I totally agree with you. Mora would not allow someone from the National Front on his programme – and quite rightly so – so why allow a left-wing extremist?

Karl du Fresne said...

I don't mind Bradbury appearing on Afternoons, provided his opinions are balanced by a range of others (as they are). Obnoxious views are better out in the open where we can all see them. But his appointment as a "role model" to journalism students is a travesty.

Jim Tucker said...

I once taught someone who'd worked in Muldoon's office and during the application interview she said she'd checked me out with her former boss. The old growler said: "I was never able to pick Mr Tucker's politics." I'm a sort of sceptical liberal, I guess, Karl, but I don't let that interfere with my journalism teaching. I have a master's degree, but although I learned a lot about research methods while getting it the main motivation was survival in an employment environment that regarded those of us without degrees with contempt. And I did want to get to wear the bat cape at grad time. I respect those who have gone to the trouble of getting a degree and I urge my teaching colleagues to got for it. At the end of the day, though, like you, I'm just a good old hack who loves the business of journalism. I'm lucky enough to be paid (a pittance compared to an editor's stipend) to rave on about my life's obsession.

Jim Tucker said...

By the way - what about joining the Kiwi Journalists Association on Facebook so you can have your say there.

Saige Vendome England said...

There are many ways of preparing people for a career in journalism. I've come through both non-academic spheres and I have an MA (though it is rather less academic - creative writing). I think it is a shame to use 'us' and 'them' arguments in this discourse as there is a value in both and the necessity of one should not cancel out the value of the other.
Some academics are inspiring but I agree with Karl that academics who have never worked in the field they teach are suspect. How can we teach any subject if we have not gleaned tools through craft and experience?
Rather than debate the pros and cons though, the real argument for discussion lies I think, in that most often avoided. The real argument lies in the fact that information is now entertainment without thought or the build-up of knowledge through research which leads to specialisation. How can any journalist muster up well-researched information if they are not given the time or resources to do so? Where are the principles which once formed the base for hearty discussions where hacks stood in bars wrestling for evidence? Where is our yearning for curiosity and discovery? Where is our desire to share various perspectives with the public? Who owns journalism? The beasts and the best in journalism are now working for free; creating blogs where they can express vital opinions; while that is great we also need solid evidence and true testing of argument. Knowledge is no longer formed or tested by the sound research and cross-checking modelled by the likes of Pat Booth; rather journos rely on relationships with politicians and entertainers to supply their information. We have entered an age where the lazy are encouraged rather than discouraged, a 'good' journalist these days might as well choose to spend their money on face lifts and tummy tucks rather than a good library.

Smith said...

Well Karl you are unrepentant and entirely welcome to your opinion.

I hope the 'end of the world as far as journalism goes' sandwich-board is not too heavy a burden to bear. Thanks though, for the vote of confidence.

It will rest on us, we fresh young Marxist post-post-modern counter-revolutionary cadets in-training, to demonstrate in the next few years whether your fearful musings are justified or overwrought.

Bearhunter said...

I wasn't going to comment, but what the hell, my two cents' worth is as worthless as anyone else's.

I came to journalism late and got into Wellington Poly without finishing high school, never mind getting a degree. Back then (pre-Massey by a year) it was far from academically driven and a good, practical course. That said, I learned more from doing in an actual newsroom than than sitting in a classroom in Riley Terrace.

I've managed to earn my living in the field ever since, despite not actually graduating (could never get in in time for shorthand).

What I have noticed, though, is that more recent graduates (the last five or six years) that I have come in contact with may have very clear ideas indeed about certain issues, but a pretty shaky grip on more general practicalities.

It's all very well having firm views on the Palestine question, but it also helps to have a working knowledge of basic NZ history and geography and a grip on the English language if you're going to work in this country.