Monday, March 16, 2009

Sigh ... another, day, another impenetrable academic paper

I am indebted to Dr Sean Phelan, of Massey University’s Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, who has written a dense 17-page paper in response to an item that appeared in my Curmudgeon column in The Dominion Post three years ago.

I am indebted partly because journalists love to have their work noticed, but more because Phelan’s paper confirms much of what I have been saying and writing about academics for years.

Much of it is utterly impenetrable. If I had set out to write a parody of esoteric academic jargon, I couldn’t have hoped to do a better job than Phelan has obligingly furnished.

Intriguingly, he has anticipated that his work would be turned against him. In a footnote in which Phelan carelessly lapses into plain English, he acknowledges there’s a good chance his article could trigger a comical response if it came to journalistic notice. He adds: “No doubt, extracts could be uprooted to coherently fit with the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ and ‘pointy-head’ stereotypes [of academics].”

Quite so – but it hasn’t deterred him.

Phelan takes as his starting point I column I wrote in March 2006 in which I took a shot at Dr Craig Prichard, another Massey academic. Prichard, a management lecturer, had issued a press statement criticising the sale of Trade Me to Fairfax and arguing that the $700 million proceeds, rather than being transferred to Trade Me founder Sam Morgan and his fellow investors, should have been “creatively distributed” among the site’s “community of users”. All New Zealanders had helped create Trade Me, Prichard asserted, and “new structures” needed to be developed that gave everyone involved a “fair go”.

In my column, headlined An assassin in academia, I wrote that Prichard seemed to think we were all entitled to a share of the profits from the company Sam Morgan worked 18-hour days to get established. I contrasted the entrepreneurial Morgan with Prichard, “safe and smug in his taxpayer-funded academic post, who as far as I can tell hasn’t contributed a damned thing to the country’s wellbeing and, indeed, seems bent on undermining those who do”.

I also wrote that when I googled the previously unheard-of Prichard, I “stumbled into a morass of impenetrable academic mumbo-jumbo liberally sprinkled with reverent references to Michel Foucault – the leftwing French philosopher succinctly described by [my fellow columnist] Bob Brockie recently as a fruit cake – and Karl Marx, whose theories probably killed more people in the 20th century than any other single factor”.

Phelan, who has a PhD in communications from Dublin City University and has been at Massey since 2003, uses these comments as the platform for a prolix exploration of journalistic attitudes toward academia and the tension between theory and practice in the training of journalists – another subject on which I have written, and in which Phelan, as a lecturer who specialises in the news media, has a direct personal interest.

Some clues to his own ideological leanings are evident in Phelan’s online Massey University staff profile, which states: “His research interests are interdisciplinary and he has a particular interest in exploring how post-Marxist discourse theory and the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu can be applied to the study of media and communication. Sean also has an ongoing research interest in examining the relationship between neoliberalism and media practices.”

To be honest I had not previously heard of Pierre Bourdieu, but a googling reveals him to be one of the Usual Suspects: a leftist sociologist and philosopher, heavily influenced by Marx and known for his theories on class structure.

Phelan’s paper is titled Democracy, the Academic Field and the (New Zealand) Journalistic Habitus. It can be accessed here
but be warned: unless you share my perverse enjoyment of academic conceit, you will find it heavy going.

To give you some idea of the paper’s tone, without putting you to the trouble of actually reading it, here are a couple of excerpts:

I want to treat Du Fresne’s column as a platform for a more expansive dialectical analysis that argues it can be read as a ‘fantasmatic’ articulation of an antagonism to academic identities that is a more general attribute of the New Zealand journalistic ‘habitus’. By ‘fantasmatic’, I mean, most simply, a logic of ideological fantasy, which Glynos and Howarth (2007) conceptualize, following Žižek (1989), as the affective force that ‘grips’ a subject’s identification with a particular discourse.

If you’re scratching your head over that word “habitus”, don’t worry; it’s all perfectly simple. Here’s Phelan again:

My understanding of ‘habitus’ follows Bourdieu, who, in Wacquant’s reformulation,
conceptualizes it as a description of how:

Cumulative exposure to certain social conditions instils in individuals an ensemble of durable and transposable dispositions that internalize the necessities of the extant social environment, inscribing inside the organism the patterned inertia and constraints of external reality (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 13)

And in case you still haven’t quite got it, Phelan helpfully explains further:

Although the formal discussion of Bourdieu’s work here is skeletal, it is important to stress that the category of habitus cannot be separated from the other conceptual dimensions of Bourdieu’s work, in particular the category of ‘the field’. If habitus can be described as way of indexing a ‘socialized subjectivity’ or posture (ibid, 126), then field is a heuristic attempt to capture how group subjectivities are dialectally structured by, and simultaneously structuring, what Bourdieu calls a ‘network, or a configuration, of objective relations between positions’ (Benson & Neveu, 2005, p. 3).

All quite straightforward, really.

You could choose almost any section of Phelan’s paper at random to demonstrate just how indigestible it is. Here’s another example:

I understand discourse in the sense advanced by Laclau and Mouffe (2001, p. 105), who define it as a ‘structured totality’ that is constituted by the partial fixing of relations between different signifiers. Their account emphasizes the ‘antagonistic’ character of discourse(s) and how those identities that are Othered are central to the articulation of a positively-claimed identity. In other words, the representation of the Other functions, to use Derrida’s paradoxical formulation, as a ‘constitutive outside’ in the construction of one’s own identity (Glynos and Howarth, 2007).

As easy as it is to make fun of this sort of stuff, we should remember that it’s a case of an academic writing for other academics and that it’s not intended to be understood by outsiders. In fact it’s hard to see what function such abstruse analysis serves, other than to gratify and sustain the tight little elite that produces it, and perhaps attract an invitation to deliver a paper to like-minded academics at a taxpayer-funded conference somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

However I resolutely ploughed on and was able, by pouncing on a few renegade plain-English words and decoding the rest, to get a broad sense of what Phelan was getting at.

Phelan thinks that far from there being too much theory in the teaching of journalism, there isn’t nearly enough. What sort of “theory” he envisages can be gauged from telltale phrases such “the deleterious impact of corporate structures on New Zealand journalism” and “the neoliberal corporatisation of the local print media industry”.

His ideas of what constitutes acceptable theory eventually become more explicit. “To clearly distinguish what I understand by theory, this paper sides with people like Prichard, who equate ‘theory’ with reading – or at least distilling – the insights of critically engaged thinkers like Marx, Foucault, Bourdieu, Laclau, Fairclough, etc …” he writes.

He says these "theoretical resources” need to be “rearticulated, in contextually sensitive ways, as part of the formal education of journalists, particularly in universities”. He continues: “I am suggesting that the relationship between academic field and journalistic field imperatives is imbalanced under a hegemonic ‘training’ regime that is structurally precluded from assessing journalistic practices from a theoretically-informed distance.” (Translation: dammit, why can’t I fill students’ heads with the tortuous theories of people like Bourdieu?)

What Phelan is really advocating here is the politicisation of journalism training. More specifically, my guess is that he would like journalism students to be inculcated with the view that the news media is a tool of the ruling class, manipulated by the rich and powerful for their own benefit. He gives a clue to this when he pooh-poohs the conventional view of the media’s role in a democracy. “Mainstream journalistic identification is clearly aligned with a particular conception of democracy that has been hegemonized in capitalist liberal democracies,” he writes. (Translation: the proletariat has been suckered by vile robber press barons.)

Phelan favours university-based journalism teaching over the vocationally oriented courses offered in polytechnic-type institutions, suggesting that an academic approach is the best way to approach what he calls the “problems of New Zealand journalism”. (What problems, exactly? Phelan doesn’t explain, but my guess is that it has something to do with the fact that New Zealand journalism operates within a capitalist, free-market framework that he finds ideologically obnoxious.)

Unsurprisingly, Phelan emerges as an opponent of the notion of journalistic objectivity and endorses comments made by Auckland University of Technology journalism associate professor Martin Hirst, an avowed socialist who, in the course of an exchange with me last year on this issue, dismissed the idea that journalists can and should strive to be neutral.

Phelan also addresses himself to a column in which my fellow Dom Post contributor Chris Trotter argued that formal journalism training, as opposed to the on-the-job training of the old days, stifles what might be called the gut journalistic instinct. “Students who follow unorthodox ideas and practices get ‘C’s. Rule-followers are rewarded with ‘A’s,” Trotter wrote. In this I believe he was spot on, as he is often is when he gets away from his nostalgic yearning for the heroic working-class struggle. (Remind me to tell you sometime what Wellington Polytechnic journalism tutors thought of the talented Steve Braunias when I taught a feature-writing course there in the early 1980s.)

While acknowledging that Trotter and I are political opposites, Phelan writes: “Both journalists [sic – Trotter is a political commentator, not a journalist] assert an antagonism to the academic field, but in different ways that are structured by two different discourses about what constitutes theory. Du Fresne perceives an academy contaminated by ideology and politics (theory as indulgent philosophizing), while Trotter indicts the University environment for its arid professionalism and depoliticization of journalistic identities (theory as political detachment). Despite these differences, I see this shared antagonism as indicative of a distinct journalistic habitus.” Oh dear, that word again.

As for me, I’m accused of trying to “symbolically annihilate” the perspective of others.

So public debate, when it involves criticism of ideas that Phelan endorses, is “symbolic annihilation”? No, Dr Phelan. It works like this. The media functions as a marketplace of ideas, among many other things. People like Dr Prichard put up ideas and if people like me think they’re stupid, we ping them. If in turn I say something stupid, I expect people to ping me – as they do from time to time. The readers of The Dominion Post, or this blog or whatever forum is involved, assess the competing arguments and make up their own minds.

That’s how a liberal democracy works, and it actually works pretty well. It couldn’t be simpler, really. Trouble is, academics such as Dr Phelan – to say nothing of people like Bourdieu and Foucault – depend for a living on making the world seem infinitely more complex than it really is. That’s part of the mystique that academia has succeeded in wrapping around itself.

As I wrote in a column last year, how the news media works is really not that complicated. Important and interesting things happen in the world. Editors publish or broadcast information about these events because they think their readers/viewers/listeners might want to know about them.

You could argue endlessly about the correctness of some of their decisions, but the process is no mystery. Media studies academics, however, prefer to bury this straightforward, everyday process of news selection under layers of highly imaginative, if ponderous, analysis and heavily politicised interpretation.
They read into the media all manner of coded signals that are visible to no one else, least of all people actually working in the media. And then they invent a whole new language to make it seem even more complex – a language that only they understand.

But back to Phelan. He concludes by laying bare his frustration and resentment. “My view is that New Zealand journalistic education is embedded in a fundamentally conservative network of surface pluralism that is insufficiently questioning, or worse indulging of, the kind of habitus exemplified, in different ways, by Du Fresne and Trotter. I have suggested that the academic field will continue to function as an instrument of the existing hegemonic order, so long as the teaching of journalism continues to be largely divorced from those critical pedagogical resources that can help illuminate some of the censoring and anti-democratic blind spots within the hegemonic journalistic habitus.”

Implicit in this approach, it seems to me, is an assumption that the primary role of the media is to challenge and upset the established order, for which read liberal capitalist democracy. The view expounded in some politicised journalism schools (or madrassas, as a former journalist acquaintance of mine once called them, after the fundamentalist Muslim indoctrination schools) is that journalists should not be mere passive, neutral reporters of events, but activists pursuing an agenda of change.

The question is, should we be bothered by people like Phelan? On the one hand, we can treat his paper as the irrelevant maunderings of a discontented and frustrated academic, likely to carry influence only within a small circle consisting largely of other discontented and frustrated academics. I’m reminded of the lines from Auden’s poem In Memory of W B Yeats:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper …

You could say much the same about many of the turgid texts written – at our expense, I should add – in the universities. They are like the noise of the tree falling in a distant forest that no one can hear.

On the other hand, it’s important that people understand how academia has been infiltrated – a loaded word, I know, but justified in this context – by people who have ideological barrows to push, and who have no qualms about using their sinecured positions in taxpayer-funded institutions to disseminate ideas that most people would find either peculiar or obnoxious, if only they could understand them.

I don’t dispute for a moment that universities have a vital function to fulfil as the “critic and conscience” of society, and I certainly don’t wish to silence people like Dr Phelan. Heck, here I am helping him disseminate his ideas even though I find them distasteful. It just strikes me as odd that the ideological current in our academic institutions flows so overwhelmingly in one direction.

Footnote: Sean Phelan may have a PhD and lecture journalism students, but an old-fashioned chief reporter, or even a half-decent journalism lecturer at one of the polytechnics for which he expresses disdain, would have his guts for garters. He twice misspells the name of one of his fellow academics (David Robie of AUT), wrongly describes National Business Review as a “fortnightly magazine”, incorrectly states that my Curmudgeon column is syndicated to other Fairfax papers including the Nelson Mail, and misleadingly implies that I was editor of The Dominion at the time it merged with The Evening Post. It appears theory takes precedence over practice even to the extent of not bothering too much about getting facts right.

Footnote #2: This response, in contrast to Phelan’s paper, was written at no cost to you, the taxpayer.

Footnote #3: I have sought advice from my solicitors as to whether Phelan’s description of me as an intellectual is defamatory.


kassto said...

Thank God you've translated for me, Karl, because I never would have understood the great academic otherwise. That must be because although I have decades of journalistic experience, I have, alas, no degree, having fled academia after two years, vowing never to return.

Unknown said...

perikeWhile I did darken the doors of a university for quite a few years (admittedly swaying a bit and leaning on the door-frame for support) I took a big swerve when confronted with some of this sort of stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great column, Karl, and I join kassto in thanking you for your translation efforts.

You might enjoy these titles of papers delivered at a VUW English conference last December. (English as in academic vocation rather than language.) The conference theme was "Flogging a Dead Horse? Are National Literatures Finished?"

Australian Rural Apocalypse Fiction and The EcoGenealogical Novel: Home and Belonging in McGahan, Winton and Bail

The New Zealander: The ornate man of art pointing his jeweled cane at the slime of Father Thames

New Zealand's New Hemisphere: mapping the global in Hicksville

Nation-Building as a Decolonizing Performance: The Example of CLR James and the Haitian Revolution

The merest dull ember of this debased writing: Bad Poetry and the Nationalist Canon

Reading against the Canon (and other uncomfortable reading positions): The Challenge of Short Fiction in Girlie Magazines

Imperialism, Nationalism and Internationalism: New Zealands School Journal and Historical (Con)texts

Changing trends in Young Adult literature in Australia [How did this slip through?]

Indigenous Literatures in a Global Context: On the German Reception of the Indigenous Literatures of Australia and Aotearoa

The End of Diaspora as We Know It: Chinese Chick Lit and the New Transnationalism

The Non Aligned Reader and the Dilemma of a Disavowal of Nationalism

Sixteenth Century Nationalism, Feminism, and the Local/Global Vocation of Contemporary Fiction: Paul Anderson's Hunger's Brides

Australian Literature and Embedded Knowledges: The Case of the Environmental Imagination

Whos in, whos out?: Anthologizing the New Zealand Drama Canon

Tilting the Picture: Witi Ihimaera's Revisions and Questions of Decolonisation

Allegorical Shadowlands: Geographic and Genre Transformations in Janet Frames Short Stories and Novels

From teatjerk to quidnunc”: A.R.D. Fairburn and the Formation of an Ideology of Architectural Nationalism in New Zealand

Unknown said...

jmacg: Go on.

You made some of those up. Admit it.

Karl du Fresne said...

John Ansell tried to post the following comment but was thwarted by the Blogspot registration rigmarole, so he emailed it to me.

Utter horseshit. Beautiful.

Karl, thanks for exposing this fraudster.

Writing this way is the same as not having written at all.

Or it would be, had this turkey not wasted a forestful of paper and a scandalous sum of our money, and through his plausible pomposity no doubt conned a fair few gullible undergraduates into believing that he knows what he's talking about.

(He doesn't, of course, or he'd be happy to explain himself in words that other members of his species can grasp.)

In advertising, we have the perfect incentive to make sure our writing is understood and acted on. It's called getting sacked if it isn't.

That, dare I say it to you, is why copywriters are the clearest of all writers – clearer than journalists, clearer than lawyers and judges and politicians and businesspeople.

And infinitely clearer than academic tosspots like Phelan.

I do a talk called Plain English as a Second Language (For People Who Call People Human Resources).

At the end, I put up a slide that could have been written for Dr Sean: 'The thicker the document, the thicker the writer.'

Anonymous said...

Rob's Blockhead Blog said, "Go on. You made some of those up. Admit it."

Nope: all exactly as printed in the conference blurb. From memory I left out two or three whose titles came close to plain English.

One of those was from a NZ woman I know who teaches English at the University of Melbourne. She actually writes plain English and believes passionately in it. A small beacon of hope.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't entirely fit your post, but I don't have your email address to send it separately:

I just discovered an old collection of gobbledygook on my computer. I thought I recognised the person who made the following statement:

"One of the major challenges I face is making sure that the product I deliver to him clearly communicates to him as a busy minister the message Treasury is wanting to communicate to him." (Winston Peter’s policy advice director, Mary Anne Thompson.) Dominion 19/4/97

Yes - the same Mary Anne Thompson who resigned as head of the Immigration Service earlier this year after scandals including smoothing her own family's emigration to NZ and fraudulently claiming a PhD.

Chris Bourke said...

An excellent piece, Phelan's academic claptrap is a scourge upon journalism and writing. This kind of incoherent posturing also does academia no favours. It may pass 'peer review' - of course - but would it pass any kind of relevancy audit? Thanks for your hard work translating it; it should become a web viral classic and hopefully have an effect. Is there any single good thing that has emerged since theorists invaded journalism training?

jimmytwoshoes said...

What a boring world it would be if we only wrote in the fear of being sacked. Something like 1984, I suspect. Much as I like and respect Karl and enjoy his columns, I'm also a friend and colleague of Sean's and find the personal attacks distasteful. Sean and Karl both have interesting views and we need more debate on journalism in this country, not less! For the record, Sean's a hard-working and well-liked teacher, whose area is not journalism practice, but media studies. There is quite a difference. Anyhow, what's wrong with theory?

jimmytwoshoes said...

Ps I too was confounded by google when trying to put my name on this - it added this blogger name I chose some years ago. In the unlikely event anyone is interested, Jimmy Two Shoes is James Hollings, lecturer in journalism at Massey University. I should add my views are my own and I have not sought anyone else's opinion before appending them.

Tim Corballis said...

I don’t normally reply to (or read) these things, and I suspect that this is a somewhat late addition, but I just couldn’t let James Hollings’s excellent post stay on record as the only sensible response to this piece and the minor outbreak of rabies it seems to have inspired. Although du Fresne thinks that Phelan’s writing proves his point, doesn’t all of this actually better prove what Phelan wrote (which I have actually read, unlike, I suspect, most of the other posters here)? After all, one of the main points of that article was that journalists can show an incredible aggressiveness towards academic or intellectual writing: ‘tosspot’, ‘claptrap’, etc. Clearly it’s not just journalists, but also ad people and (former?) radio producers who feel this disproportionate rage. It must be obvious to any impartial reader of this page that such responses can only be inspired by profound insecurity. Do you really feel so threatened by someone who uses (not even very) big words? Sounds to me like you all just need a hug.

If, on occasion, complex language (like op-ed language) can be used as a big stick to hit people with, and if, as Phelan himself has sometimes complained to me, there are some cynical careerists within universities (as there are within newspapers), neither of those is what's going on with Phelan. His language is more complex than that of a newspaper because, firstly, he’s not writing for a newspaper (as du Fresne is good enough to acknowledge) and, secondly, because he’s being careful and precise about his terms. Don’t know what ‘habitus’ means? Phelan’s writing is exemplary in that it tells you exactly what it means, and if you still find it hard it tells you exactly who else you can read to explore the necessary background. Contrast du Fresne’s lazy throwing about of a phrase like ‘marketplace of ideas’ – he shouts it out as if it’s a fact as clear as day, whereas it’s got a whole history of political philosophy and legal argument behind it. Without that history it becomes a meaningless ideological slogan – not to mention the bizarre use of a word like ‘marketplace’ given the near-monopoly (am I allowed to use the word oligopoly, or is that too hard?) of a tiny number of publications in New Zealand journalism, most of which don’t bother concerning themselves much with ‘ideas’ in the first place.

So who’s the elite here? Du Fresne and his supporters seem to be caught in a cold-war fantasy, never very accurate even back then, of musty senior common rooms populated by Comintern members. Paranoia! There’s a tiny population of editors and journalists who control access to information in newspapers, even if it is, as du Fresne claims, just out of the goodness of their hearts and their desire to share the facts of the world with their readers. Many of these people are on first name terms with our politicians, and they often go on to positions in the latter’s PR departments. This is by no means a conspiracy: alongside the blindness of our papers to whole sections of the economy and parts of the world, and alongside the scarcely rewritten media releases and wire stories that newspapers are too stingy or busy to fact check (see eg. Nick Davies ‘Flat Earth News’ concerning the situation in Britain – I must confess I don’t know the situation here), the odd fact probably does make it into our newspapers from time to time. But if you’re looking for an elite, look no further.

And who’s ideological here? The ‘marketplace of ideas’ is purest ideology – yes, faded old neoliberal ideology at its most totalitarian, presented as if it’s objective fact, in simple language, no argument to be had, Stalin-style. And it’s as muddle-headed as any ideology: du Fresne’s simple world has kindly journalists reporting facts, but doing it in a (mythical) marketplace of ideas. So, provided I can actually find it, what do I get at this marketplace again? Facts, or ideas? Does he know the difference? This might sound picky, except that we should always be suspicious when someone goes around pretending their ideas are facts (do I need to mention Stalin again?).

By contrast, Phelan’s piece is careful, considered, and entirely open about where it gets its ideas from, and it makes no bones about them being ideas, open for discussion, and with practical consequences for journalism education. If this leads to a degree of complexity, don’t feel threatened – just have a nice comforting hot cocoa and read it again (I suggest you don’t rely on du Fresne’s ‘translation’). Plenty of other ordinary adults have understood this kind of writing, and plenty more have just decided it’s not for them – also okay! – without the sort of froth on display here.

I should of course say that I’m a friend of Phelan. If that’s seen as a declaration of bias that’s fine – though I’m also friends with two of the other posters, only one of whom is on Phelan’s ‘side’ here, and acquainted with a third, whom I like and admire despite being somewhat surprised by his post. All these connections, you’d almost think I was a member of the elite.

Tim Corballis said...

Oh, here's my full name this time (I'd thought it would appear last time, but apparently not...)

Anonymous said...

Hey Karl, you wrote: “If in turn I say something stupid, I expect people to ping me”. Ok , since you ask. This whole piece is pretty stupid but here are 3 minor highlights.
You say:

“To be honest I had not previously heard of Pierre Bourdieu, but a googling reveals him to be one of the Usual Suspects …”

“ …reverent references to Michel Foucault – the leftwing French philosopher succinctly described by [my fellow columnist] Bob Brockie recently as a fruit cake …”

“As I wrote in a column last year, how the news media works is really not that complicated.”

There’s some pretty high grade stupidity to start with. You have obviously never read Bourdieu or Foucault. So why write about them?
You googled one and quoted a fellow columnist about another. Bob Brockie has published how many books/peer reviewed articles concerning Foucault? You then cite yourself as some kind of expert on news media.

Excellent research, dude. Sounds like a very cool way to do journalism. Google, some colleague of yours, and quoting yourself. What next, citing Wikipedia? Sounds more like Bridget Saunders than journalism.

You did say you expect to be pinged if you say something stupid.


Peter Hoar

Marty said...

Well Karl, there you go. It seems that we are not alone.

I have not had time yet to write my own response, but it's coming.
Talk about a can of worms!
I suggest you take some fishing leave.

Philip Matthews said...

Another day, another kneejerk anti-intellectual response. By which I mean that this Karl column immediately reminded me of something. Of course, it's Frank Haden's classic "Now for the good news: I'm right and Derrida's dead" from 2004.

But the funny thing is, when you go back and look at that Haden column, at least the old curmudgeon made some effort to clearly explain the ideas he violently disagreed with. Here he is, on deconstructionism:

"The tradition of an author writing text which someone reads to get meaning was replaced by a 'poststructuralist' idea of language as a structure and the positions people inhabit within it. According to this view, writing isn't meant to communicate information to the reader but to 'circulate language'. At its heart is the notion that text doesn't mean what its author thinks it means, that it contains layers of other meanings that can be 'deconstructed'."

Karl doesn't even offer his opponents that level of courtesy; instead, we get writers and academics childishly dismissed as fruitcakes and people he's never heard of, and quotes full of funny long words misunderstood for comic effect.

Curmudgeons ain't what they used to be.

Unknown said...

Excuse my coming in late to this debate. Just in case my name gets lost, as seems to have happened with some other post-ers, I’m Alan Samson, one of four lecturers in journalism at Massey. Like several others who have replied, I too am a friend of Sean’s – and a former colleague of Karl’s. I had thought another role of mine (Press Council) rendered it sensible to stay out of things. It now, however, appears unlikely that any formal complaint will be made about the carrying of the John Ansell post that so virulently attacked Sean, so here’s my – personal - two cents worth: the post is offensive and should be removed. If not for the fact Sean is such a strong believer in free speech, he might have been expected to take legal advice. Have you all forgotten your media law?

But what an important debate could have been launched by Karl’s column! After Sean’s article appeared, he and I engaged in an intranet discussion about the sometimes uneasy relationship between journalism and academe. I questioned the legitimacy of some of his conclusions on journalism – which drew from the work of two columnists and a panel discussion. But some of the issues he raised have been hanging over university journalism teaching for years and are crying out for debate: notably, how and where to draw the line between fulfilling a university functioning of educating in the widest sense of the word, and the need to (as Sean puts it), serve the industry.

Theory and practice: the two roles are not mutually exclusive. Sean was right in pointing out that much that is taught in journalism is removed from theory – shorthand, writing news, finding news, media law, court reporting, crime reporting, feature writing, broadcasting, convergence… all important stuff for an aspiring journalist. Universities would be wrong to belittle the practical needs of real-world industry. But without sacrificing the practical, where’s the sin in providing theoretical underpinnings? Isn’t there a need for journalists confident enough to penetrate complex issues, develop opinions, to think?

HoneyHoxley said...

Well, while calling someone a "fraudster" and suggesting they have "conned" people is probably defamatory, I suspect you're safe with the "intellectual" accusation, Karl, since part of the test for defamation is that the general public might believe it to be true...

Anonymous said...

Dear Karl, as an avowed goldfish I feel obligated to respond to your cynical attack on goldfish.
We can be savage enough, we are also known to rise to the (de)bait.

I have stuck a post to my blog and I'm serious about a debate.

Any time, any where. How about at the JEANZ conference in Rotorua in December.

Or sooner if you like. Wellington on the evening of Monday 29 June at Massey University.

Best Wishes
Ethical Martini