Sunday, May 25, 2008

A response to '‘Four Excuses That Impede Change in Media Academia’

At the edge of the Namib desert where the Swakob River empties, periodically, into the Atlantic Ocean, settlers in 1892 founded a town which many still today describe as 'more German than Germany'.

It's a place where the pioneers, mostly cut off from the developments das Vaterland sought (seek?) to perpetuate the culture as they remembered it.

The architecture, the bakeries and pubs are all wonderful examples of early 20th century Europe and seem untouched by either the changes on that continent or the cultures of the rest of Africa, which lies beyond the Namib desert.

In much the same way, too many media academics that I encounter on both sides of the Atlantic seek to perpetuate the norms and values of a time that no longer exists. And, yes, as Vin Crosbie points out in his column, ‘
Four Excuses That Impede Change in Media Academia , it's often done with the best of intentions. And not all the outcomes are lamentable either (if you're ever in Swakopmund, try the fine beer and delicious baked goods). But, whatever else it is, it’s not fit for progress.

To change that will not only take a radical review of the curricula, as Vin suggests, but also a revolution of the culture in the journalistic establishment- newsrooms & the institutions that support them. That needs to start with the banishment of the common belief that no one outside the fraternity says anything worth listening to.

Consider, for example, the open disdain with which many journalism trainers (I hesitate using the word 'academics') regard their colleagues in media studies departments, where they do not simply perpetuate 'best' journalistic practice, but dare to examine the consequences of those actions. Similar attitudes apply to those who condescend to consider the market value of journalistic endeavour.

This particular brand of anti-intellectualism, I firmly believe after more than 20 years of working in and with newsrooms and universities in the US, South Africa and the UK, has resulted in the knowledge cul-de-sac that has contributed to the not-so-slow suicide of large sections of the mainstream industry in the US and elsewhere.

So it would be simplistic to suggest that out-moded academic curricula are the consequences of journalism departments that are cut off from the changes in industry. Instead, it's because, much like Swakopmund, the journalistic establishment has long made a virtue of isolating itself from everyone else. And while it was largely a matter of geography for the early setters of that patch of German South-West Africa, for much of the mainstream media industry its mostly a matter of mindset.

1 comment:

Nick Booth said...