Journalism – profession or disease?

Image of reading glasses on open newspaper

As third level journalism institutions release the results for graduating students, those who have worked hard to achieve these grades are very aware that the working world in which they enter is a very different place to the one that existed when they started their degrees three years ago.

It will be undoubtedly more difficult for these graduates to find permanent work than their predecessors. In addition, they will be expected to work harder, smarter and be more flexible than ever before. Rationalisation across converging newsrooms has meant that it is those who can most, not necessarily better, will find favour. It is difficult to prepare journalists with this skill set within an academic environment, which can really only be honed in a working environment.

Such a situation recalls the debate as to how we should best prepare our journalists for the role. Traditionally, journalists learned their craft at the coalface – as apprentices to experienced practitioners, often in provincial newspapers across the country.  In recent years, an increasing number of those joining the profession have done so via a university degree in journalism before ever entering a newsroom. 

The debate as to how much of the necessary skills of the role can best be provided at college, rather than on-the-job, has continued for many years. A letter to the Editor of The Dublin Evening Mail in 1908, dismissing the role of universities in that regard, contended that  “The whole mistake arises from the gratuitous assumption that journalism is a profession. As a matter of fact, it is not so much a profession as a disease. It can be caught – not taught. Knack-presses the button and experience does the rest.” 

DCU, under the direction of Professor John Horgan (now Press Obudsman), was the first Irish third-level institution, in modern times, to provide a university qualification in Journalism. The success of that programme – and of the graduates of what is now the MA in Journalism – should be testament to the university route at DCU and elsewhere. That said, the next few years will call for a greater reliance on experiential knowledge, expertise and innovation – on top of formal learning, which is now virtually a sine qua non for entry to the profession. There are some challenging times ahead.

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