As a journalism student it was hard to ignore a recent attack on the study of journalism in South Africa. I read an opinion piece by David Bullard (@LunchOut2) (a man loved by few, and hated by many – and I generally enjoy his writing) where he argued that studying journalism is a complete waste of time and “daddy’s money”.
And in a sense I agree, because the three years I spent at another Johannesburg university just reading about news values and magazine readership and circulation did not make or teach me how to be a writer.
After reading his article, I tweeted him directly and insisted that I will continue with my “bogus degree,” despite his words of wisdom. He responded by giving me some more “great” advice – “find a girlfriend with a doting rich father”. Hardly great advice because I want to carve out my own future, and not live off some rich snob’s money.
Looking back at my undergraduate degree, I can pinpoint the exact moment when alarm bells went off – it was when a third-year lecturer told us to “imagine you are a reporter sent to cover the Oscars. Imagine you interview this or that celebrity. Now write that article using other articles as your ‘sources’.” So in essence she was teaching me to plagiarise? Is that okay? No!
It is courses such as these that produce the type of journalists that give our media such a bad name. We are constantly bombarded with examples of how lacklustre the media is. But, is it is the South African media collectively, or just a small minority that were poorly taught?
I agree with Mr Bullard, there is a need for on-the-job training, and cadet schools like in the “olden days”, where journalists were taught by the organisation.
The one thing I need to point out is, I think I made a great decision turning down an internship and deciding to further my studies at Wits. Hopefully when I enter the job market next year, my potential employer will favour me over another journalism graduate, as I would have had the experience of pitching stories for a weekly newspaper, pursuing and writing those stories, designing and producing a newspaper for both print and online, blogging, covering a violent protest, taking photographs, and learning video editing, interviewing and sub-editing skills. Skills and experiences that no three year journalism degree graduate would have learned anywhere else, even in their first year on the job.
I think that universities should drop three year journalism degrees, and only offer an intense one-year post-graduate course such as that offered here at Wits. That, or an intense training and mentoring program at a media organisation, is the only place where you will truly learn how to be a journalist.
Experience is the only way you will learn – whether experiencing the perks of the job, or the drawbacks such as the “fifty-year-old embittered journalist” Mr Bullard refers to.