Education or training? A journalism school dilemma

— Barry Turner teaches law at the Lincoln School of Journalism and the Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism in Nottingham.

A regularly recurring question often put by journalism students is “How does this subject prepare me for the industry?” The question is often put to those tutors who teach what some schools call “theory” modules and which some students sadly find less interesting than the glamorous side of studying journalism.

As a law teacher in a university journalism school I am obliged to remind the students that I am not there to prepare them for the industry but as a university lecturer to prepare them for an education.

Since universities leaned heavily in the direction of providing vocational courses the idea has developed that a university education is about a career. Today many students think in terms of walking out of the course and straight into a newsroom. This phenomenon is not limited to journalism courses. Having taught law in a conventional law school setting for a number of years I have heard the same misconception expressed by those aspiring to a legal career.

LLB courses in law are a prerequisite to training as a lawyer, not a licence to become one. BA courses in journalism are more and more becoming a prerequisite to a career as a reporter, but again are the means to that end and not the end in itself. In both cases the degrees are an education in the subject, not training for practice.

For a good number of years now law schools have made clear that many of their graduates will in fact not pursue a career in the legal professions, and even point out that legal education is an education that can be put to many other uses.

In teaching law in two journalism schools for several years now I have had the excellent opportunity to see just how similar the subjects of law and journalism are in a pedagogic sense. The similarities between the two disciplines and the individual qualities of the students who study them are strikingly similar.

Training is a life long pursuit in both of these professions. No lawyer stands still from the point of admission to the professions, and similarly journalists will require a lifetime of experiential training. Their educational experience, while always being part of that process, is at the same time much more.

A university education is, in spite of much of today’s cynicism, an experience that will benefit graduates for life. Many law and journalism graduates will never take up “the job” but their education will nevertheless be an asset to them for life.

I will always consider myself to be an educator, not a trainer, and those with whom I spend my working day are students, not trainee journalists. To all my present and former students in both law and media law I would like to say good luck with your training, as that’s what you will be doing when you graduate from university and enter the world of work.

One Response to Education or training? A journalism school dilemma

  1. Jane Crofts says:

    Interesting points well made but… how do we balance this against the measure of employability?