I woke up this morning to an email, showing me a retweet from an ex lecturer of mine, it was someone questioning the values of the staff at a certain publication because of an article, and it got me all fired up here’s why.
These are challenging times to be sure and while drive and ambition are valuable assets, working in media is as competitive and tough as it’s ever been and I don’t think it matters whether we are talking about racism, domestic violence, or any of the other hot topic right now, I am a strong believer that education or in some cases re-education is the key to transforming our world for the better.
Here’s the problem with our media universe, I honestly believe this is a worldwide issue and it is in no way restricted to British media, currently we teach media students to aspire to and seek out fame and glory over all else, then we rightfully complain and challenge professional that put out stories that lack values at their core or in someway give a platform to someone with flawed values. We can not have both ways, if we teach that fame and glory are the goal we always run the risk of reduced values and lack of integrity. One of the first thing that was presented to me during my journalism education was the National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct – I was in university and failing to keep to it was automatic failure. It was a defining moment for my career because now that Code of Conduct is the framework for all I do and honestly I think it should be adapted as a framework for all journalism – most of it is common sense, but it does teach accountability and honestly with some media causes barely covering journalism it can be a vital tool.
But here’s the thing imagine the difference we could make if we just taught media students to aim for better values, to write honest, straight-forward work, to remove the element of fame and popularity and to write and publish journalism, that represents honesty whatever the topic happens to be articles that show both sides of a story instead of a single angle. Holistic journalism is the way forward, when you think of all negative coverage publications and media in general receives if we were presenting a balanced view we could avoid it. That starts with how we teach our students, with the publications we start, with the publications we support for instance I have never brought any other paper than The Guardian – because generally I like their approach and some of their opinion pieces, but if they covered a story that conflicted with a value of mine I wouldn’t buy that copy.
Change start with small steps, I believe that the power of education is not being tapped into enough, we are still teaching outdated attitudes and structures, the hunt for fame and glory worked well during bloom periods like the 90’s but we are in a new world a new time and it’s time the media industry as a whole transformed to better represent that time – after all any media is simply a re-representation of something.
I can remember attending a meeting for a MA in Journalism course, and being told things like we’ll teach you to write for a big London magazine 99% of our students go on to write in London, we’ll teach you to walk away from publications and companies that don’t pay you the going rate which they considered to be £250.00 per article (why then does every journalist I know have a second job?) We’ll teach you what you can and can’t say, ask, print. It’s not hard to understand why I decided to walk away and start a my own publication with my own values, none of the above was of interest to me, firstly there’s no point demanding a fee people can’t afford to pay but essentially what as a student I wanted to hear was how they were going to help me develop my talent, would they teach me to pitch articles, or manage a freelancer business, or find publications whose values matched my own. Honestly London wasn’t a draw for me, big and glossy wasn’t where my intentions were set, quality of my work, integrity, accountability writing in a way that enhanced the experience of people where I lived these were my values. I left that meeting with the opinion that if I studied there, they would destroy all that I held dear about myself and turn me into another one of those fame-hunter types that I was encountering everyday.
For me it’s always been about the quality of the writing, one of the reasons I always say if I could write anywhere it would be Norwich is because the city fosters a creative freedom that is hard to find else where. So in a world where everyone is starting to question everything let’s write in a way that provides the answers without losing our values.