Shooting back at the journalist snipers

Journal of Media Practice
October 26, 2001

This timely journal, launched last year, aims to address three pressing concerns for media educators: the proliferation of media courses and the need to distinguish between them; the importance of establishing the credibility of applied media education within the academy and the media industries; and the more or less constant sniping in the press. "For many journalists, attacking media studies has become almost a virility test," complain Ivor Gaber and Angela Phillips in the first issue.

The best contributions here fall into two categories. There are those seeking to shed light on provision of media education and training, such as Ian Macdonald's useful breakdown of the baffling plethora of qualifications and requirements, and Alan J. Harding's analysis of the 16-19 curriculum. And there are accounts of particular pedagogical approaches: Joost Hunningher's provocative piece on student collaboration in film-making; approaches to teaching script by Steve Gough; and my colleague Phil Parker's research into the construction of narrative. Anyone seeking a creative strategy for online learning will be cheered by the thoughtful report by Russell Richards and Mike Weaver on their creation of a 3-D intranet environment. And I was impressed by Paul Moore's piece on the creation of soundscapes, which makes a spirited claim for the recognition of sound as an area of study.

So far, so good. But not good enough. The publication is poorly presented and edited, with uneven standards. Stephen Bayley's announcement of the formation of the Global Film School is a plug rather than an academic article. And the conversation between a film student and her supervisor is sorely in need of structure and rigour.

The fundamental flaw, though, is the inclusion of too many over-abstract pontifications about the nature of the relationship between theory and practice - a subject so overwrought in the discipline that I have asked our animation department to create a Tom and Jerry-style cartoon about it. Theory would make a fine owl - with practice as a mischievous, libidinous monkey.

"Practice is informed by theory," announces Liz Wells, in the hushed tones of one spreading a shameful but titillating secret, as if theory and practice had been caught at it behind the photocopier. This, she goes on, is why you need "the constitution of a forum centred on praxis". It is always wearisome when the obvious is stated so earnestly. John Ellis's defence of theory is more pragmatic. Power in the media industries, he argues, has shifted from programme-makers to managers, so media graduates will not get a look-in unless they understand the complex world they are entering. He proposes that media students be equipped with "an uneasy combination of aesthetics, sociology and business studies".

"As our industries have become increasingly high-tech, our universities are often low-tech poor relations - living with cast-offs from the last decade of the last millennium," comments Roger Laughton, quoted here by Jeff Baggott in his optimistic championing of "non-platform specific teaching" that he hopes will give students transferable skills, presumably even when the computers are outmoded and break down.

John Beacham elegantly defends the theory-heavy media degree at Goldsmiths College with a statistical breakdown of student destinations and choices. Shooting from the same corner, Gaber and Phillips contribute what appears to be a robust defence of media studies as an academic subject. But then they spoil it with a side-swipe at journalism degrees. Journalists, they say, need a broad-based honours degree such as the one they do at Goldmsiths, followed by a specialist MA such as the one at, er... Goldsmiths. Cradling my own bouncing brood of journalism courses, I feel a bit like the mother out at work being taunted by those who choose to stay at home.

It is a pity that the editorial posse running this journal seems oblivious to the dangers of airing internal squabbles and marginal debates and especially regrettable that they saw fit to publish a personal attack that hardly constitutes reasoned argument. The academic world, already mistrustful of vocationally oriented degrees, is unlikely to be encouraged by all this fruitless backbiting. Nor is it going to impress the media industries, which need to be seduced into respect for and cooperation with the educators.

Sally Feldman is dean, School of Media, London College of Printing.

Journal of Media Practice

Editor - John Adams
ISBN - ISSN: 1468 53
Publisher - Intellect (three times a year, www.intellectbooks.com)
Price - £30.00 (individuals) £90.00 (institutions)

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