Journalism academics blame newsrooms, not classrooms, for press scandals

University journalism courses are not responsible for the industry’s ethical failings, such as the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, journalism lecturers have told the Leveson inquiry

December 10, 2011

Academics from seven different institutions, including the Cardiff University, City University London and Goldsmiths, University of London were called to give evidence at the investigation into the culture, practice and ethics of the press this week.

Angela Phillips, senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, said: “I feel you can’t really teach ethics without teaching people about the commercial realities of journalism in this country, and I'm sure we would all agree that actually young people come into journalism through training as very ethical young people.

“I think that’s how they come to us and certainly as far as I’m concerned, that’s how they leave us.”

George Brock, head of journalism at City, told the inquiry that ethics classes have a limited impact on gradates in the workplace.

He said: “I really don’t think we should try to pretend, and I hope that I haven’t, that the teaching of ethics is really the important influence on how people behave.

“How people behave is determined by the culture of a newsroom, basically. That’s the fundamental influence on what people do.”

University courses in journalism at both undergraduate and postgraduate level have grown in popularity over the last two decades, following a reduction in the number of training schemes offered by media companies.

Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, told the inquiry: “It’s simply responding to that kind of demand, that there are people, students, who want to study the media and go into journalism, but are not finding the routes in that were traditionally there.”

University journalism courses are accredited by a number of different bodies, but there is no universal standard or curriculum that all journalism degrees must follow. Professor Brock told Lord Justice Leveson that setting up an over-arching body to accredit all courses would be difficult due to the fast-paced nature of the industry.

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