Media studies is no cop-out subject, but one that attracts high-calibre students, says Ivor Gaber
"Unfortunately, the myth has grown up that glamorous media jobs are there for the taking for those with a media studies qualification... (In fact, newspaper editors) invariably prefer strait-laced degrees in traditional subjects." The Guardian, July 1999.
If media studies is a "great cop-out subject", which, far from providing a route into the media, actually makes it more difficult for graduates to find work, then it came as news to the media academics gathering in Sheffield recently for the first annual conference of the Association of Media Practice Educators.
The Guardian's comments are the common currency of the misinformed - they can be heard in media watering holes and senior common rooms. But they sit oddly with the day-to-day experiences of media practitioners in higher education, who believe they work in a discipline that attracts high-calibre students, puts them through rigorous theoretical and practical work before bidding them farewell, with the majority going on to successful careers in the media.
Media academics have always known this anecdotally, now they have solid evidence to back it up. Goldsmiths media academic John Beacham has looked at the employment experiences of three cohorts of the college's media graduates.
Beacham, who presented his research to the Sheffield gathering, began his investigations by comparing students' career aspirations on entering university with their current employment status. On arriving at Goldsmiths, 25 per cent of respondents said they had a clear idea of the type of media work they were hoping to move into at the end of their degrees; 61 per cent knew they wanted to work in the media, but were unclear of precise jobs; and 14 per cent either did not wish to work in the media or were unsure of their career ambitions.
So, armed with their Mickey Mouse degrees, how did these media wannabes fare in the big bad world of medialand? The answer is, not at all badly. Beacham's survey revealed that of the three years' graduates surveyed, 78 per cent were working in the media and media-related industries; 33 per cent of these were working in TV, video, film and animation; 26 per cent in public relations, marketing and media management, 9 per cent in print journalism; 5 per cent in radio; 3 per cent in multimedia; and 2 per cent in photography.
Those working in media production emphasised that they had gained work experience while at college. Beacham received a significant number of comments such as: "In my experience you are employable if you can prove to be multi-skilled and have had work experience"; and "Employers want to know what experience you have". More than 54 per cent of Goldsmiths media students gained work experience while at college and 94 per cent now work in the media.
However, almost as many - 44 per cent - would like to have undertaken work experience, but the need to use their vacation to earn money meant they did not have the opportunity. This is a major issue that both universities and media employers need to confront rather than the phoney one of whether or not media students get jobs in the media - they do.
Ivor Gaber is professor of broadcast journalism at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and an independent radio and television producer.
Does a media studies degree help or hinder students seeking a career in the media?