Is it time to professionalise journalism? - Press Gazette

Is it time to professionalise journalism?

How many journalists, editors and publishers have heard of the phrase ‘continuous professional development”? Moreover, how many are clear on the importance of CPD in front line vocations?

For doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, police officers, barristers, solicitors, pilots, accountants, court clerks, engineers and investigators, ‘continuous’means just that. These jobs require regular (re)training courses, evening, weekend or block-release exercises and the completion of employment targets. These professions are regulated by official bodies such as The Law Society, the British Medical Council and various chartered institutions with statutory rights to determine the content of training programmes, to accredit courses and to haul rule-breakers before conduct hearings. Lawyers must chalk up a fixed number of hours of court work each year in order to continue to represent clients. Qualifications do not stop with the final university law exam. CPD is for the duration.

Is journalism any different? Is there a need to professionalise the industry to separate the newsroom salaried hack from the blogger or citizen journalist? Alternatively, would the wider democratic and public interest be harmed by moving towards a formal system that could see unqualified, casual or amateur writers barred from operating as legitimate newsgatherers?

One university with a 45-year track record of teaching journalism is tackling the issue head-on with a top down management course aimed at bringing editors, news editors and executives up to speed with the latest thinking on running news operations in the digital age. It could be a model for the future, given that the closest thing the industry has to CPD (the National Vocational Qualification in-house training system) is set to disappear. As reported in Press Gazette a few weeks ago, it is due to be absorbed into the NCTJ‘s pre-entry courses, in response to pressure from employers and trainers.

Basic elements of reporting and fact-finding

The NVQ model had its positive points in as much as candidates were required to demonstrate their understanding of legal and ethical regulations through example. Trainees compiled portfolios of news stories covering the basic elements of court reporting, interviewing, and fact-checking. It was training on the job. But once you got the badge – that was it.

François Nel and his team of journalists, media educators and industry advisers based at the University of Central Lancashire have put together a series of management courses dealing with the pace of internet-driven technological change. Delegates from news organisations including Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press select study modules from a university programme that can lead to (but does not insist upon) a postgraduate or MA qualification in journalism leadership. Many of the workshops and seminars have been fully-subscribed.

Participants (they are not called students) may opt to progress to postgraduate certificates, diplomas or masters degrees, but the key element is that they contribute to seminar discussions both on campus and also over the internet, and share experiences and ideas with colleagues.

‘It is about providing a service, with an element of applied research and workshop discussions considering the way changes have been forced by the internet and innovations in technology,’said programme director Nel.

Elements of the course include leading news teams, managing multimedia projects such as podcasts, and means of targeting ‘local’audiences via the internet.

Managers abdicate responsibility

‘What we have all been doing in the past is preparing people for their first jobs in the media and then they have been left to their own devices to look after the interests of their workforces and companies,’Nel says. ‘That is fine, so long as the workplace environment does not change. But when it does change and when new technology comes in, then you need to help people learn a new language.”

The disadvantage of leaving younger and more technologically proficient trainees to handle the ‘tech’aspects of the business is that the managers end up abdicating responsibility and control, he adds.

Journalism tutors and colleagues at UCLAN, who are poised to celebrate 25 years of delivering journalism courses at the Preston campus, have developed the CPD-style MA programme in partnership with The Chartered Management Institute and The Society of Editors.

Sue Crawford, news editor of the independently-owned News and Star in Carlisle and The Cumberland News, tells Press Gazette: ‘I started work in journalism about 30 years ago and I wanted to make sure that I was equipped with the right skills to take my job forward.

‘Those of us who were on the course learned a great deal about the technological side of the business, about citizen journalism and the perceived threats to newspapers. We could talk through the situation we are faced with when so many young people do not read newspapers. We have a number of journalists who went through the NCTJ route and others who completed the NVQ and I feel I am already passing on what I learned to the newsroom.”

The course is one element of the journalism leaders’ initiative. Organisers also host forums bringing together industry executives, commentators and academics. The most recent discussion, involving Jay Rosen of PressThink, the journalism blog, Neil Benson of Trinity Mirror Regionals and Emma Hemmingway, author of the book, Into The Newsroom, among others, is posted on the forum blog.

Richard Orange works for Orchard News Bureau, a media consultancy ( He is a visiting lecturer at the Centre for Broadcast Journalism at Nottingham Trent University and also teaches at the Lincoln School of Journalism.



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