In a recent article for ABC’s The Drum opinion site, UTS journalism academic Jenna Price wrote about how students seeking journalism internships should be limited to those who have had an “education which makes you vocationally ready.” Price was responding to an article in the University of Melbourne’s student newspaper Farrago by Sasha Burden, who interned at the Herald Sun and found the experience so horrific she is now seriously questioning a career in journalism.
Price’s argument is that Burden’s broad communications degree left her ill-prepared.
Price may be right, but why does being prepared for the newsroom culture depend so heavily on having a vocational journalism degree? According to Price, students should be academically prepared for internships in the media through mentorship and classroom-based learning of workplace cultureHowever, such an understanding can equally be developed outside academia through student-led practical programs.
University funded student media is the best way of acquainting yourself with the ins and outs of the media industry by getting involved in the processes of sourcing content, writing, editing and publishing. Admittedly, funding and time constraints limit the scale of most student media outlets but no more so than being stuck in a classroom learning about the managerial structure of News Limited.
The problem is that, given the insular nature of the media industry, journalism academics look down on this type of extra-curricular experience with scepticism. As a section editor of this fine publication I and my colleagues are continually frustrated by the barriers we run into when considering applying for internships with major news outlets or submitting material for competitions such as the Walkley Student Journalism Award. None of us are studying a journalism degree but many have an overwhelming interest in a potential future in the media industry.
Given the extraordinary diversity and scope of the modern day media it seems illogical that many media internships are only open to communications students. For instance, if a student studying a science degree who has been involved in student media, writing articles for a small scientific news site and on their own blog, tries to apply for a position at the Sydney Morning Herald, chances are they will be turned away. This makes even less sense considering the vacuum of expert journalists on science issues.
By limiting internships to only journalism students the media industry squanders the potential for innovation and diversity that has made it so attractive to an array of public figures, from Winston Churchill to Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, even many of Australia’s leading journalists (Mark Colvin, Bernard Keane and Annabel Crabb, to name just a few) do not have formal journalism qualifications. Of course, as media budgets get tighter in-company journalism training becomes less of an imperative, making applicants with journalism degrees more highly desired. However, this does not excuse discriminating against people who, while not having a communications degree, possess vast arrays of experience in the media and specialist knowledge in a particular field.
In many ways, what Price is advocating is for only students who have a very clear picture of what they want to do vocationally to apply for internships in journalism. This is counter-intuitive to the learning process. It doesn’t matter how many classroom briefings or mentoring sessions you have, nothing can fully prepare you for the workforce other than interning in it. If students have a keen interest and a determination to make a career in journalism then an internship will enrich their professional development whether they are communication students or not. On the other hand, if they dislike the experience then they can take their lives in another direction. Chances are, if they have studied something other than communications, they will have a much easier time finding an alternative job.
You can follow Gareth on Twitter @gar_rob.