Don’t professionalise journalism, Lord Leveson

Posted by RDN under Politics & campaigns on 8 December 2011

The first tranche of professors of journalism testified to Lord Leveson today and the result was mildly reassuring. But it is worth stressing how important it is that this trade remain as free of professionalism, certificates, regulation, registration and general tick-box goody-goodiness as possible.

The professors (as the journalists from the Guardian etc before them) come from a special, nice, serious, public-spirited planet which is worlds away from the bad behaviour of most of the Red Tops some of the time (and some, a lot of the time). It was good to spot Leveson spot this, and in terms say so. Fact is, the tabloids are closer to the majority of the people in the country than are the broadsheets. And the right-wing tabloids and right-wing broadsheets hoover up, or represent, a huge number of decent people.

So the fear is that the self-appointed masters of professional, high-minded, bossy-liberal journalism will hope they can shut down the waspish, irreverent, larky – and, yes, intemperate, vulgar, prurient – journalism which confronts it.

So it was also good to hear some of the professors admit (accept, aver,  insist) that journalistic good behaviour did not have to be taught in universities, but flowed from the culture of the places journalists work.

The seven academics rather make the point: one I could’t readily check, but the remaining six didn’t start out with degrees in journalism. Yes, I do see that there perhaps weren’t courses avaialble when they started out – but the point remains.

I am sceptical of the value of educating journalists in journalism, but especially of any drift toward conformism and control.

This insight flows well with my general feeling that now more than ever, our media will be filled with writing from every sort of source and these trends militate against a recent tendency to require journalists to be professionalised (educated, trained etc) on special courses.

I speak with the personal background of having broken into journalism as an outsider and relishing the very “otherness” that conferred on my work. I like journalism as a trade for outsiders. What’s more, I am allergic to the professionalising trends which some gatekeepers (journalism professors, maybe?) might enjoy. I was stung, in particular by my own experience of the closed shop which was once attempted by the freelance wing of the National Union of Journalists. That way lay the dead hand of control.

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