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Cultural & media studies

Fighting the good fight

Journalism Online. First edition - An Introduction to Journalism

The granny's knee school of pedagogy has long held sway in most British newsrooms. It dates back to the traditional route for journalistic entry: an apprenticeship on a local weekly paper covering hatches, matches and dispatches" (births, marriages and deaths) then, after slaving away at shorthand, law for journalists and other practical subjects, promotion to a regional or even national daily.

This process, although more honoured in the breach than the observance, has contributed to the swathe of hostility to media education that still runs wide across many newsrooms - a hostility revealed by Tony Delano of the London College of Printing when he researched the educational background of current journalists. Delano found that while 67 per cent of those he surveyed were graduates, only 15 per cent had a qualification in journalism or a related subject. Perhaps even more surprising, he found only one in three of his respondents thought it desirable for future recruits to have a university degree in any subject.

It is against this background that authors of journalism textbooks struggle. They can produce the finest of books but the knowledge passed on, no matter how valuable, will still be looked on with a jaundiced eye by many of those working in British newsrooms.

Focal Press has long been producing textbooks for the audio-visual industries and these have been widely accepted as providing new entrants with a thorough grounding in the skills of the industry. Perhaps it is easier to recognise that there is basic information about lighting angles or microphone technology that can best be conveyed through the printed word than to accept the same for reporting techniques or the principles of sub-editing.

The strength of Focal's range of textbooks for the audiovisual industries is their layout and design - brief sections as opposed to chapters, lists, bullet points and scores of illustrations and diagrams. Good reading matter they are not, but for media teachers and students they provide a constant source of reference and aids to teaching and learning.

In recent years Focal Press has moved into journalism, and these two books are its latest offerings. They differ from the audiovisual textbooks in that they have traditional chapters and narrative structures, not too many lists or bullet points and, most regrettably of all, few illustrations.

Nonetheless, An Introduction to Journalism is an excellent basic textbook for would-be journalists. It reads easily - as any book about journalism should - is well informed across a wide range of journalistic practice, and is broad in sweep, encapsulating subjects as diverse as news values, law for journalists and the structure of local government. It is based on the City and Guilds diploma in media techniques but would also be an excellent book for university-level first-year journalism students.

Each chapter helpfully ends with suggested activities and a comprehensive reading list. Its only shortcomings are those that inevitably come about when using a fixed medium to try to describe an industry in constant flux. Thus, for example, the chapter on media regulatory bodies is already outdated because of the establishment this year of the new media regulatory body Ofcom.

In some ways, Mike Ward's Journalism Online is a more interesting read, though perhaps less useful as a textbook. The discussion about how journalism destined to end up on an internet webpage differs from broadcast or print journalism is fascinating, and Ward, drawing on a wide knowledge of the literature, skilfully guides students through it. Particularly useful is his proposition that online stories are better structured as discrete chunks than using the approach common to newspaper journalism of starting with the most important part of a story and working through to the least interesting.

Whatever the reason, there is a suspicion that the author did not have enough material to fill a book solely devoted to online journalism since much of the first half could equally be found in a general journalism text. Also, Ward's narrative is cluttered by constant references to the gurus of online journalism. Such sourcing is appropriate in an academic publication but in a textbook students are looking for basic instruction without being burdened by which particular expert argued for which particular way of doing things. Finally, surprisingly for a Focal book, it screams out for more illustrations. Barely 20 of its 215 pages are illustrated - surely a serious omission in a book about online journalism. Perhaps the lesson is that such a textbook would be better published online.

Ivor Gaber is emeritus professor of broadcast journalism, Goldsmiths College, London.

 

Journalism Online. First edition

Author - Mike Ward
ISBN - 0 240 51610 9
Publisher - Focal Press
Price - £19.99
Pages - 214

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