City MA is less competitive and more collaborative
September 23, 2010 12 Comments
Journalism postgraduate courses, especially in London, have a reputation for being intensely competitive. The few jobs within the industry plus a group of highly driven student journalists who know how tough it is to make a mark in the media often equal a group of wannabe hacks eager to trump each other.
Before starting at City University London this week, I had heard stories about students barely speaking to each other, stealing each other’s leads and battling it out for the same work experience placements. But is that a realistic assessment of dynamics on postgraduate journalism courses?
Certainly not at City (for now at least). Although the first few days seem a bit like speed dating, with frequent polite introductions, people (some are 25 years old, a few even 30 and above) are happy to remind you of their name/where you’re from, no matter how many times you forget. All in all, everyone on the course is friendly, switched-on and keen to learn.
Even when it comes to journalistic tasks, there isn’t the competitive edge I predicted. On Tuesday, we were given an interview task (to speak to someone from an organisation or charity with a view to writing a news piece on it) due just 48 hours later. Cue mild panic, some hasty researching and many phone calls. But no suspicious eyeing-up of each other’s ideas, no critical evaluation of one another’s interview technique, no scorning of the person who managed to get some great quotes. In fact, the task has generated nothing other than friendly interest and a pool of different ways to approach it. Already, there’s a real sense we’re are learning from each other (with all the work experience we have accumulated) as well as from the academics.
But it would seem that this isn’t the same across the board. For every@LauraOliver – the editor of journalism.co.uk – who said her Masters course mates were her ‘first network of colleagues’ and the people she shared leads with, there is someone like @SilentSmiler, who found her course ‘very frustrating at times’ for the fact that people kept contacts and stories from one another.
Jonathan Hewett, the Newspaper Journalism course director, hit the nail on the head when he explained how journalism was a strange profession for the fact that it is essentially an individual job, with much of your time spent on your own, finding stories on a patch or on computer. However, Hewett explained that journalists are never completely independent; they rely on the team around them, not least to sub their work and put it on a page. Such reasoning is perhaps why some journalism students share stories and others feel the need to compete for them.
If you’re wondering what kind of a student journalist you would be, it might be worth bearing in mind Ann McFerran’s advice first. The Sunday Times interviewer said that whilst there would be healthy competition amongst students, we would still be responsible for looking out for one another as fellow journalists, picking each other up on shorthand errors or filling in gaps in our social media knowledge.
And, more than that, McFerran said – at the end of the course – ‘you will all be each other’s best contact’.
So, in that sense, a postgraduate course is, in part, just a big networking event, where you get the chance to speak to a group of acclaimed journalists, albeit before they earn the acclaim. And as of yet there’s no malicious, lead-hungry pilfering of stories, which is very refreshing indeed. Let’s just hope such collaboration continues.