Kathy Gill has written a rather wonderful post about the public service responsibilities of journalists educated with public money. It’s worth reading in full (that summary doesn’t do it justice) – and I wanted to add my own experiences around a change in journalism education which I only realised a few years ago.
It is often overlooked when people talk about journalism and media degrees that many students realise during the course of their studies that the journalism profession is not for them.
It might be the pay (it often is the pay), the culture, the conflict between perception and reality, or simply that they discover something else they enjoy even more.
For others, the decision is a forced one: circumstances take them into another career – often, again, because the pay in journalism is not enough, either to raise a family on, or to persuade them to switch from the job they got ‘until I break into the media industry’.
All of those people may not be professional journalists, but they remain citizens, and the skills they learned in their studies are there, waiting to be activated.
When they become parents, and they have concerns about the way their child’s school is governed.
When they or their loved ones become ill, and they want to ask why they were not treated with dignity.
When their local community is under threat from development – or the lack of it.
When they or their loved ones are subject to power exercised without responsibility.
It is easy as a lecturer to mentally write off students who ‘will never make it’ in journalism as a profession. But that ignores a broader responsibility: they will always be citizens.
As a society we rely on those people to tell us their stories, to scrutinise power, to suggest the questions that might be asked, and to raise the alarm.
Martin Hirst touches on these issues in his response to my own Carnival of Journalism post, and he’s right: the have a duty of care to teach not only journalists, but citizens too.