Editors should only hire journalists that have an undergraduate degree in a field that actually pertains to what they write about and journalism should only be taught post grad.
In practice, this means that journalists who wish to write about politics for example should study political science. Ideally, this also means that top news corporations that report on politics and international affairs should therefore only hire writers that studied political science at top universities. The top 20 universities ranked in that subject in your respective country if you will. This rule of having at the very least academic if not life experience of your field of interest also applies to journalists who have a desire to write about other areas such as art and fashion, but especially so when it comes to politics and international affairs.
What is the reason for this?
To put it simply, journalism has gotten to the stage where it has become too dirty and too ignorant; to the extent that it often perpetuates dangerous stereotypes and insensitivity that can have real world consequences. In particular, I’m thinking about individuals that belong to minorities.
Although journalism has been dirty for some time, I recently attended my sister’s graduation from Medical School and was faced with more proof of journalism’s grimy nature. The dean of the school delivered his speech, during which he mentioned that Medicine was the most trusted profession by the British Public with 90% approval, in stark contrast to the bottom two: politics and journalism.
Anyone can write, but the general public puts more trust towards publications and news programs with flashy production values that are broadcast on the TV, and we gravitate towards nationally published newspaper.
Sadly, we have become inundated by shoddy journalism by writers with little knowledge of anything other than the skills taught in journalism courses. Many of the journalists we trust have never worked outside of the journalism field, or have at the very least never studied academically the fields they have decided to become ‘experts’ in. Thankfully, economics seems to be the only field exempt from this.
The overwhelming result is that we have pieces on domestic politics, international relations, foreign cultures and religions that are misguided and downright ignorant.
For example, how can one expect write or present a news story on the Middle East without having studied the history of the region at one of the UK’s, the World’s or perhaps most importantly one of the Middle East’s great centres of Middle Eastern education? Especially when they have never lived there, learned the local language, or been exposed to the region at the level that they should be.
Of course, this is further compounded by the fact that newspaper and news rooms are still overwhelmingly white. Don’t misunderstand me: things have improved on the lower levels, but senior management is still overwhelmingly monocultural.
I’m a stickler for meritocracy, but the idea that someone of merit can’t be found from a more diverse background is ludicrous. It isn’t just that senior management is overwhelmingly white; they’re overwhelmingly from the south of England. London Newsrooms could do with some insight from journalists from Liverpool, Manchester, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, especially at the senior level.
We’ve all read something or seen something that made us think, “what on earth is that guy thinking?” Certain news anchors spring to mind. These problems are so ingrained as a result of a culture created over generations cannot be so easily undone. However, what editors can do is ensure that new staff have, at the very least, a diverse education. Newspapers are especially guilty of this, as many are elitist and stubborn to change.
The idea that you must earn a degree in journalism or English Literature to learn how to write is laughable. As the internet has shown, anyone with a keyboard can write, and some of it out there is pretty good. What is more important is the ability to think critically and actually know about the field you want to write about.
The US system where you can only really study journalism at a post graduate level should immediately be encouraged, and budding writers should be encouraged to learn about the field they wish to write about.
Fareed Zakaria wrote about the need for a liberal education before a vocational one, because the former makes you better at the latter. I advocate not necessarily for a liberal education in the sense of the liberal arts but a critical eduction and one pertaining to the area you want to write about.
All too often, it’s easy for me to distinguish between journalists who have been through the narrow route and journalists who take the one I suggest. Of course, some very good journalists have come from the old system, but a lot of great journalists have come from the other route, either due to a diverse education or because they had diverse life experiences which informed their world view before they became journalists.
In short, if you only want to study journalism or English at undergraduate level, it’s really up to you. However, don’t expect intelligent readers to respect your ‘expertise’ on the subject when you write articles or present news stories on say Iran, and you can’t at the very least even tell me the name of the last three presidents without looking it up on Wikipedia.