Media headhunters’ view on media studies degree vs journalism schools

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

In my conversations last month with Tim Luckhurst and Emily Bell, I was struck by their different approaches to what a degree in journalism was actually for.

Luckhurst, whose first students are due to graduate from the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism this year, was avowedly vocational in his approach: he is clear that he is training journalists. Bell – soon to join Columbia University – took the view that, with entry to journalism schools at an all time high, such schools could not be merely concerned with training journalists; there are simply not enough jobs to go around.

However, Bell feels that these courses can offer “a really good liberal arts degree”, by training people to sift, exploit and disseminate information, as well as giving a good grounding in current affairs, history and law. In this, at least, Bell and Luckhurst are not so far apart; in Luckhurst’s curriculum, students attend editorial meetings and work in a newsroom in the morning, and study history, politics, economics and law in the afternoon.

Luckhurst’s crucial point is that a course should prepare you for a rounded journalistic career; most first degree courses, in his view, fail to do that. He has also taken pains that his course is NCTJ accredited. “If it isn’t NCTJ accredited, it isn’t worth the paper its written on,” he says, in typically understated fashion.

He has a point, though. Certainly, when we – as media headhunters – have been asked to build teams which involves recruiting entry-level journalists (unusual for us), an NCTJ-approved qualification is often the minimum that clients require. As discussed in previous columns, they are also looking for the minimum of an enquiring mind; good grammatical skills; and a knowledge of their subject area.

However, NCTJ accreditation is not the be all and end all. Cardiff, an excellent school, does not seek accreditation for its BA in journalism: “It’s an academic course”, they say. A liberal arts course, in effect.