As media headhunters, we disagree with Kelvin MacKenzie about journalism courses

Shock news: there are a lot of dinosaurs in the media. And Kelvin MacKenzie is amongst them. Is anyone surprised?

MacKenzie said last month that you learn nothing from journalism courses: “It’s a job, a knack, a talent. You don’t need a diploma… There’s nothing you can learn in three years studying media at university that you can’t learn in just one month on a local paper.” He would “shut down all the journalism colleges today.”

Ignore the fact that he conflates media studies with journalism courses which are often NCTJ-accredited – just put it down to sloppy journalism – the simple fact is the media landscape has altered massively since MacKenzie became a journalist.

As media headhunters, our firm sees a lot of people whose careers have reached a cul de sac. With entire careers in print, they don’t have the skills to work in multi-media environments. They may be excellent journalists, but a lot of good people are being left behind. Can you shoot and edit video? Do you know how social networks and Twitter can be used? Do you understand the law as it relates to publishing online? Can you blog? Do you know how to write and tag stories for maximum SEO?

While MacKenzie is right that there is no substitute for experience – or talent – media organisations are increasingly unwilling to provide on-the-job training in a cash-poor, highly competitive landscape. Courses such as those offered at Kent, City and Cardiff teach the principles of solid journalism alongside these other necessary skills as the building blocks for a successful career.

Journalism, like acting, has always been an oversubscribed career. MacKenzie’s latest rant would have had echoes in the sentiments of 19th century actors such as Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. Yet their heirs Olivier and Gielgud were trained at drama schools. Such schools and university courses have proliferated just as journalism courses are doing, and actors now are a great deal more flexible than their theatre-trained predecessors.

Image of newspapers
Image of newspapers courtesy of Birdfarm (Flickr)

Moreover, while it is clear there are fewer jobs in traditional media outlets, the proliferation of media and communications channels means that there are still new jobs being created for those with the skills to fill them.

On reflection, and as a devout free marketer, I am sure that MacKenzie will agree that increased competition can only lead to increased quality. And that must be good for the future of journalism.