As a journalist for twenty years and a journalism educator for a further twenty years, I am often asked what preparation is best for a young person seeking a career in journalism. I avoid answering the question directly, generally saying it depends on the individual, their interests and their abilities. I came into journalism by a series of accidents and I hope that others can continue to have such opportunities.
The media industries are in crisis. Advertising spending has collapsed. Public trust of the media is in decline. Editorial staff numbers are being cut. And nobody’s too sure any more just who is and who isn’t a journalist.
And you still want to be a journalist?
Certainly journalism remains a popular choice across Europe for studies and a (hoped-for) career. Journalism training and education courses of various kinds continue to proliferate. Private colleges compete with public universities. More practice-oriented courses compete with more theory-based.
Some courses emphasise the convergence of digital technologies, others follow the traditional demarcations between print, broadcasting and online. Some prepare students to be media entrepreneurs, others train them to be effective employees of large corporations.
I am often asked…
As a journalist for twenty years and a journalism educator for a further twenty years I have been many times through the debates that lie behind these differences. I am often asked what preparation is best for a young person seeking a career in journalism. I avoid answering the question directly, generally saying it depends on the individual, their interests and their abilities. I came into journalism by a series of accidents and I hope that others can continue to have such opportunities.
Good preparation for Euroculturers…?
Doing a European Masters in European culture and writing for this lively online magazine may be as good preparation as any for a career in journalism. There are good reasons for thinking that the mobility between cultures and contexts that the Euroculture experience brings is especially valuable in journalism in these challenging times.
The hard work is done by the students themselves
Journalists are increasingly expected to move between topics, audiences, technical platforms, even languages. But some of the basic attributes of the journalist are unchanged and, it has to be said, some of those attributes can hardly be taught. Journalism education can create an environment in which they are fostered but the hard work is done by the students themselves, more than by the educators.
Some basic attributes of great journalists can hardly be taught
Curiosity, endless curiosity, is essential: how does this work? why is this like this? how did we get here? Keen imagination is needed too: how do I turn this person’s experience into a story of interest to thousands of people? A compulsion and a competence to communicate are required; the journalist needs to tell others what she has found out and must have the tools to do so.
Scepticism is necessary
Journalists are often thought of as cynical – not caring about the consequences of what they do – and many of them do become like that. They get to the point where they have seen “everything”. When they get there, they should know it’s time to stop. Often confused with cynicism, scepticism is in some ways the opposite: it is an enabling, rather than debilitating part of the journalist’s make-up. The sceptical question keeps the journalist moving forward: why should I believe what they are telling me?
Future journalists from MA Euroculture?
The Euroculture student or graduate is, or should be, open to many possible answers to questions that are of public interest, thanks to operating in cross-national, comparative contexts. European media are generally national or sub-national but I would love to think that there are openings, and that there will be more in the future, for journalists who bring broader perspectives and reflexive thinking to the issues of the day.
Brian Trench is a former senior lecturer and Head of School in the School of Communications, Dublin City University
Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Brian Trench who accepted the invitation to share his expertise in Journalism with The Euroculturer. His daughter, Nora Trench Bowles, is Copy Chief of The Euroculturer, and is a 2011-2013 MA Euroculture student.