To Media or not to Media?

Split Perspectives on Media Studies

I have long since given up on the idea that I will ever fit in – travel, a big mouth and a tendency to voice my own opinion has made me, at best, an interesting non-conformist – at worst – well go figure!  Moreover, taking up a career teaching Media Studies wasn’t going to provide me with an acceptable niche in the academic world either. But hey, why let that bother me? I work in FE, where my job is ensured by the number of students I have, and my main complaint is that there are too many of them.

It does seem to me though, that there is an element of schizophrenia in the media studies debate, one that doesn’t entirely reflect the evidence (a bit like the UK government’s approach to science advisory committees). Whilst employers and academics bewail the lack of rigour that media students are exposed to, those same students go and get jobs at a higher rate than almost any other set of graduates. Sally Feldman, Dean of the School of Media, Art and Design at the University of Westminster, received a comment on her article Unfair, misplaced vitriol that while Cambridge does not run undergraduate programs in media studies, you can take a PhD there in related subjects.

A couple years ago, I wrote to Geoff Parks, Admissions Tutor for Cambridge University, asking him if he really meant to exclude the brightest and the best from examining and studying the most overwhelming, and possibly powerful, element in our culture (that summer he and the LSE were cited as casting doubt on the subject). He emailed back straight away that he would not exclude those who had Media Studies A Levels, from being accepted on relevant courses, but they should apply for complementary subjects. I stuck his quote up on the wall during our college open evening. Admittedly there are some subjects that might be a bit of a reach for a media student, but that is true of any choice.

Just recently, I had cause to email another admissions tutor, this time in a US university, to ask if the AS and A Levels we teach in the UK have any credit with American universities, apparently they do (a bit) but not, she said Media Studies (at least not at her institution and probably many others). Even so, at Harvard, study of the acclaimed series The Wire (http://tinyurl.com/mediawire) gains credits, and quite right too, but how is that not media studies?

The debate rumbles on,  media hacks often claim that students of media enter the profession with unrealistic expectations – since when was that new? In my time I met many an ambitious researcher with an English degree, where are they now? Besides, as a media teacher, I spend a lot of time giving my students a reality check on how difficult it is to succeed, not least by patiently answering the question “So how come you’re teaching now Judith?” – sub-text –  “What kind of failure are you?”

The issue will not go away, at least not yet, but as time goes by (spot the inter-textual reference) the problem may solve itself. The students themselves will answer the question “Is it worth it?” by what they do, and I for one, have every confidence in them.

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3 responses to “To Media or not to Media?

  1. Hello Judith,
    I teach and write about media studies to and your description of the thinking about media studies as schizophrenic strikes a chord with me.

    I heard Sally Feldman’s defence of the subject recently on BBC Radio 4 when it’s detractors accused it of being a ‘soft’ subject and lacking academic rigour. She made the point that media studies students do remarkably well in the job market. I’ve said the same thing myself on an number of occasions at open days when speaking to prospective students and their parents. But I can’t help but feel when I point out how apparently employable media studies students are that I haven’t quite given an answer to the accusation that media studies is a bit dumb. Does employability prove academic rigour? Or have we subtly changed the question?

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    • Good point – but as Open Evening approaches and we are looking out for our jobs, we tend to say to parents -“They’ll get jobs! They’ll get jobs”. I teach English (a bit) as well and I’m soooooo fed up with students asking me to tell them what to think about a book so they can pass the exam! Employers want docile, trainable subjects – they’ve certainly got that – maybe we should push a bit more for thinking non-conformists – because a good media student should really think for themselves – but then, of course, they’d arrange a sit in! Those were the days!

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  2. I read your comments on Creative Constraints and this I find this rings so true with my own experience. As you say above, employers want docile, trainable subjects. I find that despite all the rhetoric about creativity and entrepreneurship, passivity seems to be what the system encourages.

    Enjoying your blog. Rab

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