Friday, May 1, 2009

'You're either a journalist or not a journalist': Parky on journalism, jobs and training

IT was seeing the original plans that made Nottingham Trent University (NTU) chancellor and veteran journalist Sir Michael Parkinson determined to get involved in the University's new broadcasting and journalism centre, he told those gathered for the facility's opening on Friday.
The new centre - the result of £250,000 investment - boasts three radio studios, two voice over studios and a student newsroom equipped with 85 workstations.
"When I entered journalism the only things you needed were shorthand and the capacity to write English under the influence of hard drink," joked Parkinson in his opening speech.
But in today's industry, students must prepare themselves for the new challenges of multimedia working and a diminishing number of entry-level jobs, he added.

A job for life
The media landscape and journalism industry is unrecognisable from the one he started out in, the one-time regional newspaper and renowned television journalist tells
"I could walk into a job - and I did walk into a job - when I was 16, that not only allowed me to work at an apprenticeship but actually gave me a job for life. I've been nearly 60 years in the job," he tells in an interview in the new NTU newsroom.
"It's a problem that the jobs aren't there, and certainly that continuity, the job for life I was given, isn't there."
Would-be journalists should not be entering the industry if they are after a glamorous career, adds Parkinson, who before hosting his television chat show worked for a number of local titles including the - as it was called back then - Manchester Guardian.
"Journalism is about the pursuit of something far more important than being recognised in the supermarket. While recognition might be a by-product it must never be the sole ambition," he says.

Parky the multimedia journalist?
So perhaps Parkinson was a multimedia journalist ahead of his time? "I was very proud of the fact that I was at one point on radio, national radio, national television and writing for a national newspaper," he says.
"I saw no delineation - you're either a journalist or not a journalist; you're either a writer or not a writer. If you're not a journalist then none of it works and I think that's important."
Today's generation of journalism students must also think in this way, and increasingly so, as jobs in specific, traditional industry sectors become harder to find, adds Parkinson.

Local media
Traditional entry routes into the industry, through local newspapers and television - the one Parkinson himself took - are no longer the obvious path for trainees and are threatened further by dwindling resources at local level, he says.
"There's no difference between being a good journalist at a local paper and a good journalist at a national paper - you fulfil the same function in journalism," he explains.
"It's happening in local television too - on the ITV network there are great redundancies among local programming. They were always the way into national television: you started there, you learned your trade and you moved through."
The plight of local media is clearly close to Parkinson's heart - they are under great threat, but remain an important part of the democratic process, he stresses.
Local newspapers exist as guardians and watchdogs in the community, as well as collectors of social history and minutiae, he adds.
"What you can do about it I don't know - I don't have a clue about that. None of us know at present, even those who have been in the industry for a very long time," says Parkinson.
"In my area the local paper had a change of management about two years ago and they've become a better paper. It's not become a receptacle for advertising; it's become a paper with quite a vigorous editorial policy. I think that's their purpose and that's what they should do. That's why local newspapers are important."
While cutbacks in local media - a result of the economic downturn coupled with changing patterns in how readers get their news, says Parkinson - are worrying, the trivialisation of the national media is also of concern, the former Daily Express journalist adds.
"The other day the Daily Telegraph, as an example, had pictures of Barack Obama's dog on the front page. We're in the middle of the biggest economic recession the world's ever seen and we've got Barack Obama's dog on the front page?" explains Parkinson.
"I have sympathy with newspapers - people aren't buying them for the same reasons that they used to buy them. They're buying them for different reasons. The newspapers are only reacting to society, so the problem's with all of us if there's a problem."


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