The View From Here

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The Independent Online
It is unedifying to observe newspaper journalists standing together, laager-like,in the only shrinking sector of the media industry, attacking the academic discipline which seeks to understand why their world is changing. A recent issue (31 Oct), followed up by an editorial, poured scorn on media and cultural Studies degrees and suggested that the subject is "a disqualification for a career in journalism". Tell that to Michael Jackson, head of BBC1, or The Independent's own Suzanne Moore, both graduates of media/cultural Studies courses.

The unpublished study which forms the basis of the article, contradicts published ones (and our own experience) which show that media students, in spite of their growing numbers, have a higher than average chance of employment. However, even more frustrating than the misuse of statistics is the continuing misconception of the content of this subject and the assumption that its intention is purely (and unsuccessfully) vocational.

The study of the media is important because they are crucial sources of knowledge, pleasure and power. They supply much of the raw materials out of which we forge our sense of ourselves, our identities and our opinions. In such a world, the kind of critical media literacy which media studies provides, is a precondition for effective citizenship.

Media studies focuses on the fundamental shift, within advanced, industrial countries, from a manufacturing to an information- and knowledge-based economy, in which the media and knowledge-based industries are increasingly central to the production of value, profitability and, indeed, employment. Where else will you find studies on the (extremely limited) social composition of cyberspace, rather than over-inflated, ahistorical hype about how new technologies are going to save/damn (take your pick) us all? If the cyber/digital future really is as important as The Independent's own feature writers seem to think, is it not worth researching seriously? Is it possible that Rupert Murdoch's empire is not worth studying? It is within media studies that the globalisation of the media marketplace has been most effectively researched.

Courses such as ours do produce journalists, television directors, radio producers, as well as academics and media administrators. It is, after all, media and cultural studies that initiate students into the core disciplines that have provided journalists (though they may not be aware of it) with the intellectual tools with which they routinely examine issues such as gender identity and multiculturalism.

It is intellectual breadth that accounts for the popularity of these degrees. Indeed these interdisciplinary courses could be described as the PPE of modern society. At Goldsmith's students acquire media and technological literacy, a broad range of transferable communications skills, and the flexibility and resourcefulness required by employers. They also receive a thorough grounding in media practice which gives them a head start on other graduates interested in a job in this field.

As to the question of whether those working in this field are "academic makeweights", your leader writer seems unaware that media, communications and cultural studies are one of the few areas of academic work in which British scholars are internationally recognised as leaders in their field and in which America, Japan and the four tigers of south-east Asia seem to think they have much to learn from Britain. Which is why work generated in our department at Goldsmith's has been translated into 14 languages.

One of the staples of first-year media studies courses is the analysis of the moral panic in which a spurious story spirals through the media, picking up speed (and sometimes credibility, by sheer dint of repetition) as it goes. The classic feature of a moral panic is that it demonises some particular category of people as wicked folk devils who must be cast out, if society is not to be defiled by their heinous activities. At present it is media studies teachers and students who play the part of folk devils. Once it was the teachers of "trivial" subjects such as English and modern history who were demonised. Devils change; the song remains the same.

Professors Curran and Morley and journalism lecturer Angela Phillips are of the department of media and communications, Goldsmith College, University of London.

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