We have to study the media if we want to understand the world

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The Independent Online
I HAVE taught media/communication studies for 25 years in America and have heard all the arguments for and against its inclusion in college and university curricula ad nauseam ("Dons despair as students spurn science in favour of media studies", 25 June).

Students have always gone to university to prepare for careers in law, medicine, teaching and business because of the perceived prestige and value of these professions. Most "conventional academics" may feel that entertainment is not worthy of serious study, yet people in the Western world devote the largest proportion of their leisure time to consuming mediated entertainment and popular information. Consider, too, that entertainment products (movies, television programmes, recorded music) are America's second biggest export industry after aircraft.

Nearly everything most of us know about contemporary politics, sport, social trends and the marketplace of goods and services is learnt from newspapers, radio and television. Today's students have grown up in a multimedia environment and, like the rest of society, have had much of their thinking and behaviour shaped by it. What is so mysterious about young people being attracted to the most powerful means of human communication ever devised? Why would it not be a legitimate academic offering in this age of satellites and computers?

Students who choose media studies are not spurning science by their choice - note that the numbers choosing to study maths, chemistry and physics are remaining steady - rather, they are making a conscious decision based on personal interest and an awareness that the media presents opportunities for employment and job satisfaction. As for Richard Hoggart's reported disappointment with the way his children have turned out, it certainly is an ironic anecdote but hardly qualifies as objective evidence from which a valid generalisation about an entire field of study should be made.

WJ Howell

Much Wenlock, Shropshire

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