I’ve ended up with a rather unusual reputation during my higher education years for coming up with some strange subjects to discuss, equal parts admirably creative, and plain irritating. This has included horror film soundtracks (a presentation that the marker looked away for half of), children’s TV theme songs, and the credibility of white noise as music (when asked to write a piece of music, they got that back, with an essay. For whatever reason, the lecturer thought it was genius. Weird).
On my Multimedia Journalism Master’s Degree, things have been nearly as daft, but with mature treatment, it is more embraced than ever. The ‘Master’s Degree Diaries’ posts are a sample of some of the brave/stupid projects that I devised, and were surprisingly, a success. I’d like this to be inspiring to others, but I am under the impression that lecturers may not want you to take a look.
ESSAY: ARE MAGAZINES USEFUL FOR NEWS ANYMORE?
“When new technology threatens to disrupt the status quo there is a tendency for many actors, be they academic commentators or industry players, to paint a doomsday scenario strongly advocating that social brakes be applied to the adoption process” (Jones and Salter, 2011)
They weren’t lying, and unfortunately various theorists haven’t yet noticed, or have been dead for the last few centuries, as my dramatically titled essay ‘The Doomsday Catalogue: An Examination of ‘Gatekeeping’ at NME 2013’ attempted to explain. Unfortunately, this happened at the cost of a lot that we had been taught over preceding weeks.
It might have been a course on ‘Multimedia Journalism’, but as a Master’s Degree, the primary focus is to discuss and debate the theorists. Whereas before I could discuss my favourite bands as I wished, theories now needed to discussed more, with the chosen case study, whether a scene, band, piece of music (et cetera), being used as a crutch for your theory discussion. Just see my 50 Shades of Grey presentation for a not so modest example of that.
This whole idea of using cultural artifacts as examples for points, however, hit a real difficulty in the world of entertainment journalism, and quite often, even this century.
I also seem to be the first person on the course to be a music journalist. Ever.
As a result, a lot of the theories that we had been taught were not relevant to my field of interest. Not only were they irrelevant… they were WRONG. Every course has at least one favourite source that gets quoted in every lecture. In this instance, I never want to hear the terms ‘Manuel’ and ‘Castells’ in close proximity again.
I am not sure whether the university drew the short straw when every student on the course had aspirations that stomped all over the theories. Were we deliberately taught theories from pre-1950s so to shoot them down? To this day, I don’t know whether these theories were meant to be accepted as though they were the untouchable. What The Beatles are to music, Kant is to philosophy. Unfortunately, most of us had had enough of Kant very quickly, and it wasn’t long before several took pleasure in altering the vowel in his name.
For this reason, this next essay was perhaps more entertaining and satisfying to write than it should have been.
David Manning White was another one of those theorists, and he was going down. “Down down, deeper and down” enough to greet Satan Quo himself. White had been introduced and supported to the point of being 100% factual. Like how a music critic will be run down for doubting anything by the Beatles, there are those who you can’t touch. 3000 words later, I think they got the message: Sorry Professor, but I beg to differ.
Cue my “The Doomsday Catalogue…” essay (the title of which came from the feared potential fate of magazines: becoming an emotionless catalogues of products, without personality or purpose beyond being a consumer tool) during which I discussed the arguable subject of the importance of news in music publications, considering their potentially diminishing use, due to online services. This was not an analysis of whether NME needed news pages (which for the record, I think need to stay), but discussing that there are justifiable arguments back. I used this situation to state how White’s theories and social constructs of ‘gatekeeping’ (in short, the ideas of how news distributors choose what we know, having been limited due to limited room on sheets of paper) were outdated. Various other modern theorists got nods such as Avant-Mier, Feursich, Feldhaus, Henning-Thurau and Wiertz. I treated them more favourably.
This lead to a discussion of the sociological construct that now falls in place of gatekeeping, ‘gatewatching’. This concluded the essay by stating that magazines, while demoted from gatekeeping, having discussed the phenomenon of the ‘citizen journalist’, quality control (a feature that magazines have, yet citizens online for the most part ignore) and direct contact from artist to followers on social media networks.
This essay was the first time that I felt that I had gone head on against one of the rockstars of journalistic theory, so wasn’t quite sure whether it was a good idea. It turned out to be a better idea than I had expected – it got a Merit. I do wonder how pleased or reluctant the lecturers were though.
After all, by the time you get this far, you are there to write academic texts, and arguing so to re-establish or totally turn theories on their heads, rather than to simply update them is precisely what lecturers are after. Well, usually, so longer as there is a convincing argument.
Similarly, honorary mention goes to leaving the head of the course, with his head-of-the-course head in his head-of-the-course hands, having had given weeks of career advice (such as the importance of CVs) made a little redundant. Yes, it was me again. As a freelance journalist, I wasn’t entirely convinced, so I asked a guest journalist lecturer about the importance of CVs. She announced that she hadn’t used a CV in over ten years. Oops.