I don’t remember very much of the class I took with Rachel Buchanan in 2010.
I do remember that she put her own work on our reading list and (this I will never forget) in our last tutorial read out her honours thesis, a long piece about which I recall precisely nothing – and cried as she did it.
I wasn’t exactly covered in glory during Journalism Research. I felt awkward after she cried, and anything that I could have offered, such as a hug or a tissue, made me feel even more uncomfortable. I wasn’t a very committed student anyway, not the kind to carry more than balled up toilet paper around with me.
In Rachel’s class, it took us all semester to write a single feature. My effort was so moribund I should have submitted an apology along with it.
The subject requirements for the class were research quizzes, in class writing exercises, one 2000-word feature and a 2,500-word news story.
This seems like a generous division of work for a semester, particularly when you consider the 70 percent three-hour exams I was battling in law. But ultimately the tasks felt useless.
I felt bored and shortchanged, secretly angry that it seemed as though, with the impersonal little pieces the lecturers had us working on, they wanted us to write in their own image.
We were reading their work and it unconsciously felt like the gold standard we could never attain. It was published, which was more than we could say for our squalid little attempts.
My inner voice – as I called it then, not knowing better – was stifled under the red ink from her pen.
Had I known the inner misgivings Rachel Buchanan would write about for the Age, and (I understand) in Stop Press, her book for Scribe, I might have felt more comfortable. I might have shucked off my shyness to tell her my thoughts on university level journalism, as she lectured me about the sanctity of deadlines.
Like her, I felt like a fraud, but for different reasons. I had enrolled in a law/media studies degree with a dim notion of being either a lawyer or a journalist. First year had divested of me any notions of a legal career, so I was relying on La Trobe’s media department to get me workforce-ready.
It wasn’t until I became an intern for several publications that I began to acquire proper journalistic skills. I wasn’t being paid, but I learnt a lot on the fly during the impromptu phone interviews and press conferences.
I don’t want to romanticise internships, as they are unpaid and exploitative in their own way but before I was lucky enough to opt out, I learned a lot.
I didn’t have twelve weeks to moon over a feature. I had half a day if I was lucky and being coddled. Rachel was right about deadlines.
I still haven’t cracked the code to launch me into proper grown up journalism but internships gave me the confidence that journalism school never bothered teaching.
I feel like I hardly learned anything, apart from some hard truths on bureaucracy and the nature of journalism academia.
In my opinion, journalism school is for academics, pondering the future of journalism as AHRC grants keep them in Homy-Peds and creamed rice.
For it to be worthwhile for students, there needs to be more of the bad news Rachel Buchanan presents in her book and Age article. It’s not until you’ve hit the six month mark post-graduation, and still need Centrelink, that you realise the enormity of the lie you’ve swallowed (and the accompanying HECS debt).
But that’s not all journalism schools needs. They might be worthy of the fees if they restructured themselves to impart to impart some useful skills. Three months for one dull university-centric fluff piece that is only worthy of publication in Snoozefest Weekly is an egregious misuse of time and money.
We should learn how to pitch, even if that’s as boring as drafting emails or text messages. We need to be taught how to cope with rejection, which is never easy irrespective of whether you’re starting out or as old as the hills. Lessons about invoicing should be in there, as well as compulsory media ethics.
Rather than being shuttled off into streams focusing on online, video and audio journalism, students aiming to grow up into being journalists need to learn all of these skills.
Mind you, had I known these things, I would’ve zoomed off, merry as pie, to study anything other than journalism.
I haven’t seen Rachel Buchanan since that crying episode, and if I did, I would blink a few times and offer to shake her hand.
It was because of my awful time in Journalism Research that I transferred out and studied media theory instead. The prospects are equally frightful but the subject was a lot more interesting. I’d tell Rachel about how I still feel like a fellow fraud, and I’m sure she would smile politely and look at her watch.
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