Last week’s announcement of the ‘A’ level results provided an opportunity for sections of the press to indulge a pet obsession of bashing media studies as an academic discipline.
“Media studies and general studies have continued their miserable decline, losing 7,000 candidates between them in a single year”, pronounced a columnist in The Daily Telegraph.
Media Studies down 9.34 per cent: Communication Studies down 16.57 per cent, said The Daily Mail under the heading: “What’s in and out of fashion. Number of entrants per subject in 2013 compared to 2012”.
Even the FT couldn’t resist a little dig; school-leavers who are struggling to find work are flocking to economics while interest in subjects such as media studies is waning, it reported.
The negativity is a particularly British obsession which you won’t find in the US where there is a much more healthy interchange between academics researching media issues and the media itself. The attitude found depressingly often in some British newsrooms, that studying the workings of the press in a systematic and critical way should be a bar to working in the business, would be greeted with incomprehension by most in the US.
Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College, naturally enough is in the firing line so I asked her what she thought of the latest attacks.
The Leveson Inquiry provides ample evidence that the study of the media is more critical than ever before, she argues.
“Sadly, certain newspapers will simply see it as another reason to try and rubbish those who seek to research and understand better what they do and what this may mean for society more generally,” she said.
Fenton went on to argue that just as the media are fundamental to our social and political worlds, so is the study of them.
“To ignore this or worse, to deny it, is either shockingly naive or reveals a self-protectionism that should now be immediately obvious to anyone,” she said.
Her colleague at Goldsmiths, Prof. James Curran, has written a very good paper analyzing the uneasy relationship with the catchy title “Mickey Mouse squeaks back,” which I would thoroughly recommend. It is available here.
Needless to say, one obvious explanation for the fall in numbers this summer – that young people don’t want to enter an industry revealed as having (with, of course, notable exceptions) atrocious standards and lousy working practices – didn’t occur to any British newspaper.