Media is vital to our lives, so it should be studied properly. And anyway, media studies graduates have a better-than-average chance of landing a job – so why are media degrees sometimes so scorned? Will Duffield reports
I enrolled at the college of St Mark and St John in Plymouth – Marjon – to study English language and linguistics with media studies. Although I managed to enjoy – ok tolerate – most of what both courses had to offer, I found myself beginning to favour media studies as I approached the end of my first year.
I was far from excited about writing a dissertation in English, but ideas for media based dissertations were floating around in my head. I realized I needed to change my priorities and concentrate on something that interested me.
So I switched from English major, to media major, and so far I have not regretted my decision.
I remember my Dad’s response to my sudden desire to swap as something on the lines of: “Well I think English is worth more” and my stubbornness was not exactly subtle, with my defiant reply: “Not if I want to be the chairman of the BBC!”
Admittedly, I’ve since asked myself whether I may have just “copped out” from a “proper” degree. English must be more prestigious and worthwhile, right? After all, English was here first. But just look at the range of courses available under the broad heading of media studies. Courses range from solely theoretical to totally practical, or a mix of both, and with the focus from journalism to film theory or anything in between. Making videos, taking photographs and watching films seem to many people to be fun, not work.
But remember the practical work is usually supported with theoretical evidence presented as academic writing, as with any degree. And of course the practical side of media based courses allows students to learn the value of group work and initiative and leads to the production of a portfolio that can be sold or may assist in finding work.
That is all well and good but how can we be sure a media-based degree is credible and of practical value, and not a waste of time? Bernadette Casey, dean of school at Marjon, said media courses are becoming more vocationally relevant and are far more likely to be tied to professional advisory boards.
She said: “It’s important we study media because it’s such a big presence in our lives,” adding: “If you graduate with a degree in media the chances of you getting a job are higher.”
Comforting words for any media student, even though many sceptics continue to scoff at media studies degrees. They might praise as admirable the writers, directors, producers and broadcasters who create the media we consume.
But taking the first step to becoming one warrants scorn, or at the very least a disapproving frown. It is difficult to understand why. Media courses incorporate perspectives from social science and humanities and teach analytical skills and critical thinking in a similar way to more “credible” courses.
Media students must assess not only media texts, but also the audience, institutions and producers – all in greater depth than other forms of study. Some media studies graduates work in national television production or as documentary directors and/or producers.
One Marjon media graduate is a producer of Blue Peter and a director. Another works for a Copenhagen film company. Some students were working in the media before their course and intend to use their degree as a means of promotion within the industry. The report from the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (Agcas) on graduate employment shows that in 2002, 72 percent of media studies students find work within six months of graduating, above the average of 65 percent for all subjects. That evidence makes it even harder to undermine the value of media studies for finding a job.
Natalie Fenton in her Education Guardian article “We’re all Media Moguls Now,” said: “Understanding of the vast and everexpanding world of media and culture in all its forms is fundamental to our economic wellbeing.”
And she added: “Understanding a world increasingly overwhelmed by media and cultural industries, often under the control of multinational corporations, is also crucial to our social and cultural welfare.” It is difficult to contest these claims, given the media saturated society we live in today. We need not only to be aware of the economic strength of the media in all its forms, but also to consider that understanding how and why the media is like it is may help explain certain societal conventions and the psyche of the individual as a recipient of media. Whether the media can influence consumers to the point where we modify our ideas and desires based on what we read and watch is debatable, but undoubtedly the media we consume is a huge presence in our lives and should be given our utmost attention.
The type of media a person consumes is often used – sometimes unfairly – to make judgements about their character. Someone who reads tabloid newspapers rather than broadsheets is assigned to an identifiable social position. Broadsheets, for most people, are seen as a reliable source of information, whereas the tabloids are seen as “gossipy”.
Beyond our choice of newspaper as an indicator of social class, the clothes we wear and every product we buy, whether a pencil case or a Mercedes Benz, helps articulate our identities — and more so than we might initially suspect. Importantly, the prestige or the negative perceptions associated with the products we consume can be strongly linked to the promotion of such products through the media we consume.
Despite this, some people still frown upon the value of a degree in media studies. The next time you encounter a scoffer, politely ask them what they know about media studies courses, the wide range of career opportunities, and the employment rates of media graduates. You will more often than not find critics have no idea what a media degree entails and are unaware of the practical value of a course.