Author sparks controversy by asking would-be reporters: Is journalism a profession?

Professor Alan Middleton, author of Journalism Beyond Leveson

Professor Alan Middleton, author of Journalism Beyond Leveson

Journalism is not a real profession, according to Professor Alan Middleton of Birmingham City University.

A prominent social scientist and author of Journalism Beyond Leveson: Professional Culture versus Delinquent Subculture, Prof Middleton believes that journalism lacks the fundamental values to be truly classed as a profession.

In a reiteration of the ideas put forward in his book, he told students at Leeds Trinity University: “Corporate culture is not the same as professional culture, if journalism was a true profession it would transcend corporate culture.”

He went on to describe the press reaction to the Leveson Inquiry as: “An immoral panic with defensive arguments and outrageous attacks on anyone thought to be a threat to the press. There is an attitude amongst some members of the press that the rules of democracy, the laws of this country, don’t apply to them.”

Prof Middleton believes that there is an unnecessarily aggressive, macho subculture within elements of the national press, adding: “Journalists don’t always have to pursue the powers that be.”

However not everyone shares the same opinion. Sky’s North of England correspondent, Gerard Tubb, who was also giving a talk at Trinity today said: “At the end of the day we’re rebels with a cause. If you’re not a vigorous and troublesome journalist, what are you doing?”

Even lecturers at Trinity have waded into the debate. Senior lecturer on media law and public affairs, Nigel Green said: “Journalism needs delinquents.” And he warned against “a culture of being risk averse” emerging in the media following the Leveson Inquiry.

Prof Middleton’s talk couldn’t come at a more relevant time with the former editor of the News Of The World, Rebekah Brooks, giving evidence all week at the Old Bailey over phone hacking allegations.

Prof Middleton mentioned that following the phone hacking revelations, public trust of the media was massively diminished and that ordinary people are now reluctant to talk to reporters. He said: “I do wonder if the fundamental emotion between the press and the public is one of fear.”

In response to a student who asked what were the solutions and how could journalism reform itself and truly become a profession, Prof Middleton said: “It’s not my position to say but there is a need for journalism students and lecturers to try and resolve these problems.”

Prof Middleton talks about the responses he’s received from journalists and where he thinks the future of journalism lies:

Catherine O’Connor, Head of Journalism at Leeds Trinity University, responds to Prof Middleton’s controversial views:

Prof Middleton’s entire talk:

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Comments

  1. ‘Rebels with a cause’ – whose cause and on whose mandate? Power without responsibility indeed!

    Equally, ‘troublesome’ and ‘delinquent’ hardly seem to be appropriate adjectives to describe the required behaviour to produce good journalism or journalists. Maverick may be a better term to use if we are talking about those in the media who, through unorthodox news gathering techniques, are genuinely seeking redress on behalf of individuals wronged by authority, for example. Even then, however, the actions of such journalists should be tempered by self-imposed ethical and moral standards of behaviour that transcend simply putting the story right.

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