It’s the time of year where I need to start thinking about my future. So I procrastinated for weeks and wrote this instead. An abridged version was published on the absolutely wonderful mediargh.com jobs and advice site. It’s picked me up in many a bleak moment.
I am a media student. A statement that, for some, is their cue to scorn, laugh or snort with derision.
Most recently, in the shop where I work, a usually friendly old regular asked what I do and on hearing ‘media studies’ replied with “well, don’t tell me about that all at once…”
Studying media does not have the same pull as physics, law or even journalism. The image conjured of a media student is one of a lazy, long haired layabout, slightly too hip for their own good, allergic to hard work and someone perfect for a class on ‘watching telly.’
And yet, perhaps the subject should have that pull. The media (a vague term), love it or loathe it, is the filter through which we see the world as human beings. It’s the protector of democracy. It’s the way businesses sell. It’s image and reputation, vanity, glory. It’s our flaws, desires contradictions. It’s storytelling. It’s remarkably flexible, nuanced, utterly despicable and totally life-affirming. It’s constantly relevant, brutally so. It is indeed an ‘industry.’ But producing what? A reflection of all human interaction.
It’s the thing that raises us up above every other strain of life on earth: our unmatched ability to communicate ideas and information. It’s our collective, fizzing, bubbling consciousness. It’s bloody brilliant. You know all this, that’s why you’re on this site. That’s why you want to be a part of it.
Why wouldn’t it be useful – or at least interesting – to study such a thing in depth? Academically dissecting it; explaining, analysing, predicting. We may not have a Hamlet. But we’ve Paxman interviewing Russell Brand. We’ve no Higgs Boson. We’ve The Internet.
My romanticising out the way, I would now like to present the reasons why one should consider a media studies degree a wholly viable option for their UCAS form.
Two years ago if you asked me my chosen career it was ‘journalism.’ Plain and simple. But I was afraid of specialising too early. Thankfully the variety and depth of the subjects on my course is huge. Yes I’ve written articles. But I’ve also interned in the production of mainstream television. I’ve interviewed footballers. I’ve recorded radio shows. Pitched PR proposals. Written at length about gender politics in obscure Scandinavian noir. And now, as I’m faced with my choices for the future, I currently have my heart set on advertising. But that will change.
You’ll get a chance to experience everything the industry has to offer. Not so much a recipe for indecisiveness but a necessary education in becoming a well rounded employee. Mediacontracts are getting shorter and shorter. Jobs and duties are merging into each other; it pays to have more than one skill up your sleeve. PR and marketing. Journalism and radio.
The people in your class will fall into one of two categories. Those who are there because they are indecisive and too lazy to pick anything else (these are the people who are actually seduced by the idea of media as a class on watching telly.)
And then there are the extroverts. The prodigiously creative, talented, curious, hip, shiny, happy people. There are enormous egos and they do clash, exquisitely. They’re the people who know their own mind. They don’t care for the subject’s reputation and are determined to make the most of it off their own back.
Studying media is a truly fantastic idea and no one should ever tell you otherwise. When they do it can be a gut-wrenching experience, as I imagine it is when anyone tears your life plans a ‘new one.’
I’ve been reading former Times sportswriter Simon Barnes’ excellent book, ‘The Meaning of Sport.‘ About three quarters of the way in, after much furiously interested page-turning by me, he writes at length about why journalism and media degrees are a waste of time. I won’t go into the details but it was a prime example of an attitude so many media professionals have: ‘I made it in without a media degree, so it must be useless.’ And it is that elusive ‘in‘ (that ‘foot on the ladder’; a horrendous phrase) that we’re all searching for that means those with the top jobs are increasingly looking for ways to pull the door shut behind them.
There is plenty of fatalism dressed up as realism in education today. And it does no one any good.
Media, as a course, is not easy. Not because the concepts are difficult or the work arduous but because you have to think for yourself. You have fantastic opportunity to direct your own study. Choose your own projects, build a portfolio specific to your chosen career. But you need to have that drive to go and work out what you want. If you take it up be prepared to do the extra hours. Start a blog and keep it going even though no one reads it. Push for internships and work experience. ‘Networking’ (another phrase I despise with all my being) isimportant. Probably.
The teaching is perhaps the most hands-off I’ve ever had – a culture shock at first but it will only do you good in the end. For a class full of such extroverts, it has to be. And yet at the same time the lecturers I’ve had have fought tooth and nail for internships, work experience, job opportunities and side projects for their students. Anything to help you make your CV that little bit better.
There’s no harm in seeking advice, but take it with a pinch of salt and the same critical mind you learn to apply to any advert, documentary or article. This website is full of advice written far more articulately than I could put it. And yes, a lot of media-industry advice is contradictory. But so is life. So are human beings. How can the study of human communication not be contradictory at times?
If there is one piece of advice I can give you though it is to listen to Richard Bacon’s daily podcast of his show on 5Live. Not only is he fascinated by the way the media works (a victim and victor of it himself) and therefore discusses the subject a lot on his show, but his anecdotes of lefty London media life – private members‘ clubs, street food festivals et al – is the perfect motivation to send that creeping email to that editor asking for two days making tea for the office.
In fact in his book he tells the story of a debate he attended at the Oxford university union where he spoke at length (arguing with Alan Rusbridger of all people) defending the media and his right to be proud of his job.
“There’s a default position among a few in the media of claiming to be embarrassed by your job, while actually really enjoying your job. It only comes when they are talking to people who don’t work in the game. To one another they wouldn’t say it because they know it is, by and large, a bit of a jolly.”
The same can be said for studying media at college or university (yes, you can do it at university) and it is well worth your consideration.