"Ah, if you want to get to there, I wouldn't start from here" comes the idiot-savant's reply
The exact locations, and the accents used, depend on the national stereotypes shared by the teller and the audience, but the sentiment, I believe, applies right now to journalism training in the UK.
Given a blank sheet of paper, no-one would start from where we are.
This is where I have to pause to qualify what I'm about to propose. I have to declare an interest; I work in a university college, and I've spent nineteen pretty successful years in that environment. Nearly four hundred trainees have passed through my care, and I'm proud that a huge proportion of those have established careers in a highly competitive news industry.
For much of that time I've been pretty much left alone to operate as I see best; striking a partnership with BCB Radio, for example, to give my trainees a real-world platform from which to practice their fledgling skills safely on a real audience. Or combining media training sessions for West Yorkshire Police, or the Army, with opportunities for my trainees to learn something of the culture and values which apply in these institutions.
Making it real, whenever possible.
From a standing start in 1993 my course has built a reputation which, anecdotally at least, ensures we're near the top of the list when editors are asked to recommend good places for learning the craft of broadcast news.
The model has worked well for nearly two decades with an eager supply of fresh talent putting themselves forward for selection each year, and a grateful industry taking something like nine out of ten graduates into entry-level positions.
But now I fear the model is broken.
It's broken because prospective trainees can no longer afford the fees for a postgraduate journalism course, fees which range from around four grand upwards, on top of debts accumulated as an undergraduate. Few of my PG trainees are privileged. They've often made sacrifices, of one sort or another, to follow their dream.
But each year fewer and fewer of them are getting to the starting line.
I will never forget the bright, bubbly African-Caribbean woman from Chapeltown who came in one day for a chat about the course. She had the right instincts, a good voice and a passion to find and tell stories that would resonate with audiences.
Then she asked about the fees.
I told her. She asked about scholarships, and I told her about the limited options available. With great dignity she stood up, said 'five grand? Richard, you might as well ask me for fifty' and she left the room, never to be seen again.
The crippling debt burden, combined with with diminishing prospects of employment, is choking off opportunities for candidates.
The situation has worsened in the past few weeks with the BBC announcing 'Delivering Quality First' cuts to local radio budgets which (as I've previously blogged) could mean the virtual end of freelance shifts and the traditional apprenticeship in broadcast news which local stations have offered for more than forty years.
So we need to take a long, hard look at journalism training and maybe, just maybe, start to think the unthinkable.
In particular, the themes I hope to explore are:
Is it time to break the bonds between vocational journalism training and the universities?
Does the job of finding stories for a community, and telling them in a compelling way, really require, as an effective minimum, a good honours degree, probably a Master's qualification or a postgraduate diploma, and (here's the rub) all the academic and administrative baggage which gets caught up with the subject when teaching it in a system designed for, say, Theology or Ancient Sanskrit?
Is it also time for employers to stop passing the buck?
News organisations, state-funded and commercial alike, are delegating the costs and responsibilities of training their newsgatherers to the universities which means, in practice, onto the shoulders of individual candidates.
Do news organisations really want diversity? Or just an appearance of diversity?
'Diversity' is a word I hear a lot.
It's a cause I believe in; you can't report a city like Bradford for twenty years without rubbing up against diversity in all its wonderful and hateful forms.
Broadcasters tell us they want diversity in their newsrooms but are much less keen to employ genuinely diverse candidates than they pretend.
So I'm hoping to prompt discussion on the future of journalism training.
I hope we can have the debate in frank and honest terms without falling out. I'm relying on the concept of academic freedom, a concept which allows armchair-bound researchers to criticise dedicated and hard working news teams with impunity, to allow me to also question the assumptions and practices of the sector that employs me.
I hope others in newsrooms, anonymously if necessary, will share thoughts in a similarly open way.
Because none of us, I'm sure, would ever say that where we are now, in November 2011, is where we want to be.
We need to move on, to a new model that works.