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15 June 2016

Getting Personal

This isn't one of my normal opinion pieces; rather it's a personal statement, given that I've come to a crossroads in life and have to make some important decisions.

What I know is that, after 23 years building a career training people for jobs in radio news, I'm backing out of full time university teaching. From September I'll be on a part-time contract, and I'm not sure yet what I'm doing with the rest of my time.

This post is to explain why I'm making the change.

Firstly, there's no criticism of my current employer, nor of my amazing trainees.

When postgraduate recruitment dropped as a result of undergraduate tuition fees making prospective news candidates wary of taking on the extra debt, I was sceptical as to whether undergrads could achieve similar professional standards.  I am so proud of Leeds Trinity's first class of graduating BA Broadcast Journalists who'll be drinking Pimm's on the lawn next month ... if they can get the time off work, that is; half the group are already working in broadcast newsrooms, and have been for many weeks ahead of graduation.

They've come a long way from the tears and fears of their first visit to their allotted news patch in Bradford, when they were reluctant to venture beyond the cosy warmth (and bacon sandwiches) of Forks social enterprise cafe on North Parade.

Neither am I going to abandon my current undergrad news trainees; the first years who rose magnificently to the challenge of live BCB radio news bulletins in May, happily taking on what would normally be considered final year work. I've discovered that young people generally deliver the standards we expect from them - whether those are high or low. Society at large could learn a lot from that.

Leeds Trinity is an amazing institution, bursting with ambition and talented teachers. It's an inclusive and tolerant place; my managers have put up with my idiosyncrasies for more than two decades. I could not have asked for more support or understanding. But the wider world in which we operate is changing, and not for the better.

The regime of inspection, measurement and box ticking which has taken over schools has found the new continent of Academia, and is preparing to invade that delicate ecosystem with all the zeal of a group of Victorian adventurers. They are standing on the shore with their nets, jars, stopwatches and spreadsheets, and they will not rest until every specimen they come across has been catalogued according to arbitrary criteria they have drawn up. I'm not going to be pinned to their cork board.

I'm all in favour of University teachers being given equal status to researchers. That's long overdue. The problem comes when we look at the criteria for assessing the teachers. First question: Do we have a higher degree, or an academic teaching qualification?

We're back to "Sheep and Goats" again; those with the industry experience won't get appointed in future. Are we Members - make that "Fellows" - of the Higher Education Academy? Do we engage with pedagogical research, and write up our practice in journals of pedagogy?

It might have the wrong horns, dammit, but if we just hammer the fleece on hard enough and make it go "baa" we can pass it off as a bloody sheep ...

I think I'm getting the picture as to who has written these criteria, and I doubt they've been up all night covering a general election with trainees until 4am, or that they've dealt with a weeping girl overwhelmed by the pressure of her first radio reading shift, persuading her she can get back in front of the microphone and do a good job of the next bulletin. We can't tick a tissue box, and if we can't tick it, it doesn't help the league tables ...

So from September I'm on half time. I'm looking for interesting things to do with the rest of my week, and I think I still have a couple of decent projects in me before I retire.

I'm passionate about radio, and I believe it has a real future beyond being an optional class or an audio add-on in the world of text and pictures. I've sent more than 400 trainees into broadcast news over two decades, the vast majority of those starting in local radio. The editors I know are delighted if a candidate can film a video clip and live tweet a conference, but those skills are very much secondary to finding the right top line, the right interview clip and being able to read a competent bulletin on air.

I'm a strong advocate for diversity in newsroom recruitment, and have worked towards that on a number of projects over the years. That means social diversity as well.

I'm having conversations with a number of people already but - and this is a direct appeal to former colleagues, and to Bimedia and Broadcast alumni of the past - if you know of something that could be interesting, please get in touch.

I'll be here, filling in this pile of Marking Validation Forms.

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