In My Opinion: Courtnay McLeod: Media training? As hard as we make it

IT had the potential to feel like a wake, with a death certificate citing numerous causes: strangulation by regulation, haemorrhaging of audiences, short supply of revenue, internal complications and a digital overdose.

But it turned out that last week’s Scotsman Conference on the Future of Media was remarkably upbeat.

Even Johnston Press chief executive, Ashley Highfield, appeared optimistic, focused, as he was, on figures, forecasts and opportunities that suggested, well… a prosperous future.

Conversations on the future of any profession need to include where the next batch of talent is coming from; assess if everything is in place to develop that talent and pipeline it into the industry. At the conference, former Scotsman editor, Magnus Linklater, said he had doubts, suggesting media training was a ‘missing link’.

If we look at the ‘big picture’, recognising increasing numbers practice media in their daily lives, this ‘missing link’ doesn’t only apply to the creation of future journalists. It also relates to skilling up audiences, consequently safeguarding democracy.

People are practising and playing with media with incredible ease; interacting through social sites, podcasting, blogging, submitting videos to their own YouTube channels and the rest. Anyone can blog. Anyone can tweet, and post, and comment, and supply user-generated content. Anyone can. But most are doing it in the dark, lacking the context, skills, knowledge and confidence to do it well.

And the next risk is that, while people might feel ‘wired to the world’, they are probably relatively ill-informed. Algorithms aren’t just conveniently personalising content. Without people necessarily knowing, they are skewing what is being seen. Eli Pariser’s ‘The Filter Bubble’ explores what the internet is hiding, and the implications are troubling.

Then there are the very gadgets that seem to be keeping us right up-to-date. They too are a hazard. They stop us from being bored. And yes a lack of boredom can be a bad thing as it limits space to think. Read Drake Baer’s recent article on how the mobile telephone might be snuffing out our creativity, on the importance of daydreams.

So how can we ensure future generations see things clearly, have space to think, and contribute effectively?

The buck has to stop with media education.

It needs to have a broader reach with more innovative design and delivery. Crucially, it needs to be valued as something that is relevant to everyone.

Like religious education and physical education, media education needs to be locked in to our school system.

The problem with our education system is that it was built centuries ago and still works incredibly well for its original purpose. The system that was designed to create people for the industrialised world is still standing strong. As Sugata Mitra explains, our education system ‘isn’t broken, we just don’t need it anymore’.

Introducing the right type of media education (not media studies) also has the potential to integrate transferable skills into education: communication, creativity, confidence, teamwork, leadership… these aren’t soft skills. They are hard and vital (just ask any employer). The dynamic nature of media education could help create more confident, creative people for all types of work.

So how do we make change happen, and fix these missing links?

We shake up existing media education and introduce vibrant new opportunities for learning. We create an educational ecology with space in it.

Space that enables educators, students and industry professionals to innovate, experiment, maybe fail, and then collaborate again.

This process will be as hard as we make it.

Courtnay McLeod is director of the Scottish Media Academy and regularly teaches broadcast journalism at various universities and colleges, with special interests in media convergence issues and broadcast writing styles.