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Guest Blog: How working journalists and academics can help each other

Yesterday HTFP reported on a new book and website produced by the Journalism Knowledge Exchange, a partnership which aims to bring working journalists and academics closer together. Former Yorkshire Post Newspapers head of news Rebecca Whittington, who co-edited the book, explains in further detail the project’s aims – and how you can get involved.


In the fast-paced world of journalism, where many decisions are snap-judgement calls, the pace is dictated by a large, hungry, insatiable beast of a never-ending deadline and news must be both fast and accurate as well as being better than all the rest, there is ‘no time to stand and stare’.

And, having come from that world (the newsdesk at Yorkshire Post newspapers was all of the above and more), I know, that’s how many journalists like it. The pace, the cut and thrust, the adrenaline and satisfaction of getting a story first; it is all part of what makes the job. Why would you want to stand and stare when you could be in the thick of it?

But, and I know I’m preaching to the converted, of course the downside to this break-neck pace is the lack of chance to make change, the difficulty in altering production processes, the all-too-often skeleton staffing resulting in an inflexibility which means innovation and long-term or investigative projects are nigh on impossible. There is little opportunity to step back and take time to observe, think and respond and identify areas of opportunity and develop and implement ways of maximising those chances.

So, in 2015 when I left newspapers to start a job in teaching journalism at Leeds Trinity University and start a PhD looking into the impact of digital reporting tools on regional newspapers, I was thrown by the different pace of academic life. I not only had time to stand and stare, but in terms of my research, it was expected that I did just that.

Rebecca W

Not only was I applying my ten years’ of experience working in weekly and daily newspapers in West Yorkshire to teaching practical journalism to undergraduate students but I also needed to continue to research the industry to make sure my teaching remained thoughtful, challenging, applied and real.

On the face of it, journalists and academics are very different beasts. But the industry relies on both to make journalism the best it can be. Both groups investigate, interrogate and hold power to account and both have a vested interest in the education of our future journalists.

All of this is why JKX – or the Journalism Knowledge Exchange – was founded.

JKX is a project which aims to bring together ideas from journalists and academics with the intention of identifying potential collaborative projects of mutual benefit.

It started last year when a symposium event at Leeds Trinity University brought working journalists from print, hyper-local and broadcasting backgrounds together with academics with an interest in journalism research and education from Leeds Trinity, the University of Leeds and Cardiff University.

At the event academics shared some of their research and findings and journalists identified areas where sustained research focus might be useful to help with production and journalistic processes.

Afterwards, one of the main strands of feedback from participants was that academic research into journalism is all well and good, but what use is it if those working in the industry cannot access the results? It was a fair point. Academic research is often published in journals and books, but this process can take months or even years and access to those texts is often limited to an academic audience – meaning those who might directly benefit are often none-the-wiser.

Other good points were also raised; including the fact that academics might have the opportunity to identify areas of potential beneficial research that journalists may have been ‘too close’ to the subject to identify and that identifying potential collaborative partners could sometimes be too difficult to move a project off the ground and into orbit.

As a result, we decided to invite JKX participants and others who had indicated interest in the event but not been able to attend, to write a short essay or ‘think-piece’ about their specialist area. These short features were then brought together and edited into a book by myself and JKX co-founder Dr Richard Thomas, a former Leeds Trinity lecturer who joined Swansea University as a senior lecturer in journalism earlier this year.

The resulting book, Problems, partnerships and putting things right: Enhancing modern journalism with key collaborations, was published by Leeds Trinity University this month. And, in the spirit of making the content as accessible as possible, all of the essays in the book can also be found on www.journalismkx.com

The collection includes reflections on training journalists in today’s local news industry by Yorkshire Evening Post editor Hannah Thaxter. It also takes a look at hyper-local news with contributions from former Johnston Press journalist and editor of hyper-local site the West Leeds Dispatch, John Baron.

Other topics include journalism training – the challenges and opportunities in higher education – the possibilities of collaborative work and examines issues like the impact of AI on journalism, crime reporting in a post-Leveson era and the power and potential of satire.

The plan now is to continue to use JKX as a platform to unite potential collaborative partners and a place where ideas and research can be shared by journalists and academics alike.
We also hope to hold another symposium next year.

The success of the project very much relies on the contribution of interested parties, so if you have a topic you might like to develop please get in touch. Similarly, if you are looking for some research to be conducted into a specific area of industry, JKX might be able to line you up with an academic partner to help.

Get in touch with JKX at journalismKX@gmail.com or by visiting www.journalismkx.com

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