Why we need to ensure journalism is never ‘pointless and destructive’ for bright minds

When I came to the end of my yearlong stint as editor of my university student newspaper, I wrote a blistering valedictory piece attacking the lack of political imagination of my fellow undergraduates.

I was particularly offended by rugby-playing, beer-swilling, practical jokers who liked to think they were at the cutting edge of rebellious innovation, but who at the end of their geography degrees ended up drifting into accountancy.

I seemed to remember comparing them to sheep, and accusing them of sleepwalking their way towards corporate monotony and sterile compliance.

Well, get me.

And, more to the point, look at me now. What a revolutionary I’ve turned out to be, with my mortgage, smart suit and private sector job.

I was reminded of this much-overlooked polemic by a piece written by columnist George Monbiot today, urging the students of today to fight the temptation to end up in corporate management.

His attack on the brain drain to what he calls “useless occupations” such as finance, management consultancy and lobbying is better written than my 1980s effort.

But it got me thinking about what my profession offers graduates.

Thankfully George, as a journalist himself, excludes the media from his catalogue of “pointless and destructive” jobs.

And, despite the many pressures on today’s young journalists, I think he was right to do so.

I said in a blog the other day that one of my challenges is to continue to persuade our younger reporters that they made the right career choice – and shouldn’t have opted for that job with PwC.

When those people could be pocketing substantially more money at an accountancy giant, that challenge can sometimes be work in progress.

I firmly believe that journalism ought to offer a greater chance of fulfilment, excitement, learning, privilege and fun than the “useless” but far more lucrative options on offer at campus milk round sessions.

The harsh and inconvenient reality, however, is that we still need to sell our profession to the brightest minds out there.

Yes, there will always be students coming to the end of journalism courses.

But if we want the brightest and best, we need to reach out to them, nurture them and challenge them.

Above all, we need to create environments where those minds are allowed to develop, to test boundaries, to innovate – and occasionally even run riot.

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