Reflective practice for journalists

The idea…a brief summary

I’ve just completed the PGCLT HE course. It took ages, but I got there in the end. A key part of the course develops skills in ‘reflective practice’. A short definition can be found on Wikipedia or a detailed version can be found at infed. The general idea is that reflection on past experience leads to improvements in action and professional development.

Work by Schön has given reflective practice currency. A few professions have adopted it as a way for staff to demonstrate continuing professional development (CPD), particularly in the legal profession and in the health service.

Reflection could be used in the training of journalists

Reflection could be widely used in the training of journalists and other media professionals.

Attempting to get hard-bitten hacks to take time out to reflect may be a futile exercise. It certainly won’t be easy. The pressure on deadlines and constraints on budgets often mean that journalists are working flat out.

It would require a massive cultural shift. The world of journalism is very transient. Once a magazine has gone to bed or a newspaper story has been filed you move on to the next deadline. You don’t sit around discussing it all day, unless a reader, PR or interviewee makes a complaint.

Those working at the coalface don’t have time to reflect…

Critics of reflection, of which there are many, see it as just ‘navel gazing’. And when reflection is done badly it can certainly be viewed as self-indulgent rubbish. It is also seen by some as being an activity which is best suited for those working in the ‘soft’ professions – public sector areas like higher education, social work and the health service.

But I believe that all new journalists should blog. This may not sound like a particularly new idea – a lot of publishers force their journalists to write blog content for narrow-minded commercial reasons.

Blogging as a form of reflection

What I advocate is something different. New journalists should have private blogs and use them to record reflective thoughts. It could also be used as a way of proving CPD. OK, so CPD is not a word you tend to hear in newsrooms. Career development? Does it exist in journalism? This is a problem that needs to be addressed as well.

Few journalists take time to consider their roles and the purpose of journalism. When writing news stories journalists should reflect on the research sources they choose to consult and the people they choose to interview (or omit). New journalists often source their stories from a relatively small pool of contacts and are heavily reliant on PR contacts – this needs to be challenged. The traditional ‘top down’ approach for sourcing stories also needs to be challenged. Some claim to instinctively ‘know’ what to serve up to the reader. When challenged, you find that this ‘logic’ is based on out of date information (a ‘focus group’ carried out 20 years ago) or reader stereotypes.

Paul Bradshaw asks his students to blog at UCE Birmingham. He highlights how they can be used to provide ‘journalistic transparency’.

Many of the blogs, such as Muddle Through Together (or how a music journalist gets to grips with writing for the Net), showcase some fantastic reflective writing.

The key question is how
much do you reveal online? This is where things get interesting. By its nature, reflective writing is very personal. What do you reveal online? What do you self-censor?  Journalists need to work in an environment where they don’t get crucified for making mistakes.

Can it work?

It would take a massive shift in culture. I’m not expecting editors to start asking their staff to reflect anytime soon. Let’s face it, there are always far more pressing deadlines.  It’s even harder to talk about CPD when journalists are fearing for their jobs.

But hopefully we can move away from the idea that these are just ‘trendy teaching methods’, advocated by academics with far too much time on their hands.