Oct 182012

Travelling to Liverpool is always good for me, as it’s reassuring to see familiar sights and hear familiar tones of voice. This week I went for a training session as an External Examiner for the BSc Broadcast & Media Production degree in the Faculty of Technology and Environment. The training sessions was very lively, and there was a clear sense that some thought had been put in to looking after the External Examiners who had travelled to Liverpool for the day. Like any university the regulations, culture and expectations of the university are different, and the roles that External Examiners are expected to play show some local variation from a general theme.

After lunch we each had an opportunity to meet with the programme teams and to have a look around the facilities in the relevant department. Colin Robinson met me and we walked the short distance to the engineering buildings, just behind the Liverpool Museum and Walker Art Gallery. There’s a lot of Investment gone in to the redevelopment of Liverpool and it’s universities, and it show in the campus sites that LJMU occupies.

Colin and I got talking about our respective experiences running and delivering media production and technology courses. Both of us are keen advocates for Community Radio, with a strong belief in the transformative potential of course that encapsulate the hands-on approach that independent, tech-savy media producers will need in the future. Colin told me about the proportion of people who work at the new Media City in Salford and the proportion who are on contracts rather than staff salaries. It’s a staggering 80% of people out of the many thousands who work for the BBC and the cluster of media companies. We both shared very similar views about how we ought to prepare graduates to work in this environment by giving them opportunities to learn from real-world experiences and challenges.

I suggested that Media Production is something of a cinderella subject in the UK, and that we’ve not really got to grips with the idea that it’s possible to have a fulfilling and satisfying career as an independent media producer. Learners are too often seduced by the idea of easy fame an the point-and-shoot mentality of media. Often media courses are sold on the idea of the dream school potential, which is exacerbated with the X-Factor challenge, that you might be plucked from obscurity by a well connected Svengali who can offer you fame and fortune, rather than hard work, technical capability and skills that will last a lifetime.

There are a remarkable number of similarities in the approach we’ve both taken in our respective departments over the years, and clearly some of the same problems to be overcome. The feeling that pervades cautious engineers that the ‘media bubble is about to burst’, is a difficult one to shake, despite the evidence that technology enabled media production and practices are set to grow exponentially as more people acquire personal, mobile media devices. The need for a strong pool of graduates who have the essential STEM skills in media production is only going to get stronger and more urgent as more people become switched-on to the capability to produce their own social or community based media. We agreed that it’s all very well training people how to press the buttons in a radio studio, or point the cameras in a TV studio, but the real value comes from being able to set-up and design the studios, Outside Broadcast events and the on-line, networked exchanges of content that we now loosely think of as media.

I’m really looking forward to visiting Colin and his colleagues over the next couple of years. This form of media production – different from engineering or computing sciences – is an exciting area to work in. It draws ideas from so many different points of reference and it asks if we can come up with ways to use and develop these ever changing technologies to make even more engaging content. The independence and creativity that graduates in the media production and media technology fields are able to demonstrate gives me a buzz. I just hope that we can build the critical mass of others who are able to support this enterprise in as well.

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