Degree or not degree?

Prof Richard KeeblePROFESSOR RICHARD Keeble, the prolific author on matters of journalism and ethics, has asserted that George Orwell’s success and notoriety may have been a consequence of not studying at degree level.

Despite often being considered one of the finest journalists that ever lived, George Orwell never attended a university, and Professor Keeble believes that this benefited his work due to not having acquired undesirable habits.

“Orwell’s writing is bursting with fantastic original ideas, there is a level of abstraction that he didn’t move to. He didn’t need to.”

These claims were expressed during this week’s Coventry Conversation as the author of multiple books including ‘Ethics for Journalists’ and ‘The Newspapers Handbook’, a seminal work in the field, discussed his admiration for Orwell as a writer who is not restricted by neurotic analysis.

“The thing that kills higher education is this obsession with referencing, footnotes, reading, reading and reading,” said Keeble.“All this obscure abstraction that academics get stuck in, Orwell never went down there. Partly, I think, because he was lucky enough not to have a university education.”

These comments enforce recent suggestions made by deputy editor of the Eastern Daily Press, Paul Durrant, that practical NCTJ qualifications are more desirable, as an employer, than a degree in journalism.

Keeble emphasised that Orwell is a model of what a journalist should aspire to be, and that a degree in journalism does not necessarily help writers achieve this. In fact, he used Orwell as an example of what can be accomplished by a non-graduate.

He added: “In his political and cultural essays, Orwell is said to have done nothing less than invent the discipline of cultural studies.”

Keeble’s admiration for Orwell has inspired him to explore the life and works of the controversial figure to explicit detail, allowing him an exceptional knowledge of a man who had a unique affiliation with his readership.

“An aspect of Orwell that impresses me is the close relationship that he developed, quite instinctively, with his readers in his ‘As I Please’ columns.  Orwell can be seen as a ‘proto-blogger’. Responding to letters sent to him directly, asking readers to answer queries or simply giving the audience a quirky brainteaser.”

A lecturer in journalism for over 20 years, Professor Keeble applauded Orwell’s natural writing ability, use of humour and general cultural awareness, suggesting that these traits outweighed the lack of university education.

Subsequent to announcing, “I have come to praise George Orwell. I do it with ease, and I do it with joy”, Keeble highlighted the basis of Orwell’s ability, and reiterated the reasons for his accomplishments and journalistic integrity.

He declared that Orwell was “a model of a committed radical, intelligent, witty, wonderfully imaginative writer who deployed the tools of journalism for their best purpose – as a crucial, morally urgent intervention in politics”.

The Coventry Conversation, Keeble’s second since the series’ inception, was attended by numerous students and lecturers alike, as well as members of the public, who had come to both discover and discuss the works of George Orwell.

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