Letter by Dr. Fred Hunter to British Journalism Review 1996 concerning Geoffrey Cox's view of Tom Clarke

Sir,

While Geoffrey Cox infers that Tom Clarke was incapable of sustaining high intellectual standards [Vol.7 No. 3] it might serve to remind readers that Clarke left school at 15, did not attend university (though he did spend some time at Ruskin College, Oxford) and by the age of 16 he was contributing to the Northern Weekly and, at 17, a reporter on the Lewisham Journal, while at 19, he was a reporter for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He was special correspondent in the Far East for both the Daily Mail and the Chicago Tribune, at 20, and in 1907, aged 23, he was a special writer on the Daily Dispatch and an article he wrote on a flying meeting at Blackpool won him his next job as news editor of the Daily Sketch. He joined the foreign staff of the Daily Mail in 1911 and was night news editor from 1914-16, becoming news editor in 1919. It was his idea to organise Dame Nellie Melba’s first wireless concert in 1920 and, after Northcliffe’s death, he served his old friend Keith Murdoch as assistant editor of the Melbourne Herald, from 1923-26.

It was then that he returned to England to be the managing editor of the Daily News and oversaw the merger with the rival Daily Chronicle, in 1930, which resulted in the News Chronicle. After seven years working for the Cadbury family, in 1935, he became the first Director of Practical Journalism at King’s College, and revitalised the London University Diploma for Journalism course.

His four-page memorandum, written on 3 September 1935, indicated how he saw “Journalism at the University” developing:

The function of the practical side is not to educate the aspirant to a newspaper career, but to show him, as an editor in a paper would – if he had the time – how to apply the knowledge he has won elsewhere to the practical purposes of a newspaper. I hope to use the “case-method”, drawing on actual practical experience.

He was determined that:

The Diploma must provide students with an intellectual equipment especially designed for their needs, and different in degree, kind and quality from that considered suitable for a B.A. degree. Clarke felt that the course on the academic side should stimulate intellectual curiosity, provide such knowledge of the modern world as would equip students to understand, and report and comment intelligently, on current events of all kinds. It should also indicate the methods of approach taught in certain branches of modern knowledge.

It was this approach that led to the adoption, in November, 1938, of a new syllabus for journalism to include (a) Practical Journalism, (b) English Composition, (c) the Modern World, comprising: History of the Modern World; Social & Economic Structure of Today; Discoveries, Ideas & Thinkers that have influenced modern thought (not examined); Literature & Drama (mainly English) 1850 to the present, but particularly since 1900. An optional subject had to be taken from: Outline of English Literature (with set books); a Modern Language; Psychology; Philosophy; Military Studies; History of Art.

One of his students on the last year of the course, in 1939, was the late Geoffrey Pinnington, who ended his career as editor of the Sunday People. It is said that when he was overlooked for the editor’s job on the Daily Mirror, Rupert Murdoch, and his team on the Sun, whooped for joy.

Pinnington had this to say about the two-year journalism course which he attended at King’s College:

It was very much nearer the thinking behind the Liberal Arts courses of the 1970s, and not the deep specialisation in a narrow beam [of a degree]. I found that sort of discipline, even at a relatively superficial level, was invaluable to me later; not to become a critic but to know what critical thinking was about, and to know a little bit about logic… it helped with my thinking, and thinking is what journalism is about in the long run.

My dissertation, Grub Street & Academia, the Relationship between Journalism and Education, examines just how Clarke was able to make this happen and how he taught it.

Fred Hunter.

Note: Tom Clarke left the News Chronicle in 1933. Cox did not join the paper until 1935.

 

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