An interview with…John Mair

Having had years-worth of experience working for a whole host of media companies including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, no one is more suited to teaching journalism at Coventry University than John Mair.

As he was born in the Caribbean, John has (quite literally) come a very long way! He has filmed extensively worldwide, and has either produced or directed for the BBC on many world leader summits and every General Election since 1979.

As well as all of this, he is able to boast that he has been the media advisor to not one, but three presidents of the South American state, Guyana!

Having moved to teaching, john has put his experience and knowledge to good use. He has an enthusiastic approach to lecturing, and strives for students to get involved in the media as much as they can in order to build their portfolios.

In 2006, John created the Coventry Conversations, where various people are invited to the university to give a short lecture about their lines of work to both students and members of the public. Previous people that have taken part in the Coventry Conversations include world famous news presenters Jeremy Paxman and Jon Snow, director of Christmas film Nativity, Debbie Isitt, and director of Channel 4 show Shameless, Paul Abbott.

John has won many awards over the course of his long and varied career, including, for the second year in a row, the Cesil Angel Cup for enhancing the reputation of Coventry University.

John was happy to take the time to answer some of my questions:

How did you first get into journalism?

Almost by accident! I had edited the student paper at my University; the LSE. I then worked as a teacher and for Unilever. I always had a hankering to work in TV so I wrote over one hundred letters to various people. The door that opened was the BBC and BBC Current Affairs. That was in 1979. And I’ve not looked back or forward since.

How would you describe the state of journalism at the moment?

Dire but exciting. Dire for traditional journalism of the local and regional paper sort because they are doomed to a not so slow extinction. But exciting in terms of the new frontiers on the internet which offer huge scope for creativity, journalism, collective working and so much more. It is a great time if you have the skills and enterprise and are prepared to work. Good journalists will make it through onto whatever platform.

Why do you think the public generally have a negative attitude towards journalists?

Partly because some journalists deserve it as a lower form of pond life! The ethics especially at the tabloid end of the market has not been a strong point. This is only emphasised by the phone hacking scandal. But when journalists get it right and have an effect, like Wikileaks and Egypt/Libya, the results are stunning. But the world would be a worse place without hackers. 

Is it easy being a journalist?

It is as easy or as hard as you make it. There are lazy journos as there are teachers. You need two essential qualities-curiosity and a well developed sense of mischief.

How did you end up teaching?

Old age counts against you in the young world of Television!

Do you still practice journalism alongside teaching?

All the time. This is journalism! I am now a well known and well respected commentator on contemporary media events in the trade press. I’m just editing my fourth book with Professor Richard Keeble on Journalism; this one about the internet and its impact on the trade. Any journalism educator who does not parallel practice is cheating themselves and their students. In fact I’m about to write a piece now for the BBC website.

How has being a journalist changed over the course of your career?

Very much so but the key skills of devising, gathering, ordering, writing and publicising are still there.

What do you think the future of journalism is?

Slimmer and by and large on the internet.

What do you think of the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal?

Simply monumental in terms of its effects on the whole media culture of the UK. The ripples are just starting to show.

Do you think the decision to close the newspaper was right or should it have been handled differently?

The brand was very badly damaged. Could it be revived or should News International have been better sacrificing CEO Rebekah Brooks and cleansing the brand that way? They could have their reputation and traded their way out of the situation.

How do you think this will affect the wider world of journalism?

Hugely! Less jobs for a start. It will create a different kind of journalism with much more regulation and ethical training and supervision. Journalists will also have to carefully look at their working practices and relations to police and investigators.

Is this the nail in the coffin for print journalism?

No it is a nail in the coffin of a certain type of tabloid print journalism; however the coffin lid can always open again.

Can any positives come out of the phone hacking scandal? 

Investigative and persistent journalism works. Journalist Nick Davies deserves every award going. Two years ago he was treated as loopy for doing the story, now he is a hero and deservedly so.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Too many to list individually. Okay, filming an interview with Mick Jagger.

Have there been any moments in your career that you’ve regretted?

To quote that journalism sage Frank Sinatra: ‘Regrets…I’ve had a few but I did it My Way’.

Do you have any advice for potential journalists?

Be brave, be bold, be curious, be mischievous, be right and don’t take any bullshit from anyone!

Thanks a lot.


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