Is mental illness a major story?

RANT AHOY

Consider yourself warned.

I’m doing a unit this semester called Journalistic Inquiry. It’s a first year unit and frankly the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to complete – and seeing as I’m doing a degree that is made up entirely of writers, that’s saying something. I will definitely be writing a post of some description about it later on this year (probably when I finish it) so keep an eye out for that. Or don’t, it’s up to you.

Anyway. I’m one assignment off finishing the unit and never having anything to ever do with journalism ever again (THANK GOD, and I mean that). The last assignment is worth 20% of my grade and (I think) is due on Friday. I haven’t started it yet, but that’s ok, interviews are quick and frankly, in the real world (if I were remotely interested in being a journalist) I would have WAY less than a week to write the damn thing. As our lecturers keep saying. Because they think we’re stupid.

ANYWAY.

The story is supposed to be around 600 words long, which for a writer like myself is totally nothing. Heck, most of my posts on here are longer than that, and I had to edit my previous assignments down from around that. So that’s no issue. And I have picked a topic to write about, so I’m totally not stressed about it, except for the whole having-to-interview-strangers thing. I’m going to write about mental illness and its affect on today’s society by writing a story about an art exhibition that’s going on in Brisbane. It’s being hosted by the Mental Illness Fellowship of Queensland (MIFQ) aiming to raise awareness about schizophrenia, with the art is all done by sufferers of schizophrenia. I was going to include information about the prevalence of mental illness in Australia and how to get help and stuff like that. It would be published in the health section of a newspaper (if I were at all interested in getting it published) and therefore be part of the Health “round” of journalism.

So I asked my tutor about this topic for my story. This was his reply:

As the unit is primarily about being able to find quality sources and demonstrate an ability to get to the heart of a matter, puff or promotional pieces won’t help you at all. Just doing a story about a festival is simply recreating a media release. Nor does it demonstrate any skills in terms of locating sources as organisers are usually happy to talk about and promote it.

If you had a controversy angle which would require talking about multiple angles/sides and which would incorporate more depth (such as the pro-side, the con-side, the political aspect, the people impacted both positively and negatively) then you might be onto a much stronger idea.

And this is what he sent to the whole group (of first year students, might I add, not 2nd or third year students like it seems he thinks he’s teaching):

Guys,

I’ve received quite a number of emails and calls about the major story in the past two days and I’m a little disappointed at the quality of suggested topics.

This is not a high school journalism assignment you can leave to the last minute. As I said in tutorials six weeks – and repeated it a few times since – you should have started at least thinking about your topics. And that was then.

The unit is primarily about being able to find quality sources and demonstrate an ability to get to the heart of a matter, puff or promotional pieces won’t help you at all. Just doing a story about a festival or event is simply recreating a media release. Nor does it demonstrate any skills in terms of locating sources as organisers are usually happy to talk about and promote it. This is a journalism unit not Public Relations. You are not a promoter.

An event or festival MIGHT work IF you had a controversy angle which would require talking about multiple angles/sides and which would incorporate more depth (such as the pro-side, the con-side, the political aspect, the people impacted both positively and negatively).

But so we’re all clear, a light piece just about an event would struggle to get close to passing.

There are so many things wrong with what he said, I almost don’t know where to begin.

First of all, tutors cannot – SHOULD NOT – mark a student on the content of an assignment. For example, the article I posted here about abortion started life as an essay I wrote for a persuasive writing class. My tutor could not say anything about the conclusions I drew, unless the flow of the essay was not conducive to my result. He could only comment on the structure and the persuasive techniques I used to argue my point and mark me on that, as detailed by the selection criteria. Now, I’ve had a look at the criteria for this assignment – there’s no assignment precis that he can also use to mark me by so he can’t claim that either – and it says NOWHERE what a major story is. Furthermore, the criteria only allows for him to mark me on the techniques I use to write my article, not on the content. Nor has it said (in the lectures I remember, at any rate) what the make up of a major story is, and considering they’re all done now I think I can assume that there’s not going to be anything said about it. So he cannot judge whether or not an event or festival is a major story. In the music round, Splendor in the Grass or Big Day Out are major stories. In the art round, art exhibitions, Brisbane International Film Festival and Brisbane Writers’ Festival are major stories. I would say, also, with the prevalence of mental illness, and the fact that many people are living – undiagnosed – with it, that mental health is a major story in the health round. I’m not writing something to be on the the front page of the Australian. I’m writing something to be published in the “body+soul” section of the Courier-Mail, or whatever newspaper that’s in.

Secondly, how dare he say that mental illness is “puff” or “light” news. So the fact that the Australian Government spends an estimate $20 billion on it last year is “light”? The fact that “[t]here were 2,273 deaths from Intentional self-harm (suicide, (X60-X84, Y87.0)) in 2011, resulting in a ranking as the 15th leading cause of all deaths” (ABS, 2011) is nothing? “Over three-quarters (76.0%) of people who died by suicide were male, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for males” (ABS, 2011) is just a silly little thing that doesn’t matter? Because let me tell you, your brain has to be pretty sick to make you think that you would be better off dead than to live in this world anymore. The fact that I can’t get out of bed some mornings is not important, as well as the fact that I’ve I have lost relationships because of my stupid mental illness? 20% of Australian suffer from some form of mental illness or another, and that doesn’t take into account the undiagnosed people. I’m 99.9% certain that a person with depression could probably point out two or three people around them who are depressed but won’t acknowledge it. I know I can.

Suffice to say, I’m pretty mad that this tutor thinks that my article about mental illness is not important. In fact, that says a lot about how the media in general views it, no? Reason #1000000 why I’m not becoming a journalist.

Third, I also asked in my original email what the due date for this assignment is, as he is giving us really conflicting reports and there’s nothing on the Blackboard site except in the first week’s lecture slides. I’m so confused.

Aside from these things, the tone of the email is just so, so off. How old are we, five? Frankly, if so many people are saying stuff about events then he hasn’t done his job properly. How are we to know what a “major story” is if

  1. There’s no information on the blackboard site.
  2. It hasn’t been covered in lectures.
  3. It hasn’t been covered in tutorials.
  4. It hasn’t been learnt or taught through osmosis.

Am I being too hard? Am I taking it too seriously? Maybe. But I have a right to speak out when I feel I am being discriminated against, or am offended. Because if I don’t take advantage of that, then I am part of the problem, and have no right to complain.

Soli Deo gloria.

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