Journalism and the cruellest cuts

18th November 1994 at 00:00
Essential Articles 3: The Journalism File, Edited by Christine Shepherd and Charles White. Ringbinder with, photocopiable worksheets Pounds 42.99. Carel Press, 4 Hewson Street, Carlisle CA2 5AU. Over the past five years, A-level and GCSE humanities teachers have learned to be grateful for the Essential Articles series of ringbinders. English teachers in particular can use them to demonstrate a wide variety of written approaches to the same subject.

Volume 1 introduced the basic format photocopied newspaper and magazine articles on a wide range of topical issues and this was reproduced in volume 2. Teachers were as happy with the form of both as with their contents: clearly-printed, durable copies of hundreds of articles, all helpfully cross-referenced in an alphabetically-ordered file.

If anything, they are likely to be even more pleased with volume 3. As usual, there are many stimulating articles 323 from 78 sources, to be precise but, this time, the file also offers specially-commissioned contributions on media matters (a freelance reporter's work, a short history of Reuters and the like), plus lengthy teachers' notes on how best to use the contents. Filled with good ideas, these notes especially make this volume even better value than before.

But it is the articles themselves which are of the most value. Here are think pieces, photographs, cartoons and readers' letters on such matters as advertising, unemployment, crime, wealth, population, music, murder and dozens more, all taken from sources as diverse as the Independent, Eastern Eye, Cosmopolitan and the West Highland Free Press. The range of opinions expressed is as wide as one could wish for. So too, of course, are the styles of writing and reporting.

Take "Food", for example: on the menu is a Scotland on Sunday gripe at children's diets from Derek Cooper, a Which? survey warning against the extravagant claims of many health foods, and a David Nicholson-Lord report from the Independent on this country's growing enthusiasm for vegetarianism. Look up "Slimming" and you find similar diversity, with for and against arguments from TV Quick, The Guardian and the Manchester Metro News.

Teachers will be able to explore linked areas in ways that should take classroom debate far beyond normal limits. The file offers many opportunities to do this, but the section titled "Murder" probably provides the best example of all.

This section is slim: it contains three contrasting broadsheet articles, along with readers' letters, all on the James Bulger case. Good enough on its own, certainly, to spark a passionate debate on the moral and social implications of that particularly appalling crime. But this is only the start of a route that leads naturally to articles under "Punishment" (what form should retribution take?), "Prison" (are our lock-ups too comfy?), "Video Nasties" (how much are they to blame?) and "Family" (might parents bear more responsibility for juvenile crime?). Should more be needed, teachers need only turn to "Law", "Television", "Violence" and "Media".

Essential Articles 3 is a laudable third volume, therefore, good not only for such an exercise as that above, but also for studies on audience, style, presentation and press politics. Even so, there are several omissions. Noticeably absent are Michael Fay, the American teenager caned for vandalism in Singapore, and John Wayne Bobbitt, briefly parted from his penis by his long-abused wife's knife. Both could have been included in any one of at least six sections.

In fact, Mr Bobbitt's temporary diminution occasioned some wonderful satire, none of which, alas, is to be found here. Nor is there much on any other subject: if Armando Ianucci gets in, one looks in vain for such as Alan Coren, Miles Kington or Keith Waterhouse. However good this collection, more of a cutting edge would have made it even better. Volume 4, perhaps, will oblige.

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