Dr Lucia Vodanovic arrived at LCC in 2015 as Course Leader for the College’s new MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism. With the course now into its second term, we met Lucia to find out more about being a Chilean columnist, creating a new ethics, and journalism as creativity.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your background before coming here?
I grew up in Chile, South America, and I studied journalism there. It was 20 years ago so, of course, journalism was quite different. One of the key differences was that you would train to work in print, TV or radio, whereas journalism today – and so our MA – is totally multimedia. It is very unlikely that you will have a career only in print or television. But writing was really my thing so I specialised in that.
I worked first on the arts section of a Chilean newspaper, and later in the weekly style magazine, which was different to some of the style magazines that you find in the UK or elsewhere. We would cover fashion, beauty, food – the usual things – but there were also lots of articles about women, careers and family, with a fairly feminist agenda.
I wrote features and interviews, I had a beauty column, and I also wrote a column called Vida de Soltera (A Single Life) about life in the city, restaurants and dates, not using my real name. Actually, even though it was supposed to be fiction, most of the stories were taken from people I knew, or from my own life, so it was a lot of fun.
Then about twelve years ago I moved to the UK to do an MA and later a PhD, both in Cultural Studies at Goldsmith’s College. I also taught at Goldsmith’s for a while, then I worked in different universities including Brighton and Middlesex – I was Course Leader for Journalism at Middlesex University – and then I came here.
So I have both an academic and a journalistic trajectory, particularly in the arts and lifestyle area. Most of my recent published work is research-based academic writing but I also still do non-academic arts writing.
For example, I was recently working on some artist profiles for a big exhibition of South American art in New Zealand – they are like mini-essays that are both academic and accessible to a larger audience. I have also done some translation work – a bit of everything. My profile is quite interdisciplinary, which is also something that I really want to bring to the course.
What can students expect from the course? And what are your particular aims for it?
The course has two main elements. One is Multimedia Practice, which rigorously prepares students in all aspects of the creation of feature stories, from the generation of ideas to production, with particular emphasis on what makes a compelling story and the application of appropriate multimedia techniques. This unit is taught by Simon Hinde, Programme Director of Journalism and Publishing. That’s another nice aspect of the course, the fact that Simon is very involved in the teaching.
The other element of the course is the Critical Perspective Units 1 and 2, in the autumn and spring terms. The usual questions of journalism and society arise – its relationship with democracy, technology, representation and so on – but we’re also really trying to push the boundaries of how we think about journalism, interrogating how it relates to the creative industries, identifying new players in the field, discussing issues of participatory culture and the role of bloggers and YouTubers.
Ethics is another important theme in the course. It seems to us that ethical boundaries are very well defined when you’re talking about ‘hard’ news, such as politics or finance, but it could be argued that there is more of a grey area when you think of arts and lifestyle journalism.
There is a different relationship between journalists and brands – when they write about fashion, for instance. Or when a travel journalist gets their accommodation paid by the hotel that he or she is reviewing. So we also want to think about creating a very rigorous ethical framework for arts and lifestyle journalism.
We need to remember that this is the only course like this in the UK, and one of very few in the world. My students are going to be writing about things that people haven’t previously been writing about. That’s exciting, and it has worked very well so far.
Students also do a collaborative unit, a work placement unit, and then a final major project, which will be very ambitious. They’re going to spend about six months working on that. We really want that final major project to reflect the identity that we want to give to the course – the fact that we are creating new frameworks for arts and lifestyle journalism. And the students might end up with something that doesn’t look like traditional journalism, but that’s precisely what the course is about.
We are also very excited about a public engagement event that Simon has planned for the summer term. It’s not directly attached to the MA, but many of these ideas will be part of that programme, and we are hoping that students will also take part in different capacities.
It would be a ‘festival of creativity’, not a traditional conference but a mixture of different events over a one- or two-week period, with exhibitions, workshops, a publication, artists talking about journalism and people talking about new ways of publishing. We will be trying to understand how creativity, that people tend to associate with subjects such as art and design, is also important for journalism.
There is a kind of synergy between what’s happening in culture more broadly and what’s happening in journalism. This is why it’s so great to have a course like this in this University, which traditionally has been a very important institution for the creative industries in Britain. It makes sense to have the course here, it’s almost surprising that they didn’t have it before!
So what are the academic or professional backgrounds of the students on your course?
Our first cohort arrived in September 2015 and is incredibly diverse. They are all really strong students. A number of them come from very traditional academic backgrounds – their first degrees are in disciplines such as English, archaeology or social research – and others do have a background in journalism. Some have already started their careers in journalism– they have written for publications or edited magazines.
One student has received a scholarship from the Financial Times, which apart from being a very well-known newspaper has a very interesting lifestyle section. They offered a £4,000 bursary to one of our students, and the person who won it comes from a fine arts background at Central St Martins.
We have students from all over the world: Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, the UK, Asia, Qatar, Canada… We are blessed with a really good mix of people with very different backgrounds. The seminar discussions are always really lively, with people coming from various perspectives.
When they do presentations for my unit – which is the theory unit, but not always taught in a traditional lecture-based way – some of them might do a mini-film, or they might think about music when responding to a text. So that interdisciplinarity is also reflected in the seminars, which I really like.
And what would you say about possible future careers for graduates from this MA?
In terms of career paths, some students will go on to traditional journalistic careers, working in print, online, multimedia etc. The MA prepares them to work on all sorts of different platforms. Some of them might be freelancers, and some might work as permanent staff.
But also they might work in a slightly different role, they could work for art galleries, for instance, or museums. They can produce content for different agents, not just for traditional media or news outlets such as the Guardian or the Independent. Some students would go in that direction, others might not. Remember that art galleries, museums, record labels etc. all work with journalists if they want to produce meaningful content that doesn’t look like PR.
The fact that students are prepared to be very rigorous journalists, as if they were covering politics or finance, is key for this course. They are prepared with those very important journalistic skills, so they are ready to work in a wide variety of places.