Media Lecturer Orders Students to Prank a Campus Newspaper– to Get a Good Grade
A media lecturer at Australia’s University of Sydney recently ordered his students to create and pitch fake news stories to Tharunka, the campus newspaper at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The Sydney students– enrolled in the lecturer’s media politics course– were even told to lie about their own backgrounds in order to help secure publication for their faux pieces.
The class project’s name: Prank Tharunka. The lecturer, Peter Chen, is actually counting this absurd assignment as 25 percent of students’ final grades. Hmm.
As an example, to complete the assignment, a student “attempted to convince [Tharunka] editors that former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins had been nominated for an honorary degree from UNSW (she hasn’t).”
The full project instructions: “Using your understanding of the process-orientation of journalism, design and execute a false story that you attempt to get published in the UNSW student newspaper, Tharunka. You will need to research the aspects of journalistic practice used by the paper, what type of issues are likely to be covered, and how you would go about getting the issue into the paper. Once completed (successfully or not), reflect on the practice of PR that uses an understanding of media practice to promote particular messages in your final report.”
Unsurprisingly, the prank project has pissed off the country’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance— an MEAA spokesperson calls it, simply, “wrong and stupid.” It also runs counter to the university’s academic dishonesty policies, including those featured on the media politics course syllabus. And it has made some students feel uneasy.
One enrolled student’s response: “For someone who’d one day want to go into journalism I have a major ethical problem with trying to print lies. I don’t see the point. I honestly don’t think it taught us much at all except terrible habits.”
As Tharunka editor Lily Ray writes similarly about all this unethical madness, “Memo to media studies lecturers and tutors anywhere on earth: Feel free to tell your students to write for Tharunka. We love getting contributions, we love being controversial, we love making people think, and we love it that you love us. But let’s keep it real, can we?”
Ray separately tells The Australian, “Encouraging students to lie to the media is teaching them the very opposite of the values they should have.”
Meanwhile, as Crikey reports, by comparison, “Chen [the lecturer] says such assignments offer students a refreshing change to dry academic essays and show universities can be grounded in the real world. He adds he did not expect his students to succeed in getting the fake articles into print. ‘This is not a dangerous activity– we’re not cutting people’s organs out of their stomachs.'”
Personal note: That last quote from Chen both frightens and humors me greatly.