Open letter to City University Journalism department

To the tutors at City University Journalism department.

I am writing this letter because I feel obliged to stand up and represent the views of some of my fellow journalism students in light of a guest lecturer we listened to as part of an entrepreneurial class yesterday (Monday 16 February 2014).

A number of us had some concerns with the speaker, and the content of his talk, and we would like to pass on these comments to you, in the hope you will consider them when planning future events and guest speakers.

On the whole, myself and a number of others found James Brown, editor of Sabotage Times, to be:

  • Unhelpful in his advice
  • Rude and patronising in his attitude towards us and the University
  • Inappropriate in his attitude and in the content of his speech

I want to stress that these views do not represent all City Journalism MA students – some of them enjoyed the lecture, and found it down to earth and engaging. While I can see where they’re coming from, many of my colleagues and I feel that this was undermined by the reasons above.

I take full responsibility for this letter, the contents in it, and any repercussions it may have.

I also want to stress that this letter aims to make the course tutors aware of the feelings towards James Brown’s lecture, and nothing more. I am not suggesting to ban him from the university, from speaking again, or any form of censorship of his views.

I am also not blaming anyone for this situation – neither City University, the journalism department, nor the tutors involved with entrepreneurial journalism. This letter is simply to showcase opinions of the lecture, and to make you aware of why we were unhappy with what he said.

Unhelpful advice:

Though we realise that Mr Brown has worked on countless successful projects, made lots of money and has done well for himself over the years, we felt that some of his advice was unhelpful.

Primarily, I took concern with his advice to “drop out” now and start up our own businesses. I realise the class was an entrepreneurial journalism one, but most of us did not come to City to drop out halfway through and start our own businesses. A high proportion of us want to study journalism so we can become reporters, presenters or broadcasters, not business owners.

Mr Brown tweeted me after the lecture to advise that I “start applying for jobs now. Don’t wait until they’re all gone.” I felt that was slightly patronising, to say the least.

Rude and patronising towards City students and the University:

Aside from referring to City University throughout as a “college”, Mr Brown noted that he didn’t finish his course, dropped out and has done well, and encouraged us to do the same.

Stating that we should drop out and start up our own enterprise is insulting to the students who have worked hard, done lots of work experience, and saved up lots of money in order to be able to come to City and study journalism. It is also an insult to the credibility of the University, by implying it is unhelpful in securing students employment, and helping them to be successful in journalism.

He insinuated that because we are studying journalism, we are not actually doing it. I do not know of a single MA student who didn’t undertake at least one work experience placement over the Christmas holidays, and indeed there are countless people I could list who freelance, work for free for media organisations, and indeed run their own websites and self-made projects on top of their degree.

I personally felt that he was rude to the member of staff lecturing before him – tweeting this as he sat in the back listening.

While Mr Brown is, of course, entitled to his freedom of speech about the lecture in question, this added to his attacks of the journalism department. He was also, many of us felt, rude about us, noting that we were not listening to the lecturer before him, and instead playing games on our phones, or on Twitter.

While that in itself may have been true, his next Tweet implied that what being in that class was a waste of time and we should be out there, not “tossing it off” on Facebook.

This again undermines and questions our entire reason for being at City – to learn about the industry, make contacts, get work experience, bylines and eventually, a job.

Inappropriate attitude and content:

Mr Brown consistently swore in his speech, which some of us noted can appear to undermine his professionalism. While Mr Brown clearly is a down-to-earth person and speaks in a casual manner (possibly also as an attempt to engage us as young people), some people noted that this was overdone, and his frequent cursing inappropriate.

What many of the students found particularly offensive, was when he told two students who were whispering to stop talking “or if you want to, fuck off and do it outside”. It was also noted that this was particularly ironic, given that he was speaking to students at the back of the lecture hall throughout the previous lecturers presentation on business models.

In addition, some students took offence at one of his final references to “all the Oscar-nominated women I’ve slept with” – this remark was deemed needless by some, and offensive by others.


Here are some of my fellow students’ opinions on the lecture, and lecturer:

Siraj Datoo said: “He was incredibly disrespectful. He told us to “quit journalism”, “fuck off”, was very patronising, appeared to have no idea what the values of City are – as a postgraduate journalism school – and generally gave bad advice, and did it bathed in profanity, in an attempt to brush off what he was doing. That he then told some of those on the course that their careers were over (or words to that effect) simply made it worse.

“Let’s be clear: it’s not funny that we’ve had to work really hard to get here, nor that the course is worth £9,000 – and he appeared to speak with a great amount of pre-conception of who we were (telling us on Twitter that we were know-it-alls and doing the wrong thing by being here).”

Patrick Scott said: “He was being equally ‘disrespectful’ during the talk from the previous guy. He was sitting on the floor at the back and kept talking to me telling me how boring he thought the speaker was, playing on his own phone, and asking me how long the guy would keep talking for.

Lara Owen said: “I thought it was bad that the lecturers had no idea what he was going to talk about. I was completely put out by his language as well.”

One City student who wanted to remain anonymous messaged me saying she wanted to give her support for this letter. She said “His speech was just unacceptable and offensive.”

Neal Baker said: “Brown’s talk was a unique mix of ignorance, prejudice, hypocrisy, vulgar and explicit sexism, self-congratulation and deprication of the work of City students. He came with a clear, uninformed preconception of City students as spoon-fed and detached from ‘real’ journalism despite the work that each of us has done and continue to do as part of our courses.

He sought to entirely devalue our work and demean us for even bothering, and all in the most disgusting guise of a ‘man-of-the-people’ character. His hypocrisy in condemning those who weren’t fully attentive, telling them to “fuck off”, is laughable in that he reportedly spent the entire time leading to his talk on his phone, distracting other students, and even grabbing a student’s book to read without permission.

It couldn’t have possibly been a more demoralising, insulting or vulgar talk from a man who didn’t deserve a penny of his probably considerable fee.”

Alisha Rouse said: “He publicly said on Twitter he was only here as City were paying him. What kind of inspiration was that?”

Another student who wished to remain anonymous thought he was “insulting towards City students. I thought the choice of inviting him to speak was misguided and inappropriate. I particularly thought his bragging about how many women he’d slept with was inappropriate and sexist.”

Sophie Murray-Morris said: “Telling us to leave the course and just “go get a job” is so unhelpful.”

Josh Jackman said: ” I was expecting an interesting, insightful and above all useful talk from James Brown today, considering his impressive experience in the field. Instead, I and everyone else in the lecture theatre was treated to an immature, expletive-filled speech which barely rose above the level of rant.

From telling us to “fuck off” to boasting about his sexual exploits with Oscar winners, all the way to repeatedly telling us how much he liked drugs, Mr Brown acted like someone who wanted to be anywhere but City.

This was confirmed when he revealed on Twitter that he was only with us because he was getting paid, and thought we should all quit this “college” which we’re apparently paying to “fuckabout” as we sit “tossing it off”. This disrespectful language and sentiment should have no place in City.”

Another student said: that he didn’t think Mr Brown’s advice was very useful, and he also agreed that he was inappropriate. “He was talking about orgies and bukkake and pointed at someone saying “he knows what I’m talking about”. That seemed particularly tasteless and unnecessary.”


We would like you to consider these thoughts when planning next year’s speakers at City, and bear them in mind. We will also attempt to convey this feedback to you and the rest of the department through our course representatives, and end of term module feedback.

Natasha Clark

MA Newspaper Journalism, City University



Filed under Careers, Education, Journalism, Media

3 responses to “Open letter to City University Journalism department

  1. Wow his tweets are shocking and very disrespectful! Please post any replies you get from City Uni

  2. janebsinger

    Thanks, Natasha, for your thorough and well-articulated note. I really do appreciate the feedback and share many of the concerns about Mr Brown’s talk to the EJ class, which also took me by surprise. Although we had communicated by email, I had not met him before Monday’s class. We do give guest speakers information about the class and suggestions for what to talk about … but of course, they ultimately make their own choices.
    Perhaps best all around would be to chalk it up as one man’s opinion and to focus on what to me was the takeaway point: You can, and should, seek opportunities to innovate regardless of – or, better, in addition to — any formal blessings conferred by the industry or the academy. I think most of us believe that both institutions have significant value, and we know that both demand (and reward) creativity and hard work. But don’t discount the value of your own initiative, which particularly in these challenging times may ultimately prove the greatest value of all.
    Thanks again …
    Jane Singer
    Module leader, Entrepreneurial Journalism
    Professor of Entrepreneurial Journalism, City University London

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s