Stimulating Students’ Curiosity – the Principled, Ethical Way

Richard Keeble, University of Lincoln

In previous issues of Networks we have congratulated and celebrated the work of the three successful 2011-12 National Teaching Fellows working in art, design and media. Here, Richard Keeble, reflects on the background, approach and experience that have contributed to Teaching Fellow success.........At the heart of all my teaching has been the principled and passionate commitment to highlightin...


Book stack stripes, photo sourced from

In previous issues of Networks we have congratulated and celebrated the work of the three successful 2011-12 National Teaching Fellows working in art, design and media. Here, Richard Keeble, Acting Head of Lincoln School of Journalism, University of Lincoln, reflects on the background, approach and experience that have contributed to Teaching Fellow success. For further details of the scheme, and profiles of the Fellows visit: 

Stimulating students’ curiosity – the principled, ethical way

At the heart of all my teaching has been the principled and passionate commitment to highlighting the ethical and political dimensions of journalism. My background as editor of The Teacher, the weekly newspaper of the National Union of Teachers (from 1980-1984) and involvement in trade union and peace movement activities beyond the academy, has meant that I have always sought to promote an understanding of the diverse range of journalisms – not only just of the mainstream which has tended to dominate traditional journalism education but also of alternative, campaigning forms beyond the corporate sector. 

In short, I want my students to be equipped not only with all the necessary skills and knowledge to operate effectively beyond the academe but to have a sense that learning is an exciting, life-long process and that journalism is a creative genre which, at its best, can promote understanding, peace and human rights.

Significantly, in the early 1990s, while directing the BA in Journalism and a Social Science at City University, London, I launched a module in journalism ethics encouraging students to explore issues such as the representation of women, ethnic groups and the disabled in the media, the problems associated with undercover work – and the political and economic factors impacting on journalism standards. 

Inspired by the writings of Paulo Freire and others in the critical pedagogy school, I have sought to inspire students’ curiosity by helping them reflect on their own experiences and attitudes and relate them to broader historical, political and cultural contexts. And I have seen my role as a teacher as essentially collaborating with the students in a process of understanding – for both individual empowerment and social engagement.

In addition to listening to and creating space for the student voice, it’s important that students are exposed to other voices – those who work in the field and have been successful. Thus, one of the ways in which I have inspired students’ curiosity over the years has been to invite practising journalists from the many different sectors of the industry (mainstream and alternative/campaigning, newspapers, magazines, broadcasting, online, ethnic minority and so on) to give regular talks and run workshops. 

The Journalists Speak out on Journalism series, first at City and now at Lincoln, have included all the most prominent journalists in the country. The acclaimed investigative journalist, John Pilger, one of only two reporters to have gained the Reporter of the Year award twice, has come regularly to seminars (and given public lectures) at both City and Lincoln. He was given an Honorary Doctorate by Lincoln two years ago and as a mark of respect for our ‘inspirational’ teaching has donated his archive to the university. 

Drawing the industry into the academy

While at City I created a new degree: a DJourn. It has always been my intention to have the rigour of high-level journalism recognised by the academy and to integrate practising journalists as far as possible in the activities of universities. Thus, in the DJourn, a journalist of high professional standing (of say at least ten years’ experience) would present a portfolio of their work. Once this had been approved by a panel, the journalist would study for a Doctorate, reflecting on their professional practise over 40,000 words. Here at Lincoln, I have created a degree on exactly the same lines (here called the PhD by Practice). Already, a former MA Journalism student, and an acclaimed international wine writer, has been accepted on to the programme.

Publishing as collaborative endeavour

With 21 written and edited texts, my publications cover a wide range of subjects: practical journalism skills and journalism/communication ethics, literary journalism, peace journalism, the coverage of US/UK militarism, the journalism of George Orwell, the links between mainstream journalists and the secret state.

Many of my journalism textbooks have been collaborative projects in which I have deliberately engaged colleagues both to enhance their own professional development and stimulate their students’ learning. For instance, the Newspapers Handbook has in all editions incorporated a couple of chapters from colleagues: on local government reporting and on investigative journalism.  

Pedagogic change – the principled way

In recent years, I have introduced a range of new teaching programmes to the Lincoln School of Journalism. Perhaps most innovative is the peace journalism MA (titled Journalism, War and International Human Rights). This is the first such course to be launched in the UK – though there are many such programmes in the United States and Australia. This draws on the specialist knowledge in this field of colleagues in the School – in particular on the successful International Human Rights for Journalists module which I have been running for undergraduate and MA students. 

Modules examine the media coverage of wars historically; the theory and practice of the rapidly developing field of peace journalism, international human rights – while the practical units introduce students to the skills necessary for the new multi-platform media environment. Close links have been established with Amnesty International and the magazine Peace News while students have visited in London the Ministry of Defence, the Imperial War Museum and the Peace Pledge Union as part of their studies. 

In addition, I have launched an innovative new undergraduate programme, the BA in Investigative Journalism. One of the ambitions of Lincoln’s new Dean of Teaching and Learning, Professor Mike Neary, has been to incorporate the research culture into the undergraduate curriculum. As part of this exciting project, Journalism has introduced the new degree route as a final year option. Students take two 30-credit units in research methods and the history of investigative journalism (which I have written and taught) in their first semester and then spend the final semester working on substantial 60 credit investigative projects. John Pilger has given his name (and money) to an award for the student leaving the programme with the highest mark – and last year one of its graduates was shortlisted for the Young Reporter of the Year award for his extraordinary and brave (and ethically challenging) investigation into bare-knuckle boxing.

Another new area I have sought to develop in recent years at Lincoln University has been literary journalism. A unique strand of the MA Journalism programme at Lincoln is now focusing on Arts Journalism providing students and staff the opportunities to explore (the much under-researched) aspects of journalism as a literary genre internationally. I am also editing texts intended to be major resources to assist student learning in the field.

And finally…

I have taught students of many different levels: from 18-year-olds straight out of school to experienced journalists from all over the world (India, China, Sudan, North America and so on). I regard each student in exactly the same way: each has something to learn and something to contribute to the educational process. Teaching for me is a privileged, challenging, life-assertive and exciting activity in which I can share my enthusiasms and knowledge – promoting both the personal empowerment of students and the progressive values of peace, international understanding and human dignity.



Richard Lance Keeble is Acting Head of the Lincoln School of Journalism.


Listing and header image sourced from 



Richard Keeble, University of Lincoln


brightONLINE student literary journal

23 Apr 2012