Friday, April 27, 2012

Truth, media and the role of journalism education

IN THE recent controversy about The Australian's hatchet job and joke video about journalism schools, a couple of comments stood out for Café Pacific for their clarity:

Truth telling and analytical skills
The ongoing debate about journalism education in The Australian on Jeanet and elsewhere, is part of a healthy debate that exposes different views from committed individuals who care and who are deeply concerned to achieve the best possible outcomes for their students and ultimately the profession.

For me, journalism education operates on three levels:
  • To provide students with a broad knowledge base
  • To develop analytical and research skills
  • To acquire writing and and digital media skills

It is always a “work in progress” but sometimes, I think editors only want educators to concentrate on the last point.

The editors have to realise that journalism education involves far more than just skills training.

Our team at Edith Cowan University tries, as best we can, to assist students to be
  • Knowledgeable on a wide range of topics and issues
  • Responsible for what they write and broadcast
  • Committed to truth telling
  • Confident about the role that journalism plays in society
And we work hard to help our students gain research and analytical skills so they can delve below the surface,  and  we train them to acquire competent writing and media skills for a variety of digital platforms in an ever changing digital media landscape.

We operate on all these levels, and indeed,  it's always a "work in progress".

Associate Professor Trevor Cullen
Edith Cowan University
Perth, Western Australia

Journalism as free speech, or as a profession?
As journalism educators, we can only be amused (not flattered) that The Australian sees our degrees as so newsworthy.  Part of the problem I think is that we do not have accurate information about how many students are enrolled in journalism programs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This may be something that the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) should try to undertake soon. At least then we would be able to offer accurate and recent information regarding enrolments.

I remain somewhat mystified by this assumption that universities are fraudulent and students are chumps when we all have experience of the astute and penetrating questions they ask about our degrees. NO journalism lecturer or course coordinator is going to promise every student a job of any kind, much less in mainstream traditional journalism, on graduation (not least because that is not where the jobs are any more). As Peter McAllister points out in his report, not even the most traditional of professions (law, medicine, engineering etc.) assumes every graduate will walk into a job in that profession even if they want to.  All new graduates face competitive job markets.  Every new graduate must talk their way into their first job. Duh! The fact that certain personal qualities(confidence, good communications skills, curiosity etc.) are more likely to secure a job is true no matter what the degree.

All new graduates even in the traditional professions require some supervision and mentoring in their first job (some, such as teachers and doctors, must even practice their profession for 12 months under supervision, before they can be registered - but of course, journalists don't want to be registered).

The Australian cannot have it both ways.  If journalism is free speech then anyone can practice it regardless of their educational qualifications and some on-the-job training and socialisation will always be required in ongoing "in-house" employment, no matter what the prior learning. If journalism is a profession, then it requires a body of knowledge that includes both theory and practice, and an ethical framework understood and shared by its members, as well as the "trade" skills. Either way, for universities to offer courses and degrees in journalism is perfectly legitimate.

The Australian has made this into a beat-up of a campaign through the intensity of its attention to a relatively minor element in the Australian higher education landscape.  On the one hand, it makes a change to have some focus on the humanities and social sciences, as opposed to reflecting the national policy and funding attention paid to the sciences.  On the other hand, perhaps it reflects the very real and entirely understandable fear of the press that they are becoming less and less relevant to audiences today.

Anne Dunn
Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA)

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