Should journalism education embrace the current challenges and develop the journalists’ skills on ethics, data, business models?
Of course, it should. However, how quickly that should happen and to what extend are grounds for debate. The report Newsreel; New Skills for the Next Generation of Journalists from Erasmus+ analyses the current and future of journalism education where a group of researchers analyse and compares Hungary, Romania, Portugal and Germany.
The researchers have chosen four key foci; Data Journalism, Collaboration, Business Models, and Journalism Ethics. These categories are interesting and I have arranged a meeting with some of the authors here in Lisbon next week and talk on the research. Well, back to the report.
Old Skills Are Still There
In order to establish how the journalism educations have implemented and are thinking about the future, the different journalism degrees are analysed. On top of that the journalism educators are interviewed as well as industry leaders on the skills needed in the future.
Pretty much everyone agree that the old school skills such as research and fact finding, critical thinking and writing are at the core of journalism and should be the main focus of any journalism study. On how to proceed with teaching new trends and skills such as coding and creating business models, there is much scepticism:
”One common theme presented by journalism educators was that there is no need to follow every trend, that journalism education should not try to include and embrace every new development in the industry, but teach core competences and only those trends that are significant.” (page 90)
and later on page 92:
“Other obstacles facing innovators in journalism and journalism education is the resistance to innovation by colleagues or supervisors who do not see the need for any transformation.”
Data Journalism, yes Please
All four countries acknowledge the importance of data analysis, however implementing it into the curricula is a different matter. Most analysed study programmes teach data journalism in one way or another, but not all offer data journalism as a specific course and instead integrate it into other courses.
In Germany, this topic is a must in all six universities, however the courses and the amount of acquired knowledge vary greatly. The consensus is that some degree of data analysis is important for journalists, however there is difficulty in finding affordable teachers on the topic.
New Business Models not so Much
However, when it comes to teaching business models and strategies for projects, the courses are few and far in between. Most scholars and especially journalists agree that there is a need but making it a part of the curricula is not so easy.
Some of the explanation is due to a lack of professors with practical knowledge, others like the Michael Brüggemann from University of Hamburg believes that this issue is best handled by media managers and not journalists. Universities in Portugal and Romania beg to differ and offer specific courses on business model and financing. One university has a personal branding course for future freelance journalists, which is the Budapest Metropolitan.
New Ethical Challenges Ahead
All journalism educations teach ethics, although it is somehow neglected in Hungary while ethics plays a minor role in Portugal and Romania. And Hungary stands out as the country lacking behind on all four topics. The Romanian journalism professor Gabriel Hasmațuchi from the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu says:
“Students told us that when they were hired, people in the media advised them to forget all the rubbish that they learned in journalism school, to forget ethics.”
The fourth – and probably newest topic – is collaborative journalism as in large projects often internationally scoped such as Panama Papers or the Snowden leaks. None of the universities have chosen to develop courses in this but all teaches some kind of teamwork, which would be the closest one available.
In conclusion, the report on the four countries shares much information and many interesting and noteworthy comments from journalism educators and the media industry. The authors also comment that:
“(..) from the interviews we can see that what journalists think about their curricula is different from what scholars think about it. In general, the journalists interviewed thought that the Bachelor’s programmes should involve more practice and have more teachers that work as journalists.”
The conflict between academics and journalists always loom in the background. The report documents that the journalism education of the four countries is old fashioned and lacking behind the latest trends and knowledge.
The explanation is – as always – the availability of time, money and teachers. However sound that explanation is, the resistance towards integrating new and precious knowledge into the curricula is disheartening when considering the current climate of journalism today.