Earlier this week I wrote about what I’ve learnt from my journalism degree. As it happens, there was also an event on this week where Jay Rosen from NYU spoke about what journalists should be taught and how they should be taught it. Ross Hawkes, one of my tutors, was at the seminar and has asked whether journalism education needs a bohemian makeover.
I thought as someone who has just finished a journalism degree I would share my thoughts on how journalists should be taught and give some response to Ross’ comments.
Prof Rosen spoke about how teaching should focus on the reporting of news, rather than the reporting of it for one particular platform. And Ross has identified that, while there is specific expertise required in writing for radio and television, with digital and print there is now exist a whole host of new ways to report and the focus should just be on the story instead of ‘stifling storytellers by bogging them down with an unnecessary skill set’.
I am inclined to agree here. Over the last three years, Ross has had something of a mantra when it comes to news days: “Let the story be itself – don’t let the platform define it.” And I think (hope) it has helped me to improve my writing – sometimes you just have to tell the story and worry about the rest later.
Prof Rosen went on to argue that what the industry needs is innovators and creative thinkers, not ready moulded reporters. And that this can be achieved by ditching the ‘bootcamp method of instruction’ and adopting ‘problem based learning in a practical environment’. His Studio 20 project is a good example of this. The idea is that by focusing students on real world problems they will discover the challenges faced by the industry and hopefully start to find solutions of their own.
Ross has identified the work that Staffs do with StaffsLive as similar (though admittedly much smaller) to this. And I have to say, this was one of the main things that attracted me to Staffs in the first place. I remember when I came up for the open day both my parents and I were really impressed by the fact that on a weekly basis I would be working on real news stories for a website that is outward facing. As Ross says, it showcases students’ work and also provides them with the opportunity to gain some real experience in ways that just couldn’t be replicated in a classroom environment.
I think this is particularly key when considering ethical issues. It’s all well and good to learn about ethics and consider what the ethical thing would be to do in a hypothetical situation. But when you’re faced with a real situation, you actually have to come to a decision on how you’re going to deal with it. You can’t sit on the fence about what is ethical, you have to make a decision. This is something that can only be learnt through facing those real world challenges.
One issue with all of this, as Ross identifies, is the role of the NCTJ in UK journalism. They still set a standard for the training of journalists and provide a very structured skill set that all reporters should have. And a lot of publications (rightly or wrongly) still see the NCTJ diploma as an essential qualification. And so students need the knowledge to pass the exams. Which is why the bootcamp method of teaching exists. And as Ross rightly says, universities are faced with a timescale challenge to blend the bohemian ideals suggested by Prof Rosen with the practicalities of teaching students the content required to pass the exams.
The other issue that I think many universities would face if they adopted a completely bohemian approach to journalism education is that many students would not be prepared for it. A high percentage of students come straight from sixth form or college these days. And as such, they have been conditioned by 14 years of bootcamp style education where the focus is on exams. To throw these students in at the deep end and expect them to be solving problems would be very difficult. And I know had that happened three years ago to me, I probably wouldn’t have lasted very long on the course. That said, I don’t see why a more bohemian approach wouldn’t work for masters programmes.
So, what do you think? Does the way that journalism taught need changing? Let us know via the comments or tweet us @wannabehacks.
Picture courtesy of ucentrelarkansas
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