Journalism education: matters of principle(s) from WJEC

Some discussion has been emerging about the journalism education principles (full text here) that were issued at the WJEC — in a few blog posts and comments etc such as those by:

Mindy McAdams (Teaching Online Journalism blog, University of Florida)

Martin Hirst (Ethical Martini blog, Auckland University of Technology)

Rebecca MacKinnon (RConversation blog, University of Hong Kong) — more WJEC reflections here

Guy Berger (Conversant blog, Rhodes University) — article in the SA Mail & Guardian

It was good to meet the latter three at the WJEC.

I have mixed feelings about the declaration itself. It’s more descriptive than aspirational or, indeed, inspirational — an opportunity missed?

More positively, the principles emphasise the importance of journalism practice, “a strong vocational orientation” and “experiential learning” (principle 7), and “strong links to media industries” (principle 8). And “journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners” (principle 3) — although I’m not clear whether this means every individual or collectively.

However, there is no reference to freedom, democracy, human rights, freedom of speech or of the press, censorship, media ownership etc. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the diversity of the organisations involved, including associations from Africa, China, Europe, North America and Russia, and of the political and cultural context in which they operate. I gather that the phrases “civil society” and “public service” dominated the discussions to agree the declaration — and neither appears in that form.

In part, the declaration probably reflects the ‘lowest common denominator’ effect — and key phrases such as “the effective and responsible practice of journalism” “serve the public” and “public interest obligations” are left open and undefined, and thus open to different (even divergent) interpretations. If you’re feeling cynical, try inserting “whatever that means”… (to add to the “where practical” phrases already present in places).

I would have liked it to say more about the teaching and learning of journalism. It can make a huge difference, and tends to be neglected — the focus being mostly on the content. Both need to be seen together, I believe.

Having said all this, it’s quite an achievement to pull together a statement of this kind, however imperfect. Work in progress, you might say.

Another factor is the purpose of the declaration, of course — and when he presented it to the WJEC session, Guo Ke from Shanghai International Studies University emphasised its role in representing journalism education to others. He’s pictured (right) with a slide making this point.

I wonder who will be using the declaration, and how. Some at WJEC suggested it might be of most use to journalism educators in developing countries and emerging democracies, particularly where they face state controls and other constraints. Guy Berger from Rhodes University suggests it could help to “reinvigorate journalism teaching and improve its effects on African media”.

In my situation, I don’t envisage using it much. The priority for editors and employers (of my students) will continue to be questions such as “are you turning out students who can do the job?” and “have they got a solid grasp of news, reporting, writing and interviewing?”

As for the position of journalism in the university world, I suspect academics in other disciplines would look more to what’s going on in practice (outcomes) rather than descriptive statements. But there was plenty of interesting discussion about that at WJEC — a subject for another post sometime.

Finally, a modest prediction for where the WJEC declaration will crop up: look out for journal articles referencing and/or discussing the principles. As well as blogs, of course!

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007 logoThe first such gathering of journalism educators is taking place next week, in Singapore. It should prove an interesting gathering — with scope for some great discussions with those involved in teaching journalism from all over the world.

There is potential for some intriguing culture clashes (intercultural exchanges?), reflecting not only the different approaches to journalism in different countries but also how it is taught and learned. For each country, I suspect these approaches are influenced by the practice of journalism, of course — plus the tradition of training, education and recruitment in the industry or profession (there’s another debate — ‘sector’ might be more neutral), and the educational system(s) involved. Plus a few other factors…

The WJEC programme (pdf here) lists the many papers and sessions scheduled. It looks like an intensive week!

I’m contributing to a ‘best practices’ teaching workshop with the theme ‘Teaching Journalists in an Age of Ambiguity’ — discussing how I’ve been using a blog to encourage journalism students to engage in critical reflection — and presenting a research paper on formative feedback to journalism students.

Newspapers’ online video: it depends where you look…

So what are local papers in London doing with online video at the moment? In many cases, not much.

Spurred by discussions at the AJE and in the exchange of comments on this podcast at Paul Bradshaw’s blog, including those from Neil Benson of Trinity Mirror, I’ve looked at a (small and unrepresentative) sample of websites of newspapers covering areas I know — and only one out five appears to have local video content online (as of 21 June 2007).

Here’s the run-down, in no particular order:
South London Press (Trinity Mirror): No local video content. Four ‘celebrity videos’, eg “UK nanny and TV star Stella Reid”; Joe Wadsack, “wine expert on Richard and Judy” talking about “the secret behind Aussie wines”.

Southwark News (Southwark Newspaper Ltd): No video.

Islington Gazette (Archant): No video.

Sutton Guardian (Newsquest): Separate ‘video news’ section, with six in ‘latest’ section, dated 30 May-18 June 2007. These six videos appear specific not to Sutton but to other areas covered by Newsquest South London (eg Croydon, Tooting, Kingston). In one case the video comes from another Newsquest title (Watford Observer) but is relevant because the story has a Surrey link.
‘Archive’ indicates a further 47 videos, ie 53 in total, dating back to 10 October 2006, which suggests one or two new videos going on the site each week (average 1.4 per week).

Croydon Advertiser (Trinity Mirror): No video — but soundslides (still pics plus audio and/or text) hosted at a blog run by David Berman, picture editor. I recalled reading about these on the blogs of Andy Dickinson and Martin Stabe. The lack of links to the soundslides from the Croydon Advertiser website seems odd: for example, the latter ran two stories about a crane collapsing (links here and here) but with no mention of the soundslide about it.

I also tried to look at the Hackney Gazette (Archant) but its site was not available. I don’t recall seeing any video there when I last looked.

Given some of the uncertainties, there may be good reasons for some newspapers NOT to dive into online video. Other papers in some of these groups are doing interesting things with online video — as is clear from those shortlisted for Website of the Year in the Regional Press Awards 2007. In addition, some of Trinity Mirror’s titles may be changing hands soon, and my sample does not include any Johnston Press titles.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop at these sites (and elsewhere) — and not only with video, of course.

Convergence in journalism (education)

Journalism educators met in Cornwall last week, amid sun, sea and… convergence. Newspapers developing online; teaching video; student-led journalism projects across print, broadcast and online media; blogging and social networks in journalism education — it was all there at the Association for Journalism Education seminar at University College Falmouth last week.

Plenty of interesting stuff — and it’s helped focus my thoughts, particularly about blogging and the use of video online. More posts about such things to come this week, including more on my blogging project, about which I spoke at the AJE seminar.

Meanwhile, here’s the line-up that we had at Falmouth:
• Teaching using new media: Blogging as a tool for critical reflection – Jonathan Hewett, City University
• Teaching convergence – a project at Westminster. Geoffrey Davies, Westminster University
• A video project – Andy Dickinson, University of Central Lancashire, Preston
• Newspapers online: Changing values, changing practices, changing staff – Chris Rushton, Sunderland University
• Convergence in the classroom Andy Price, Teesside University
• Convergence, where is it going and what should we be telling students? David Holmes and team on a project at Sheffield University
• New directions: where is journalism going? Jim Hall and the team at Falmouth University College