Reconsidering journalism education


As journalism changes, so must those who teach the craft.
The future of journalism education will dominate the 20th anniversary conference of EJTA, the European Journalism Training Association, starting Friday, 21 May in Paris.

One hundred and fifty educators and journalists will gather at the headquarters of UNESCO, at the Place de Fontenoy, to discuss university-level education and training for journalists. Two days of presentations will provide a chance for 25 professors and administrators — representing at least 12 countries and four continents — to present ideas for how European curricula can better prepare students to handle the systemic shifts in media industries.

Among the keynote presenters will be George Brock, an English journalist who became a professor and head of journalism at City University London in 2009, and Mark Lee Hunter, an investigative journalist, researcher and adjunct professor at the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre in Paris.

They spoke to the EJC about the themes of their upcoming keynotes.

George Brock

Brock worked at The Times for 28 years, serving in a bevy of roles including features writer, foreign editor, Brussels bureau chief, managing editor and international editor. He is also a board member of the World Editors Forum, whose presidency he held for four years starting in 2004.

He gave his inaugural lecture at City University in mid-March. EJC intern Jacqueline Brixey attended the event in London and summarised it here.

Kathlyn Clore, EJC: Your message seems to be that journalism students must graduate university with a skill set that will allow them to adapt and change to many kinds of jobs. How can journalism educators instil this flexibility in their students?

George Brock, City University: First by studying what is going on in journalism in the society that the journalism educators serve and relaying that to students. In Britain, a slightly lower proportion of our graduates are going to spend all their careers in big journalism institutions and more

will be in small experimental startups. So we must equip them for the possibility of life in startups. Given the speed and scale of change, resilience and versatility are key to surviving and succeeding.

EJC: Do you think journalism educators are doing a good enough job of encouraging students to understand business models and entrepreneurial thinking? If yes, how so? And if not, how could universities better do this?

Brock: I’m too new to university life to answer that question with any authority. I would say that I detect in some places a reluctance to go beyond the borders of editorial activity, strictly defined. I understand and respect this instinct and there are principles and practices in journalism that aren’t touched by the technological and economic changes which we see. But the changes go too deep for us to pretend that they aren’t going to affect journalism; they will. We therefore have a duty to equip students to deal with that.

EJC: I read in a working paper of Mark Lee Hunter, who will also give a keynote at the EJTA conference, “with the exception of Norway, every European Union country is graduating approximately twice as many reporters from journalism schools as can be hired by the industry.”

What does this mean for educators who are teaching journalism students - who may well not be working in traditional news media (but rather stakeholder media, or even strategic communications).

Brock: Even in publicly-financed education, the law of supply and demand will apply, however slowly. If the current changes (which impact particularly severely on regional newspapers and television news in Britain) shrink the number of journalists for a long time, then fewer students will arrive and there will be fewer people teaching them. I hope that new business models will be found at a speed that means that this contraction will soon go into reverse.

EJC: Would you encourage a student interested in working as a reporter - in traditional news media or stakeholder media (, for example) - to study journalism? Or should they study another course in university?

Brock: The very best - and I appreciate that this may not be possible for many students - is to do both: acquire a grounding in journalism but also study something else which excites you and will help define you as a journalist.

Mark Lee Hunter

An American expatriate, Hunter has been working for decades as an investigative journalist and researcher in Paris. He has the proud distinction of being the only person to have won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc, for both his investigative reports and his research on journalism. His investigative work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Le Figaro, and others.  His also publishes work on media and communication in publications like the Harvard Business Review and Journal of Business Ethics. He recently co-authored a report called Story-Based Journalism: A manual for investigative journalists.

Kathlyn Clore, EJC: In the recent INSEAD working paper you co-authored on Disruptive News Technologies: Stakeholder Media ad the Future of Watchdog Journalism Business Models, you write, “with the exception of Norway, every European Union country is graduating approximately twice as many reporters from journalism schools as can be hired by the industry.”

What shifts do journalism educators need to make in order to better equip students to work for stakeholder media (rather than news media) which are indeed on the rise and likely employers for journalism school graduates?

Hunter: It means we have to think hard about ethics and methods.  It also means we have to train them in entrepreneurialism and partnership skills.  We also need to train them to understand how to collect, organise and mine data.  It is not just about reporting and writing anymore.  It’s about creating a future. The fundamental issue is that the news industry as presently composed will not provide a future for enough of our students.

EJC: In your working paper, you write about a shift in priorities, from “project focus to business development.” How can journalism educators help facilitate this shift?

Hunter: More strategic analysis: where are we going with this material?  What are its future uses?  How do we capture them?

EJC: You write in the working paper, “we have assumed that great content will solve our problems. It has not done so and it will not do so, because the historic and primary market for that content, the news industry, is in decline.”

Where does this leave journalism students or younger reporters who are enthusiastic about their work?Is the old maxim “content is king” no longer true?

EJC: No. I meant that content alone will not solve the problem if we think of content only as making one great story.  We have to think beyond “this” story.  We have to think about where we are going to be and what we will talk about in 10 years.

EJC: How optimistic are you about the future of initiatives that involve networked investigative reporting to tell trans-national stories, especially those that cross linguistic borders? What is the future for these initiatives and how can journalism educators prepare students to work in them?

Hunter: These are great initiatives.  What’s missing is better distribution to maximise revenues and impact.  It would be a great idea to train students in content markets, including and beyond the news industry.

Flickr image from user kimdokhac