For more than a century, education has prepared young people for their full-time journalism jobs employed by major news outlets. But the advertising-based business model that sustained journalism is crumbling because of new technologies, and jobs of the old kind are becoming scarce. The educational model, too, must change to adapt to new realities.
Traditional media — especially print — is in decline as audiences move online and revenue streams follow them to platform giants like Google and Facebook. As a result, titles had to close and journalists were fired. Sub-Saharan Africa is also affected by these global trends, as evidenced by recent reports from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
The demand for graduates in journalism professions is declining, while non-professionals are playing an increasing role in supplying society with information. As I argue in a new article, journalism schools must reorient their courses towards new types of students and adapt the curriculum to the new post-professional world of journalism. If they don’t, they risk becoming useless – if they do, a host of new opportunities arise.
Education for a career as a professional journalist
Historically, journalism education emerged just over a century ago when journalists began to claim professional status. The first school of journalism in the United States was founded in 1908 at the University of Missouri. Since then, students have enrolled in journalism courses in hopes of acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to work as full-time professional reporters in a newsroom.
In Africa too, schools of journalism and communication have become widespread.
Researcher Alan Finlay writes in the introduction to a recent mapping study: “Journalism education and training in sub-Saharan Africa is booming”.
The study counted a total of 127 education providers in 19 countries, although he acknowledged that the exercise was limited.
But students today are less likely to find full-time jobs in professional journalism. In the countries of the North, journalism has become “post-industrial, entrepreneurial and atypical”, as the Dutch researcher Mark Deuze puts it.
The industrial era of journalistic media, with news produced by full-time professionals, seems to be coming to an end. Journalists are more likely to have to behave like entrepreneurs in the gig economy, moving from one short-term contract to another. It is a precarious existence.
In Africa, journalism has been precarious for longer and for other reasons. Political pressures and fragile media economies mean that working for independent media is often self-employed, with low and uncertain pay.
However, new opportunities emerge if journalism is seen less as a profession and more as a practice. A Tow Center report says, “The journalism industry is dead but…journalism exists in many places.
Journalism, in the sense of finding, sorting and sharing important information, remains of crucial importance. But it is no longer under the exclusive control of professional journalists. News organizations remain important but must accept that they are no longer information monopolies. Reliable information remains essential to the functioning of societies, but it is produced by a range of people, not all of them in traditional newsrooms.
Others contribute forms of journalism to the news ecosystem: a South African mathematics professor, Sugan Naidoo, for example, has made it a point to publish daily summaries of COVID-19 data. on Twitter. There is no indication that he considers himself a journalist, but his posts are more journalistic than some stories – like the one about the fictional South African tenfolds last year – and some other mainstream media material.
The quality of information posted matters a lot – one of the challenges of the social media world is the amount of misinformation available. The difficulty of distinguishing garbage from valuable information has spawned distrust of journalism. And this is where the crisis offers journalism schools in Africa – and arguably elsewhere – an opportunity.
Reinventing journalism training
Young people looking for a full-time job in journalism are no longer the only ones who want and need to acquire journalistic skills. Others include people working in community media, media entrepreneurs and ‘accidental journalists’ – people who do not see themselves as journalists but who provide useful information. At the same time, there is a substantial need for working journalists to update their skills in a rapidly changing world.
Since the contraction of the labor market in many countries discourages young people from entering the field, there are also practical reasons to identify new types of potential students. New groups of students are bringing fresh revenue from new directions to cash-strapped universities.
Journalism schools also need to think about the curriculum. There is a need for old-school skills like verification and the ability to determine what is publicly important or “newsworthy”. There is a need for new technical skills, from data journalism to podcasting and artificial intelligence.
It is important to note that a broad approach to teaching journalism is not just about technical skills, it should include critical thinking and self-awareness, while focusing on established values of independence and service. public. Journalism jobs can emerge in all sorts of contexts, but unless they contribute value to public debate, they are just noise. This is what distinguishes it from other forms of communication.
Overall, journalism schools have obligations that go beyond training the next generation of young journalists. They can and should consider much more broadly what they can do to maintain and improve the health of the information systems around them. In African countries, the responsibility is particularly acute because there may be few other institutions capable of playing such a role. Researching and participating in public debate on media issues are just some of the ways they can contribute, and many are already doing so.
New opportunities and new challenges will continue to emerge, and the task of reinvention will continue. To remain relevant, journalism schools must combine flexibility with a keen sense of society’s central and ongoing need for reliable information.
This article is based on an article written as a Fellow of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Governance.
Franz Krüger, assistant professor of journalism and director of the Wits Radio Academy, University of the Witwatersrand
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.