What is a Journalism Education For?

June 13, 2014 • Specialist Journalism • by

Robert Picard, director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford is scathing about the role and function of journalism schools.

Speaking at Ryerson University in Toronto, Picard said that in an environment in which “professional journalism is losing a great deal of its functionality and its significance to society,” journalism training courses need to equip their students to deal with the challenges ahead.

“No one can teach the future, of course,“ but an academic teacher “must help student how to discover, interpret, and navigate their ways through it,“ Picard claimed. “This is not impossible and is done daily in other professional programs in business, engineering, and biomedical sciences” which know how to focus on “fundamental knowledge and practices, the means for discovering new knowledge and practices, and how to innovatively use changing technologies and practices as means for achieving goals.” Journalism meanwhile has been taught at universities for 150 years and has not developed the fundamental knowledge base it needs.

In the current crisis, journalism education is endangered by being too aligned to major employers of the old media industry. Picard argued that “journalism educators should not take part in projects that primarily exploit their students,“ as a too cozy relationship between theory and traditional journalistic practice may make it more difficult to adapt to the new realities.

This is a bigger problem in Germany than even in the US and Canada: the universities of Hamburg and Leipzig have recently downsized their journalism program, and a large chunk of journalism training is still offered by private journalism schools which are integrated into the large media conglomerates.

Entrepreneurial journalism courses are becoming fashionable (in both the English and German speaking worlds), but Picard said these bring a new set of problems. “Few of these programs are being taught by anyone who has ever been an entrepreneur” he said. “Many are primarily teaching students to be freelancers.”

And while the schools may teach or encourage their students to be freelancers, they fail to prepare many of the best of them to survive in the brutal market place they will graduate into.

This article was first published in Tagesspiegel on June 10, 2014

Photo credit: City College Norwich / Flickr Cc

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