Wednesday, August 1, 2012...9:00 am

How UCA is responding to the forces changing journalism education

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Paul Bradshaw has been analysing the way in which journalism education has been and needs to be transformed to meet the needs of a dramatically changing industry. In the first part of his three-part post, he looks at the skills gap between journalism education (and staff) and what the industry needs.

Bradshaw cites a number of problems. In brief:

  • Courses are only redesigned as a whole every several years, and changes can take years to come into effect
  • Journalism and media departments face the same skills shortage as the news industry
  • Most courses have historically been platform-focused. Tutors designed the modules based on their own largely single-platform experience.

The Journalism department at UCA in Farnham has redesigned its Journalism BA largely to tackle some of these issues.

In conjunction with a shake-up in the way the university itself approaches it course structures, we’ve rewritten our courses to be very broad. This means our basic course framework doesn’t talk about platforms, tasks, editorial types – whatever.

Instead, we’ve broken down our journalism education into “Content” and “Production”. i.e.: the stuff you produce, and the way you produce it. Research, newsgathering and storytelling in all its forms comes under “Content”; video editing, magazine production, web site building comes under “Production”. Each year group will tackle more advanced and sophisticated techniques and topics under this framework.

It’s a split that makes sense to some in the industry we’ve talked to, and seems a sensible  way to define the tasks young journalism graduates will do.

This also allows us to keep the detail of what we will try to teach open until we decide to teach it. Should we bring in something on Pinterest? Or mobile apps? Or some technology or medium as yet unborn? We can, without worrying that we will be breaking out of our course documents. Our courses are designed to be able to change in real time, without going through any academic red tape.

The course is now fully multimedia – ie no platform distinction. There will be no “print” versus “online” modules that students have to choose from. Instead, there will be emphasis on understanding how to tell stories using different media and why those media work (or don’t). Students will obviously still focus on the platforms they enjoy most and are best at. But the teaching will aim to be as integrated and flexible as possible.

Yes – our staff are old enough to remember strict platform demarcation and to have started work before the internet existed. Some of us even worked on magazines that used waxing machines to paste up galley text. But, you know, we are also happy to learn new stuff too.

Also, we plan to bring in visiting expertise to help teach some of the cutting edge stuff. Expect an email soon.

Bradshaw’s second point in his post is the problem of teaching journalism when the industry is shrinking and there don’t seem to be any jobs left.

We’re also keenly aware of this. In fact, a telling indicator is that our graduates tend to move straight into communications jobs that aren’t, strictly, journalism – such as social media marketing or PR.

As Bradshaw points out, “journalism” describes activities now that would have been unheard of before – producing mobile apps, online community management, multimedia production, blogging and social media content. With luck, our approach will acknowledge this more fully and prevent us having too blinkered a view of the opportunities open to our graduates in the future.

Watch this space for more painfully transparent progress reports as we get going…

3 Comments

  • It makes sense to take a multimedia approach to journalism. Unfortunately, though, many mainstream journalists are still peering into a dark, cloudy screen as they search for answers.

    No wonder so many talented young wordsmiths take up cooking, banking or libel law after graduating from media courses.

    The narrow approach to a journalism career is relatively new. So are strictly delineated programmes for courses in journalism colleges and universities.

    Prior to the 70s, most journalists and broadcasters learned on the job. Publishers and broadcasters valued their paid protégés and were keen to expand the abilities. At this stage, PR was still a gleam in the eye for most.
    By the early 70s, however, journalism courses taught a multimedia approach – including PR, magazine design, editing and ethics – even if it wasn’t ‘multimedia’ the way it pans out today.

    Unfortunately, today’s multimedia industry does not want to pay top-ranking students to work for them. Internship has become an epithet for ‘free labour’.

    If the industry won’t pay media graduates to join them, how can they hope to get – and keep – the most ‘competent’ players from an early age?

    Vivienne DuBourdieu
    Acting Chairman, Freelance Division, Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ)
    Vivienne DuBourdieu recently posted..Demon Weather

  • There are many ways to slice the journalism course cake and I’m sure the ‘content’ and ‘production’ approach taken by UCA is one of the better ones. It leads to clarity, distinction, progression and students understand where they are going.

    I personally feel journalism courses need to reflect the economic realities far more. We’ve come a long way in the last few years, but we are still in denial about many areas. My big argument is that courses tend to focus on the rather narrow end of fourth estate-style journalism – particularly the local news/political end. We ignore B2B, contract and the broader communications market at our peril. I guess this is partly because the agenda is often aligned to departmental research – huge amounts written about newspapers, relatively little study in magazines etc, etc. And also the interests of the kind of people that become academics generally may well be more political. Maybe. Perhaps. Who knows.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    August 14th, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Vivienne – sadly, the drive to provide HE for everyone has meant too many journalism courses and too many journalism graduates. All of which coincides with the decline in the traditional journalism industry.

    The result is the surfeit of journalism candidates and the plummeting of their market value. The industry doesn’t care about the “most competent players” in the sense you probably mean. It cares about employees that are truly valuable: ie those that can make money (so skills in generating audiences through social media, or understanding web analytics are more valuable than writing skills now).

    Steve – I think journalism courses are desperately trying to catch up with the realities of the media world, but do come from the “what journalism has been/should be” model. And we are hamstrung by the expectations of everyone from academics and students to parents and accrediting bodies about what our courses should look like.

    I remember having some discussions about making the kind of changes to the UCA course we now have made three or four years ago. Then, we decided it would be too left field for our “consumers” and we might suffer because our applicants might not buy into it.

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