Student journalists are not “journalists”, they are students

November 10, 2013

A few days ago, my English colleague Paul Bradshaw wrote a piece “There’s no such thing as a ‘student journalist’” on his Online Journalism blog. He argues that there should be no distinction between journalists or students of journalism (presumably training to be employed as journalists after graduation) because they are both publishers of information and the students carry out the actions of journalists — they are effectively “doing” journalism — while they learn the skills, technologies and attitudes of the profession.

Students are experiencing first hand the culture of journalism, the experience of journalism and the social consequences of what they do. Paul writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘student journalist’.

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

I don’t disagree with this in principle. Certainly any journalism course worthy of the name would be requiring students to participate in what I like to call “live fire” news exercises. These are usually done under close supervision. However, writing a blog as part of coursework (and for many students it is an onerous requirement of their study, rather than something they enjoy or immediately see the benefits of) is not journalism. Blogging is not journalism and I thought that debate was settled years ago.

Nor does publishing (in a very loose sense of the word) to Twitter and Facebook constitute an act of journalism, nor does it make reporters out of students.

Sure, every university student has a Facebook presence and some, but not all (and perhaps not even a majority) have a Twitter account, and even fewer are blogging with any regularity, if at all. Despite the hype, the digital natives continue to be social users of social media and rarely do their tweets or Facebooking or other encounters with social media (Instagram, etc) reach what we might call acceptable professional levels. (See for example, Hirst, M., & Treadwell, G. (2011). ‘Blogs bother me’: Social media, journalism and the curriculum. Journalism Practice, 5(4), 446-461. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2011.555367, the pre-publication version is available here).

So, on a purely practical level — that is the stage of professionalism achieved and achievable in the three years of an undergraduate degree — most of our journalism students are not operating as professional, or what I might describe as “real” journalists. Another practical point that we have to consider: not everyone in a journalism course wants to be a journalist and, even among those who do want to be, not all of them will make it for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, our role as journalism educators is more than producing the next generation of newsroom fodder, or even the next Pulitzer prize winner. It is a broader academic role: that of critic and theorist as well as cadet wrangler on behalf of News Corp or whomever the employer is likely to be.

The newsroom is a classroom; the classroom is a newsroom

For 20 years I have operated my journalism courses according to the principle that the classroom is a newsroom, but also that the newsroom is still a classroom. I believe that this is an important point to make in this current debate because, at the end of the day, we owe it to our students to recognise their status as students first and foremost.

To assume that we can (and should) treat them like fully-fledged working reporters does them a disservice and it could also be dangerous for them and for us. I do not want to seem like an old fogey, or as someone who thinks that the average 18-year-old is not mature enough to be treated like an adult. Of course they are and they deserve respect from their teachers and from members of the public that they interact with when we send them out into the world beyond the campus to practice their journalism.

And that word practice is the key. It is practice, to do something repeatedly in order to gain the skill; rather than practice as the performance of the work of a trade or profession that students are engaged in.

In my view, if we do not acknowledge the student status of our students (no, that’s not a tautology), we are not being diligent in our duty of care (the pastoral role of all teachers at all levels) to ensure that we “first do no harm”. Yes, we have to, as Paul rightly points out, engage our students in the daily routines and socialisation of newsroom practice and we have to move beyond the newsroom model too; but in doing so, we have to be constantly mindful that our pupils must be kept safe.

It is true that often the best way to learn is by failure — trial and error — and getting your hands dirty in real journalism exercises is valuable and effective pedagogy, but our students also need to know that the consequences of their failures are not catastrophic.

I have no problem with most of Paul’s points. Putting students in touch with local news outlets which might take their work is a key part of their learning experience. That is also why we offer internships and other work-experience opportunities. At my university we even give it a fancy name “work-integrated learning” and the acronym WIL. It is integrated into everything we do.

The same logic motivates us (journalism academics) to provide students with in-house publication outlets, from newsprint, through collaborations with local community radio and television stations and, increasingly, an online presence edited by tutors, or “journalists-in-residence”.

I think the danger in Paul’s assertion that there are no student journalists is that it might encourage us to forget that we are no longer in the news business. We are, first and foremost, in the education business. The job of the journalism academic (at least in the teaching side) is to educate, not to chase the news.

We can sometimes forget this and can get caught up in the day-to-day excitement of the hunt for news and chasing the story of the day.

But my advice for journalism academics who think this is the main game is simple: Go back to the newsroom.

It is not our job any more to get the “scoop”, we should not be thinking that the best way to influence the news process is to become part of it again from the sanctuary of the ivory tower. Sure, we need to act as editor, sub-editor and mentor to the student journalists in our classrooms,  but we should do this from the perspective of teaching and learning, not from the view of an editor whose job is to rundown the news and satisfy the public demand for information.

Any publication that arises from the work our students do while learning journalism is secondary to the real goal which has to be ensuring that the student experience of journalism education is a good one; that the learning outcomes are met; that the assignments are suitable to the level of study and that the students do not leave our institutions scarred for life because of a bad situation that could have and should have been managed more effectively.

One final point, which is also a comment on Paul’s reference to the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education which is based on the premise that university journalism programs should be covering local communities as a matter of course and as a priority at the top of the list of all the things they should be doing.

The key argument in favour of this is not one of pedagogy but of pragmatism. The reasoning advanced by supporters of this model is that the mainstream media is failing both in terms of garnering and holding public trust and also in terms of business modelling.

This is no doubt true and has been for a while. I wrote extensively on these issues in my 2011 book News 2.0 and I gave it the subtitle “Can journalism survive the Internet?” However, it is not, in my view, the fundamental role of the j-school to substitute for a strong news media outside the campus.

Maybe our graduates can be part of the solution to the declining popularity and profitability of the news industry, but not while they are students. To expect that of them is to place too much pressure on their shoulders at a time when they should be engaged with learning and critique.


Sleazy, nasty, dirty and wrong: Just another day at The Australian

May 19, 2012

In recent days The Australian has launched a vitriolic and highly personal campaign against Margaret Simons the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University. The campaign is aimed at discrediting Meg and her colleagues (me included) who teach journalism and who are critical of some aspects of the Australian news media.

The Australian thinks that Margaret and others are part of some leftwing conspiracy. In other words, anyone with an opinion that editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell disagrees with is fair game for slander and professional assassination.

The premise for this nasty war against Margaret Simons and other journalism academics is that Meg is somehow in the wrong for not ‘disclosing’ that she was asked to provide a name to the Finkelstein review of someone who might make a useful research assistant for the inquiry. The undertone is that anyone critical of the current set up is naturally a Stalinist who wants to shut down the free press in Australia on behalf of the political class.

This is ridiculous and unsustainable, but it doesn’t stop the News Limited papers from barking on about it.

I am a defender of Margaret Simons, though I don’t know what ‘Advanced Journalism’ might be and Meg and I probably disagree on elements of both the Finkelstein inquiry and its value and on aspects of journalism education.

As is usual in such situations, The Australian has made no attempt to find an alternative viewpoint, instead over the past few days it has rolled out the usual suspects – convenient sources who have been used before and who are guaranteed to sing off the same hymnsheet as The Australian and who can be used as ‘useful idiots’ to promote its editorial line.

Shameful, sleazy, nasty and dirty. It is exactly what we have come to expect from this self-indulgent rag.

I have written an open letter to Nick Leys and other journalists at The Australian who are involved in this beat up. I am challenging them to offer a right of reply and indicating that I am willing to provide it at short notice so that it can be in Monday’s media section.

An open letter to Nick Leys & others at The Australian

Dear Nick,
I’m disappointed with the piece today by Christian Kerr, (additional reporting by you),

We now know academics favouring a new regulatory regime were brought into key roles in the inquiry.

Cosy club behind a media watchdog

Actually, you know nothing of the sort. Your paper has accused Margaret Simons of being a conspiracy theorist, but on this yarn you lot have out-conspiracied the Roswell crowd.

It is not unusual for government departments to discuss and recommend to ministers on the appointment of advisors and inquiry personnel. There’s nothing at all unusual in that.

But your motivation is not honest reporting, it is part of a political agenda you are running to shut down discussion and debate about the lack of transparency and accountability in the Australian media. You have built a monster out of spare parts and bullshit and now you want to chase it down.

Meg Simons becomes a ‘hot topic’ on The Oz Media pages

Read the rest of this entry »


Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues -

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

Read the rest of this entry »


November 23, 2010

I am at the Journalism Education Association (Australia) conference for the rest of this week.

I’m doing a presentation about a postgraduate teaching and learning project called Values Exchange.

VX is the brainchild of my AUT Colleague Professor David Seedhouse. It is a multipurpose collective tool of critical analysis, discussion and reflection. It is eminently suited to a study of ethics and philosophy.

David and I have developed a journalism-friendly version of the tool – with some gentle tweaking of the back end. It now also has a robust reporting system built-in that allows users to examine each discussion in detail.

One of the VX journalism ethics case studies

This online case study-based analysis and blog site proved very popular and effective.

It ran for the first time is 2010 with 33 postgrad students in journalism, public relations and communication studies in the School of Communication Studies at AUT University.

I taught this paper with my colleague Dr Allison Oosterman in 1st semester.

Values Exchanged – JEAA presentation @slideshare

News 2.0 set to launch.

The other news is that News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? is available in small numbers. The bulk order is now shipping from the publisher.

You can see the table of contents and order a copy from Allen & Unwin.

The launch will be at JEAA on Thursday 25 November at a 10.00am morning tea. If you are in Sydney, I’m sure you can find the venue at UTS.

Alan Knight, professor of journalism at UTS will do the honours at the launch and he has written the first review at his Online Journalism blog. We recorded a brief interview as well. I’m sure you can hear me sipping my way through a Sunday evening steady-reckoner,  nibbling on cocktail onions and olives.

Alan said very nice things about the book

Hirst’s new book, News 2.0, asks whether journalism can survive the internet? His brief is broad and his arguments impeccable. But ultimately he provides only qualified answers.

 

News 2.0 Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Convergence, journalism + News 2.0
Chapter 2: Why is journalism in crisis?
Chapter 3: Globalisation and the crisis in journalism
Chapter 4: The end of the mainstream?
Chapter 5: Is this the end of journalism?
Chapter 6: Journalism in the age of YouTube
Chapter 7: We’re all journalists now. Or are we?
Chapter 8: Never mind the quality, feel the rush!
Chapter 9: Networks, Indymedia and the journalism field
Chapter 10: Who pays the messenger(s)?
Chapter 11: Can journalism survive the Internet?


Parachute Journalism debate #2

February 14, 2010

OK, so it’s not complete and it’s nearly the end of the weekend, but I felt the need to start my defence strategy – you know: “Strike while the iron’s hot”.

Or in this case, “Write while the brain is febrile”.

If you came in late, this post is a response to a riposte by TVNZ reporter  Gordon Harcourt to some previous comments of mine on National Radio’s Mediawatch about parachute journalism in the recent (Jan-Feb 2010) earthquake and humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

I’ve already told Gordon – via email – that I think he’s possibly over-reacted to my Mediawatch commentary, but I want to consider his points one-by-one here to a) defend myself and b) put the discussion about “parachute journalism” into some context. Read the rest of this entry »


Philosophers and journalists – unlikely bedfellows? Bourdieu in the house!

November 19, 2009

[Thanks Jess for the link]

An interesting, if a little obtuse piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week about the fractious relationship between philosophy and journalism. I was struck most immediately by this paragraph, which IMHO sums up the situation reasonably well:

Still, broadly speaking, we need philosophers who understand how epistemology and the establishment of truth claims function in the real world outside seminars and journals—the role of recognized authorities, of decision, of conscious intersubjective setting of standards. And we need journalists who scrutinize and question not just government officials, PR releases, and leaked documents, but their own preconceptions about every aspect of their business. We need journalists who think about how many examples are required to assert a generalization, what the role of the press ought to be in the state, how the boundaries of words are fixed or indeterminate in Wittgensteinian ways, and how their daily practice does or does not resemble art or science.

Carlin Romano, We need ‘Philosophy of Journalism’

There’s another key statement in Carlin’s piece that I also identify with quite strongly. Here he’s talking about the insoluble and necessary link between journalistic and philosophical modes of thinking:

I’ve always insisted to the philosophy students that journalistic thinking enhances philosophical work by connecting it to a less artificial method of establishing truth claims than exists in philosophical literature. I’ve always stressed to journalism students that a philosophical angle of mind—strictness in relating evidence and argument to claims, respectful skepticism toward tradition and belief, sensitivity to tautology, synoptic judgment—makes one a better reporter.

There is no doubt for me that journalism is — at it’s core — an intellectual pursuit that has a high public interest attached to it. There is a necessary couplet between journalism as a practice and theories of democratic public discourse. It is an imperfect linkage — one that’s distorted by the ideological contortions of logic necessary to justify capitalism as a social formation and the dismal science of economics as some sort of rational explanation for human behaviour and human nature (both of which I utterly reject).

This is a long post, so you might want to print it off and read at your leisure. I am keen to discuss Carlin Romano’s timely essay, but also to further explore my own thinking in relation to what I regard as a core philosophical approach to journalism scholarship — the use of the dialectic as an organising and analytical tool to understand the social relations of news production in the widest sense.

Read the rest of this entry »


Journalism education ‘down under’: A tale of two paradigms

September 17, 2009

My article on similarities and differences in journalism education in Australia and New Zealand has been electronically published and is now available online.
The print version will be in Journalism Studies (11)1 published in January 2010. Here’s the published abstract and a link to the online version (I  think you have to pay for access, or go through a library)

AB – Journalism studies is currently undergoing one of the periodic renovations that is characteristic of an active and diverse community of scholars. This paper examines aspects of this renewal debate among journalism scholars by focusing on the situation in Australia and New Zealand. It argues that the debate “Down Under” mirrors global differences on the issues of “theory” and “practice” in journalism education and that an understanding of the key fault lines in this context can provide useful insights into the wider arguments. In Australia and New Zealand a key area of discussion is around attitudes towards the concept of professionalism in the practice, training and scholarship of journalism. These tensions are apparent in both the news media and in the academy. The contradictory positions of those who favour greater industry involvement in curriculum matters, including accreditation of courses, and those who are less sanguine a bout the normative influence of industry on critical scholarship are explored in relation to differing attitudes to professionalism and the political economy of news production. The paper concludes that rather than pegging the debate to an unstable definition of professionalism, journalism educators should instead focus more on journalism scholarship founded on a political economy approach.
UR – http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/02615470903217345
TY – JOUR
JO – Journalism Studies
PB – Routledge
AU – Hirst, Martin
TI – JOURNALISM EDUCATION “DOWN UNDER” — A tale of two paradigms
SN – 1461-670X
PY – 2009 -


The comical world of Karl du Fresne – “Dr Phelan, I presume!”

July 14, 2009

I have published Sean’s commentary on another exchange with Karl du Fresne because we (Sean and I) think it is important to keep this discussion alive. It began some time ago now with a column by Karl in response to an academic article by Sean. You can find all the backtrack links at the end of this post.

I am happy to host other responses here too. Ethical Martini is part of the historical record for these things and, besides, I’m nearly finished with the book manuscript, so I’m happy for any contributions at the moment to keep the front page fresh. I will be back to full-strength in a few weeks. My publisher wants the MS by Friday 24 July and the book, News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? will be published by Allen & Unwin in October this year (fingers crossed!).

The short piece below was originally published in the Manawatu Standard (June 13) and Nelson Mail (June 17) as a direct response to an earlier column by Karl du Fresne. Since neither paper published it at the Stuff website, I would like to thank Martin for giving me the opportunity to belatedly publish it at his blog. I will be writing more about this brouhaha in time (a more ‘theoretical’ piece, Karl, I’m sure you can’t wait), but this is my tuppence worth for now…

Sean Phelan

Massey University

The comical world of Karl du Fresne

I would like to thank the editor for giving me a chance to respond to a recent column by Karl du Fresne (May 27). I’m sure Fairfax media could run a monthly supplement of columns by people who have been unfairly maligned by a man who seems to treat curmudgeonliness as a vocation.

I was the subject of an article that has since been published at du Fresne’s blog under the headline of ‘Why leftist academics hate the media’. The article was the latest instalment in a soap opera initiated by an earlier du Fresne blog, which lampooned an academic journal article of mine that was published in 2008.

While I don’t have much space to explore the substance of that debate here, it concerns the culture of New Zealand journalism and journalism education. Du Fresne attacked my essay, partly because it critiqued an earlier article of his. He also objected to my writing style, which, in his comic assessment, was ‘written in academic jargon of the most pretentiously arcane type imaginable’.

This whole affair has been comical alright, though not for the reasons assumed by du Fresne. This is because, in his world, what constitutes ‘bizarre’ is the thought that someone might write an academic paper suggesting that the ideas of the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, could be relevant to an analysis of New Zealand journalism. Read the rest of this entry »


Old habitus die hard, diehards just get older. Goldfish bite back

May 29, 2009

For the record, I started on this post way back at the end of March. I last worked on it before today on the 2nd of April. I was hoping to wait till I had more time, but some things just can’t wait. I have broken my vow of silence, now it’s back to the garret.

I’m prodded into action this afternoon by an opinion piece Savaged by blogosphere goldfish from Fairfax columnist and avowed curmudgeon Karl du Fresne attacking left-wing academics in general and those engaged in critical media studies in particular.

The original post was a response to a piece by Karl attacking Massey University media studies lecturer, Sean Phelan for writing an academic journal article critiquing a culture of anti-intellectualism in the New Zealand media and commenting on the state of journalism education in this country. Both of these are areas of professional concern for me, so I eagerly read both pieces with some interest.

I have now ingested all of this material and, I intend to get my goldfish teeth into some serious chewing on some big ideas. This is actually a high stakes argument. Not on any personal level, but in terms of defining and debating some important issues about journalism in New Zealand and about the philosophy of journalism more generally.

I don’t think it’s a simple binary argument either. There are many nuanced positions, it’s just that Karl du Fresne has nailed his colours to a particular flag and let go a broadside at his perceived ideological foes.

I suppose he should expect some response and as he points out, mine has been a while coming. I haven’t been idle in that time, several plans are afoot to further the discussion, but I guess a more immediate response is necessary as my name and Sean Phelan’s have again been dragged through the mud on the bottom of Karl’s size nines.

Read the rest of this entry »


Journalism education – the pint pot problem

February 1, 2009

I’m finally getting around to editing some of the video I shot on my recent trip to the USA. Today I’m uploading a short clip from the conference I attended at the Missouri School of Journalism Futures Forum.

The session I spoke in was focused on the curriculum and convergence – I guess it was about practical journalism education.

I wrote about this at the time, now here’s a brief excerpt from the session on convergence and the curriculum.

I’m talking here about what I am calling the “no teach” curriculum for senior students and the perpetual “pint pot problem”.  The curriculum has to fit into a specified number of timetabled teaching hours and if you want to introduce something new, what do you leave out?

I use the example of shorthand again, but in this context it’s more about where it might fit in an extended journalism curriculum, not about whether it stays or goes altogether. This should appease some folk who think I’m out to kill it off completely.

All  can say to that is: “Not yet.”


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