The increasing use of new media technologies has serious consequences for journalism. Besides the rather obvious falling newspaper circulations and consumption of radio and television, technology has seen off numerous journalism jobs. This seemingly obvious consequences of technology means newsrooms and classrooms have to continually innovate to survive.

Even though the employment of technology has positive implications for media and training, and improves the quality of journalism due to the speed of collection, production and distribution of journalistic products, particularly information/news, it introduces new problems in society. Issues of job losses, journalism education, and the relationship between industry and institutions of higher learning all come into focus when critically looking at the application of technology. Yet, journalism education continues to grow.

This is based on the fact that many universities and other institutions of higher learning have recently introduced journalism courses to cater for the demand from students and even industry.

This means that journalism is still highly valued despite the notion that people now rely less on traditional channels of information distribution. This arises because people particularly in Africa continue to rely a lot on ‘old’ media, more specifically radio, for their information. Given the digital divides, and sometimes differentials in qualities of use of ‘new’ media, newspapers, radio and television are important and the role in political and democratic process should be appreciated and celebrated.

But how can we journalism training more relevant to Africans and African students? Is ‘de-Westernisation’ or ‘Africanisation’ of curricula the answer? Some suggested that answers be sought elsewhere. China was cited as a good example.

Although this was the topic of discussion in a research paper session on Pan-African Perspectives, it was not clear whether such a move was possible given the acceleration of globalisation, and internationalisation of education. Even then, it was important that students engage more with issues related to Africa.

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Tuesday, 06 July 2010 15:34

Traversing the Great (fire)Wall of China

China’s rapid transformation has not been limited to industrial, financial and economic growth, and has been felt across the country’s media landscape. A panel discussion on new media and journalism education in Asia offered insights into the diverse and varied state of the media in Asia, with a strong focus on China.  Moderated by Professor Guo Ke of Shanghai International Studies University, the presentations touched on the state of Chinese media, as well as journalism education issues in the country.

Dr David Clark from Bolton Foreign Studies University presented an overview of the media landscape. He explained that Chinese media is often misunderstood because people imagine that it’s homogenous. Although state-run media seem to form the overriding perceptions of Chinese journalism, there is also the metropolitan media, which is semi-independent, and the internet, he said. 

Clark argued that although social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, one should not underestimate the presence of social media in the country.  Most people in China know how to get around the censorship. “There are lots of ways to climb over the Chinese firewall,” said Dr Clarke. “It’s not an issue, just an inconvenience.”  There are many social media sites not known outside of China, simply because they are in Chinese, he added. 

Although China has a history of media censorship, people’s perceptions might not always be correct, added Zhang Xiaoying, also from the Beijing Foreign Studies University. “All perceptions have a basis,” she said, “but everything is changing so fast.”

“There is the state-run media which is obviously controlled by the state – that’s clear. But there are other organisations that are commercialised. All of them are going through transformation though. It’s an age of change,” she said.

China is advancing technologically along with the rest of the world. “There is a trend toward media convergence,” said Xia Baojun, from Jinan University. “The new generation of media relies on the internet.”  Reflecting this trend, Clark’s students have no equipment in their classrooms. Instead, they are supplied with fully-equipped backpacks. Inside the backpacks students find laptops which they use to produce media and learn about the world.

Interestingly, China’s newspaper circulation is growing at the same time as convergence is taking off. “One can’t argue specifically for a cross-media approach in China. The trend is going in the opposite direction to the rest of the world,” Clark said. South African newspapers with their dwindling readership can perhaps learn a few things from China. 

“We have benefited from globalisation, but there is the fear of it getting out of control. It’s a great challenge to the state run media,” said Zhang Xiaoying. “It’s a very interesting scenario at the moment, a period of transition.”

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Tuesday, 06 July 2010 13:53

"We're building a movement..." (video)

Head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Guy Berger discusses the importance of hosting the second World Journalism Education Congress in Africa and how it has been received so far. "We're building a movement of teachers from around the world," he tells us in this video. 

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Monday, 05 July 2010 20:12

Social media's challenge to J-eds

A fully subscribed syndicate group grappled with one of the most topical issues in journalism education, viz. the Social Media (SM) and how the

introduction of such platforms is likely to influence the nature of journalism training.

At the start of proceedings the point was made strongly by facilitator Julie Posetti and media specialist, Mindy McAdams, of the University of
Florida and author of the blog Teaching Online Journalism.(USA ) that it should be incumbent on all journalism educators, whether formally teaching
new/social media or not,  to keep up –to- date on issues pertinent to SM’s impact. McAdams who is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of online
journalism,  teaches production and theory courses about interactive media and online journalism and  comes out of a background of extensive online and
multimedia journalism training for news organizations.

McAdams highlighted the range of SM which extends considerably beyond what traditionally was termed ‘news media’ and includes  sites such as
Delicious.com and Flickr.com where information is loosely shared.  Based on input from members representing a widely differing range of training and
society contexts from around the globe,  it was apparent that the inclusion of SM in aspects of journalism training would be severely  affected by the
availability, or lack of, SM. However, what came out of discussion was that while such access to SM, or the changes that were possibly going to happen
in the arena of such media in future, might differ the concepts relating to their use would not likely to change greatly.

The syndicate then spent  time of  interrogating some of the possible applications of SM to journalism education. Reservations were expressed  in
respect of accuracy and verification issues arising out of the use of information posted on  SM, and of the possiblity of abuse of such SM in the
cause of ‘pushing’ particular political or possible corporate interests. The issue of the ethics underpinning such use of SM sources by journalists and
media organisations elicited suggestions ranging from subscribing to already existing policies on SM usage (suc as Reuter’s handbook) to leaving the
issues for later attenrion and rather  encouraging the increades use of such platforms.
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Media educators have been challenged to be more tolerant towards different schools of thought from their students. This strong sentiment emerged from a discussion by the syndicate group on Diversity and Journalism Education held at the ongoing World Journalism Education Congress in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Diversity is a multifaceted term which is interpreted in different ways in many countries, but there is some general agreement about the major elements, which include age, disability status, ethnicity, gender, political ideology, race, region of origin, religion and sexual orientation. Other characteristics that cited as relevant specifically to the hiring of a diverse faculty include amount of professional experience, area of scholarship, income, class or parental status

Participants felt that accepting different schools of thoughts was one to ensure everyone’s views all students views are heard and appreciated in class.

 “We have to accept that diversity is a source for critical thinking and as such we have to be in that position where we allow our students to reflect and say out their experiences. This is something we can do because it is about how we teach them,” said Rhodes University’s Dr Anthea Garman, an expert in the group.

Another participant, Ibrahim Saleh noted that citizens need to be oriented to embrace diversity and media educators can begin to contribute to that process by effectively capturing differences in views.

The syndicate expressed interest in the general approach proposal by the Network of French Speaking Universities presented by University of Paris’s Pascal Guenee.

The proposal has three approaches to integrating diversity in journalism education: 

  • the first one looks at the selection of students;
  • the second one questions the place for diversity in university journalism teaching
  • and the last category focuses on the dialogue between journalism schools and local media.

Participants agreed that media educators could at least contribute effectively to category one and two through changing their approach to teaching and allowing alternative views to flow in their classes.

There was a general understanding and feeling that media educators are often intolerant of views that are different from their own – and this needed to change.

“We need to go beyond tolerance and into active encounters, to achieve diversity,” added Garman.

The three-day WJEC seeks to find solutions to effective journalism curriculum in an era of radical change. It is attended by media educators from around the world.

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The former president of the Republic of Ghana (2001 to 2009) speaks candidly on the state of journalism in Africa. He said journalists should learn to respect the humanity of others. Kufuor was special guest at the second World Journalism Educator's Congress held in Grahamstown, South Africa from 4-7 July 2010.

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Sunday, 04 July 2010 17:41

Tweeting in a time of radical change

Dr Levi Obonyo (Daystar University, Kenya) and Dr George Lugalambi (Makerere University, Uganda) learn about real-time journalism toolsJMC educators need to refresh Media and Communication Studies curricula to help make sense of a radically changing mediascape. This was the message to delegates from UNESCO's Centres of Journalism Excellence and Reference who attended a programme titled Capacitating COE's for Real-Time Journalism and Media Studies just ahead of the second World Journalism Educators' Congress.

New Media Lab lecturer, Jude Mathurine shared lessons from Rhodes' School of Journalism and Media Studies' own change to a converged curriculum. He called on delegates to consider three key ideas:

  • Media Studies educators should not be afraid to seek help to understand new technologies and the context of changing patterns of consumption and production;
  • offer students critical tools for media literacy that enables interrogation of the constructed nature of their own media use (as well as public broadcasters and big media);
  • and maintain a focus on how new media can be used to challenge the dominant relations of power that remain asymmetrical despite the promises of modernisation.

Tweeting along
Australian hackademic, Julie Posetti followed up this session with a rapid-fire workship on the use of Twitter and real-time blogging tools for 'mindcasting', storygathering, curation, publishing and engagement. Posetti who has widely researched social media presented a workshop called: Twitter for Communications and Journalism Education. With 13,015 tweets to her name, the self-confessed "twitter addict" and senior lecturer at the University of Canberra was a fitting candidate to initiate some participants to the Twittersphere.

Newbies learnt the basics of adding followers, how to tweet functionally and socially; as well as information on how to break news on Twitter while respecting journalistic values.

Posetti says it is important to host workshops because platforms like Twitter can help "cross cultural barriers and to interconnect around the globe in a way that not only breaks down barriers but facilitates conversation".

"Expand and compress the world through Twitter!" tweeted Kenyan Dr George Nyabuga during the presentation.

The JMC educators will cover WJEC2 conference syndicates and panels on the WJEC blog and Twitter using the #wjec2 hashtag. WJEC will also host a Tweetup at the popular Rat and Parrot pub on NewStreet at 18h30 on 5 July.

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This week Grahamstown becomes the media capital of Africa and the Journalism Education Capital of the world, with the Africa Media Matrix its hub. It's already the National Arts Festival capital, and now the energy is set to be boosted by the influx of 600 new people whose passion is journalism.

The magnet for this global attention is the 2nd World Congress on Journalism Education. There are 350 journalism trainers from across the globe coming for this -- hailing from countries as diverse as India and Iraq, Moldova and Mexico.

WJEC2 is being staged in conjunction with the 14th Highway Africa. Over the years, this event has grown to become the world's biggest annual gathering of African journalists.

Together, the two events -- convened by Rhodes University's School of Journalism and Media Studies -- aim to improve journalism both continent-wide and worldwide, especially regarding the imaging of Africa.

Inspiration

In 2009, Rhodes JMS won a tough bid battle to host the 2nd edition of this congress. The first congress was in Singapore three years ago, and we worked hard to ensure that it would come to Africa next.

I attended the first WJEC and personal experience of meeting journalism teachers from elsewhere in the world opened my eyes to the value of difference. You learn huge amounts from other people's experiences, and in the process you also learn more about yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses. The idea of a world congress that will provide the same opportunities to participants is what inspired me.

Under the theme “Journalism education in an age of radical change”, the participants at WJEC2 will be able to take part in 130 research paper presentations, 16 task teams, and six expert panel discussions. Proceedings will be live-cast at http://wjec.ru.ac.za, and up to 11 parallel research sessions will be streamed simultaneously at various times.

We will be sharing experiences with each other – and with anyone who follows us on the web. The main focus will be on how training can help prepare journalists to deal with challenges of the recession, collapsing traditional business models and the Internet.

The topics under scrutiny range from teaching “entrepreneurial journalism” and cellphone journalism, through to building media literacy and training reporters in the coverage of violence.

Simplistic perspectives

It's intentional that these two conferences – WJEC and Highway Africa - are being held during the World Cup. The moment is ideal for analysing what the media make of the mega-event. And besides scrutinising the local impact of the coverage, there's also the issue of how the global media are reporting the story.

For example: Is the Cup coverage reinforcing the negative stereotypes of South Africa and Africa more broadly? Is there still an overwhelming spin about savagery and basket-cases? On the other hand, is there a different scenario at play -- one with diametrically opposite coverage of the continent through rose-tinted imagery? Is the picture one of smiling tribal dancers and awesome wild animals? Of swish stadiums and glossy shopping malls?

If the options are only between these two simplistic perspectives, the only choice for media audiences is to switch understandings from one extreme to the other whenever something affects the plausibility of one side.

How the media can avoid caricatures and instead capture the complexities, and reflect both the good and bad, will be high among the debates in Grahamstown. Unesco will use the occasion to present a model syllabus for "Reporting Africa" that may address some of the challenges.

As the two conferences serve to engage media stakeholders, it follows that there will be a swathe of media output about the deliberations.

There's a daily conference paper and the Highway Africa website will have a vibrant blog. SABC is co-host of the conference and will be covering it closely. For their part, the journalism educators' website will have live video-streaming sessions between July 5 and 7, including of 11 parallel research paper presentations. There will also be continuous tweets at #wjec2 and, of course, this blog will pump out daily conference coverage and columns like this one.

Thanks to conference sponsors MTN, Telkom, Absa and the local organising committee, delegates to the conferences will also get a lot of exposure to the football -- including big screen broadcasts where they can analyse the coverage in real-time.

It's always interesting to hear how outsiders see South Africa. On this occasion, outsiders with media mindsets will be giving their views right from the belly of the South African beast.

Projected Outcomes

Besides for networking with each other, I hope all delegates will learn something about the practice of journalism education, and something about South Africa and this continent more broadly. That of course is not an end in itself, but a means towards increased impact in journalism education that translates into better journalism.

In time, the conference delegates will leave, like the Cup itself. But having been part of a unique buzz will likely stay with them for a long time. One day, they'll tell their grandchildren that in 2010 they were there -- at the media capital of South Africa.

Prof Guy Berger is the convenor of WJEC2 and the Head of School of Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies.

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