‘The current situation of journalism calls for a reset. Journalism finds itself in the middle of a drastic transition from working in the context of a mass media model to working in the context of a network model. This network model has clearly different infrastructural characteristics, and it also requires a different type of journalism.’ – Dr Nico Drok
Dr Nico Drok needs little introduction to industry academics and journalism educators. The Deputy Chair of the World Journalism Education Council (WJEC) has a proud career of more than 40-years in journalism education in the Netherlands, and elsewhere. He is also lead author of RVQ report: How Journalism Educators Around The Globe View The Future Of Journalism.
He shared insights from the study and his views on journalism’s challenges with WAN-IFRA.
Despite myriad differences in journalism education across the globe, there are three key current curricula trends: tech, specialism – and a return to basics, notes Drok.
“One of the common denominators is that practically all journalism schools are trying to deal with the perennial gale of technological innovations such as Artificial Intelligence, Datafication, and Virtual and Augmented Reality.
“As AI is not only a potential tool for journalism but also – or even more so – a subject with huge societal impact, UNESCO and WJEC (World Journalism Education Council) have launched a Handbook for Journalism educators around the globe on Reporting on Artificial Intelligence.
Another, more or less global, tendency is the proliferation of new specialisms, says Drok. “There is a fast-growing number of subjects that need attention, and it is simply impossible to teach everything to everyone. The most common way to tackle this, is to give students the choice to specialise in, for example, Crisis Reporting, Data Journalism, Digital Storytelling, Migration Reporting, Immersive Journalism, Climate Journalism, Drone Journalism – or in a classical beat, such as Political Journalism, Financial Journalism, Sports journalism, Investigative journalism, Science Journalism, Arts Journalism and so on.”
Back to basics
At the same time, there is a tendency in various regions around the world to go back to basics; to stop chasing trends and gadgets and put more emphasis on what should be considered as the core of journalism training, leaving the many specialisations for later, when students are working in the field, supported by lifelong learning.
“The underlying idea is that the more uncertain and volatile the future is, and the faster specialisations come and go, the better it is to invest your limited time and money in a firm foundation that is relatively timeless. Apart from a huge body of knowledge about society, this timeless core should entail several groups of skills: Verification skills, Research skills, Social skills, Analytical skills, Language skills, Reflection skills.
Trending expectations: how educators see roles shifting
The RVQ Report, the first large-scale study on the views of teachers on journalistic roles, highlights the agreement between educators around the globe on the direction in which professional journalism should evolve.
“Educators worldwide believe that the most important task for future journalists is providing in-depth background information, followed by related tasks in the field of verification, exposing abuse and providing analysis,” explains Drok.
“As to the most important qualifications for their students, they see: be able to evaluate sources, followed by discovering newsworthy issues on the basis of in-depth research and be able to find multiple perspectives on an issue.”
The outcomes largely support the idea that
journalism should be more about getting the whole story and less about trying to be first.
more focus on social responsibility, more on interacting with audiences, more on ordinary people instead of elites, more on long-term issues, more on content instead of technology.
What future prospects?
Yes, journalism is in dire straits – and though, according to the report: “only half of the journalism educators believe their students will be able to get a contracted job at an established news organisation,’ there is a future for journalism.
“Our society needs, and will not stop needing, professionals in the fields of information and communication,” notes Drok.
“The view that journalism is in crisis is more common amongst Western educators. In general, most students find a job in the media sector within a year after graduation.”
Resetting for a reversal of fortunes
“The current situation of journalism calls for a reset,” posits Drok. “Journalism finds itself in the middle of a drastic transition from working in the context of a mass media model to working in the context of a network model. This network model has clearly different infrastructural characteristics, and it also requires a different type of journalism.
“The first task will stay: providing a truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context that gives them meaning, as the Hutchins committee advised 75 years ago. But next to providing news and context, new tasks emerge.
Drok quotes a chapter – ‘Connecting with audiences and the public’ – from the European Broadcasting Union News Report, What’s Next as a guide: “Content strategies should focus on providing solutions and ideas for audiences’ problems, needs and struggles, and not primarily on politics and conflict.”
“Several studies have confirmed the importance of giving the public perspectives, in two meanings of the word: providing different views on issues, as well as: providing stories about possible paths to solutions that inspire and give hope,” he adds.
Reset advice for educators – and newsrooms
Now, more than ever, this network society also needs professional journalism, says Drok. “Not only to serve socio-economic elites, but for the whole of society. Trends such as growing disconnect, diminishing news interest, increasing news avoidance, and weakening trust, should and can be reversed. It requires public-oriented type of journalism, with a focus on:
Getting the facts right As (Alan) Rusbridger noted: “A society that isn’t sure what is true, cannot function.”
Getting the connections right This concerns the connections between journalism and its public, but also the connection between citizens and their community and society.
Getting the perspectives right Giving perspective(s) does not only stimulate diversity and inclusiveness, but it also strengthens a sense of reliability, relevance and usefulness.
“I believe journalism should be renewed along these lines. In the discussion about renewing journalism, there should be less focus on the changing means of journalism, and more on the changing goals of journalism.
“In the Reuters Institute report on Sustainable Journalism Innovation, author Julie Posetti states: ‘Journalism should stop relentlessly pursuing ‘bright, shiny things’ at the expense of core concepts such as content and audiences.’ If we want to convince people of journalism’s social value in an age of news avoidance and polarisation, this is the way to go.”
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