A discussion of contemporary issues in media ethics, with olives and a twist. Made with only the freshest ingredients, shaken, stirred and poured over ice. I should also mention that I do like the odd, occasional martini. Bombay Sapphire gin and Lillet, dry and plenty of salty olives. Welcome to this cocktail of journalism and alcohol. A fine combination!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A declaration of intent: What are the principles of journalism education?

I'm keen to get some discussion going about this document (I patiently retyped it here, so that's how keen I am).

One of the key reasons I went to Singapore at the end of June, apart from the desire to shop for presents for my beloved, was to be present at this historic event - the FIRST World Journalism Education Congress. I knew that there was going to be a 'declaration of principles', and I wanted to witness this and to find out who exactly was behind such a huge undertaking. I'm a great supporter of principles and I thought I'd like to get in on the design of some basic pointers for world journalism educators. Unfortunately, most of the deliberations and drafting was done behind closed doors among a fairly select group of people. Ethical Martini is not one of those.

Anyway, there was a bit of discussion and a couple of boisterous Australians objected to some of it.
I'm actually seriously reading it for the first time as I key it in, so my comments will be interspersed, I'll use a bold red font, so you know when I'm talking and not my esteemed colleagues on the WJEC steering committee.

Declaration of Princples of Journalism Education
World Journalism Education Congress
Singapore, June 2007
We, the undersigned representatives of professional journalism education associations share a concern and a common understanding about the nature, role, importance and future of journalism education worldwide. We are unanimous that journalism education provides the foundation as theory, research and training for the effective and responsible practice of journalism. Journalism education is defined in different ways. At the core is the study of all types of journalism.
The keywords here are 'professional', 'effective' and 'responsible'
Journalism should serve the public in many important ways, but it can only do so if its practitioners have mastered an increasingly complex body of knowledge and specialized skills. Above all, to be a responsible journalist must involve an informed ethical commitment to the public. This commitment must include an understanding of and a deep appreciation for the role that journalism plays in the formation, enhancement and perpetuation of an informed society.

Nothing about freedom or democracy in this bit...keep reading, you never know. The 'enhancement and perpetuation' of an 'informed society' could easily mean keeping dictators in power.
We are pledged to work together to strengthen journalism education and increase its value to students, employers and the public.

Increase its value to employers? So journalism education is actually the provision of docile, cheap indentured labour?

In doing this we are guided by the following principles:

  1. At the heart of journalism education is a balance of conceptual, philosophical and skills-based content. While it is also interdisciplinary, journalism education is an academic field in its own right with a distinctive body of knowledge and theory.

  2. Journalism is a field appropriate for university study from undergraduate to postgraduate levels. Journalism programs offer a full range of academic degrees including bachelors, masters and Doctor of Philosophy degrees as well as certificate, specialized and mid-career training.

  3. Journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners; it is important that educators have experience working as journalists.

  4. Journalism curriculum includes a variety of skills courses and the study of journalism ethics, history, media structures/institutions at national and international level, critical analysis of media content and journalism as a profession. It includes coursework on the social, political and cultural role of media in society and sometimes includes coursework dealing with media management and economics. In some countries, journalism education includes allied fields like public relations, advertising and broadcast production.

  5. Journalism educators have an important outreach mission to promote media literacy among the public generally and within their academic institutions specifically.

  6. Journalism program graduates should be prepared to work as highly informed, strongly committed practitioners who have high ethical principles and are able to fulfill the public interest obligations that are central to their work.

  7. Most undergraduate and many masters programs in journalism have a strong vocational orientation. In these programs experiential learning, provided by classroom laboratories and on-the-job internships, is a key component.

  8. Journalism educators should maintain strong links to media industries. They should critically reflect on industry practices and offer advice to industry based on this reflection.

  9. Journalism is a technology intensive field. Practitioners will need to master a variety of computer-based tools. Where practical, journalism education provides an orientation to these tools.

  10. Journalism is a global endeavour; journalism students should learn that despite political and cultural differences, they share important values and professional goals with peers in other nations. Where practical, journalism education provides students with first-hand experience of the way journalism is practiced in other nations.

  11. Journalism educators have an obligation to collaborate with colleagues worldwide to provide assistance and support so that journalism education can gain strength as an academic discipline and play a more effective role in helping journalism to reach its full potential.
This is a fairly bland and, IMHO, an unsatisfying and uninspiring list of fairly bog-standard descriptors. It doesn't really read like the foundation principles of something I'd like to do for a living.

If journalism is about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted surely the principles informing the training and education of practitioners and the scholarship of the field should contain some lofty ideals of freedom, liberty and equality. If we're to play an 'effective role' in helping journalism educators globally to reach their full potential then don't we have an obligation to stand for universal human rights, not to kowtow before the various demands of national difference?

I'm going to have a go at drafting my own set of principles and I'd love some advice. Any suggestions or comments?

Let's start with "responsibility". To whom are journalists responsible. What is the "balance" in the dialectic between responsibility and freedom. This is an age-old debate (well at least since John C Merrill's The Dialectic in Journalism (1989) reviewed here).

Then we might move on to the contradictions between the commercial imperative (serving media employers' quest for profits) and the ethical imperative (the real public interest)...and so on. You can read all about these issues in the second edition of Journalism Ethics: Arguments and Cases (Hirst & Patching 2007, OUP).

An alternative view of journalism education, and one that I have some sympathy with, is provided by Eduardo Meditsch in this piece:

Journalism as a way of knowledge: a Brazilian pedagogical experience

Here are a couple of excerpts that sum up for me a better way of approaching the question of journalism education and scholarship. An approach not based on 'professionalism', but more on the role of journalists as 'public intellectuals'. In fact journalists are the 'quotidian intellectuals' -- the thinkers of the 'everyday':

Journalism, as a way of knowing, is conditioned by its industrial production as a commodity, by the ideological values of its producers, by the authoritarianism of its shapes, by the arbitrariness of its choices, by the false categories that its tradition and technique have built.

The possibility of the emergence of the new, given by the way of knowing of Journalism, creates a fundamental contradiction in its practice, seldom perceived by theory: because it is, formally, so positivistic as the most positivistic of the sciences, Journalism is always loaded with negativity.

The difficulty to perceive this paradox lies in that it isn’t apparent neither in the analysis of a journalistic product, nor in the analysis of the manuals that define it, both traditionally subject to the critics of the theorists. This paradox is only perceivable from the viewpoint of its very production, from the process and its movement, its periodicity, in the aphorism that “there is nothing older than yesterday’s newspaper”. The contradiction between a periodical and its periodicity is the same as between the synchronic and the diachronic in the comprehension of Historical movement.

The movement of Journalism is the same false movement of the sciences, a succession of immobilized pictures. But the speed of this movement in Journalism is so much faster that there is a qualitative change in the result. It reinforces its crystallization in the singular and destroys any lasting possibility of systematizing the produced knowledge.

In this process, the velocity of the emergence of the new does not allow the stability and the regularity of the positive order.
A second aspect to be considered in this velocity, one that has once lead Journalism to be called “point-blank written history”, is the peculiar way in which its statements participate in the social dialogue. Given the nearness to the facts, to its agents and to the ones hit by them, the subjectivity of the news is hardly hidden by its formal objectivity. It is this critical potential relating to the hermetic concepts that distinguishes and makes Journalism necessary as a social form of knowing.
This is the materialist dialectic in journalism -- the push and pull (flux) of social forces and unequal power (hegemony) -- not the tamed and tired idealistic version of Merrill. There is no resolution of the dialectic in the term "responsible freedom", it's an oxymoron. Freedom, by definition, means the freedom to be irresponsible. It also means the freedom to challenge orthodoxy and normative rules of behaviour.

We could do a lot worse than begin establishing a new, more vigorous, set of principles for journalism education based on Meditch's pedagogy of journalism as a form of social knowledge. We also have to recognise that this is constrained by the commodity form (what I have called in my PhD thesis, Grey Collar Journalism: The social relations of news production (2003), the 'duality of the news commodity'.

The current set of principles are based on a normative standard that assumes the commodity form - journalism within a never-changing social framework of global capitalism and nation-states. It also signals a defensive "circling of the wagons" to fend of the non-traditional, non-professionals who are "invading" 'our' patch. We can do better.

I also recently found this paper by Kaarle Nordenstreng, from
the first JourNet international conference on Professional Education for the Media, held in Newcastle Australia in 2004, which looks at journalism education globally. There are some other interesting and useful presentations on this website - a good jumping off point for our discussions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These principles sound like a list of instructions for maintaining aloofism. I must have missed the bit about keeping the bastards honest . . .