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Teaching journalism in a disruptive age

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Deputy Mayor of Paris, Marie-Christine Lemardeley (left); Founder and President of the World Journalism Education Council (WJEC), Joe Foote; Director of IPJ Dauphine-PSL, Pascal Guenee; and President of the Unversite Paris-Dauphine/PSL, Isabelle Huault at the signing of the Paris Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education during the fifth WJEC held in Paris, France

Journalism education is currently facing unprecedented upheavals. After having constantly reviewed the curricula since the ‘90s to meet the media industry’s demands, journalism schools now have to face a double challenge; both new expectations of journalism students concerning what should be taught in a journalism school, as well as the actual academic teaching methods themselves.

These major foreseeable evolutions illustrate that journalism schools could well be on the verge of radically changing the way they teach journalism.

Digitisation of contents will either lead to a deeper digital divide between journalism schools of different locations and different continents or, conversely, to a historical opportunity to pool the best education practices worldwide.

These were some of the concerns shared when journalism scholars recently converged on Paris for the 5th Council of the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) meeting at the Université Paris-Dauphine | PSL, in France, bringing together over 600 participants – professors, researchers, professionals, and representatives of journalism schools from 70 countries. Nigeria was represented at the global meeting by the duo of Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye and Dr. Fassy Yusuf both of Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos. Prof. Akinfeleye was later elected into the WJEC council that would pilot its affairs in the next three years leading to the next Congress in China in 2022.

During the Congress, Founder and President of the World Journalism Education Council, Joe Foote and the Director IPJ Dauphine-PSL Pascal Guenee in the company of others signed the Paris Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education.

In its Declaration, the Congress noted, “there cannot be an environment of quality information without quality journalism,” and that the “quality of journalism depends greatly on proper journalism education and training.”

The Declaration affirmed that “journalism education has a fundamental role to play towards more inclusive societies and the United Nations’ 2030 development agenda,” adding that the Declaration would “help colleagues to make their authorities understand the specificity of journalism education from the academic and resources point of view.

“Furthermore, we believe that this Declaration would contribute to strengthening the WJEC as a global network of journalism educators.”

Also underscored was the need for “strong and independent governance of journalism schools and journalism departments, which should have a faculty level of power and decision-making, and recognized academic autonomy from external actors.”

It was also agreed that journalism education should be preserved as a distinctive stream compared to other fields of mass and strategic communication, with the Congress committing to “mobilize the necessary funding for excellence in curricula and extra-curricular outreach as required for the quality functioning of a journalism school.”

The Congress agreed to promote a balance between academic knowledge and the technical skills of the journalism craft; recognize gender equality in and through journalism education as a cross-cutting priority; promote diversity as a key factor in journalism education: diversity among students, diversity among staff, and diversity among topics taught.

It also decided to “encourage a critical spirit for journalism education research, including in experiments and innovations concerning pedagogies, journalistic practices and media business models.

“Therefore we, members of the World Journalism Education Council, calls on: Journalism educators and trainers and their institutions and organizations to advocate for adherence to this Declaration.” Council also called on “Leaders in higher education and training NGOs to take the principles into their practice,” and urged “National departments of education, media industries, private businesses and donors, including international donors, to ensure sufficient funding for journalism education while respecting its independence.”

The UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication was also called upon “to support WJEC Paris Declaration and bring it to the attention of UNESCO member States.”

Meanwhile, Foote who has been Chair of WJEC since its inception in 2007 urged participants to maximise the opportunity to network, as the WJEC was birthed through informal conversations and subsequent professional relationships. Adding, “These contacts facilitate our attempt to understand and study journalism education beyond our borders.”

Also, Guénée, in his remarks said the Congress was not just a top-notch academic event, but also a place to meet people, as the theme centred on the teaching of journalism in a disruptive age.

The programme featured syndicate team discussions on topical issues in journalism. The syndicates advised journalism scholars to develop workable model in teaching ethical issues. They advised, “Avoid teaching ethics as just separate classes in silos. Ethics should be discussed in every class whenever ethical situations come up. Ethics should be taught in courses year-by-year in order for such lessons to have a lasting imprint on students. Ethical situations need to be analysed through a variety of viewpoints, including feminist, minority and those of indigenous people. Ethics teachers need to re-commit to stressing the importance of truth during the current era of fake news.”

While giving recommendation on the essential computational skills emerging journalists must learn to successfully work with data, the syndicate said scholars must teach, “Data literacy: Teach a foundational understanding of numeracy and quantitative data, sufficient to confidently interpret numbers and avoid errors so that math-averse students can confront numbers with courage; Computational thinking: Teach applying logic through pattern recognition and knowing how to break down the problem into steps and finding reproducible solutions; Communicating data: Teach presenting data in an ethical way that audiences will understand by effectively converting numbers into words or visual.”

During one of the panels sponsored by UNESCO on climate change, the panellists tried to address questions such as, how can journalists be properly trained to inform the public about the causes and consequences of climate change, what scientists want journalism educators to know?

The panel agreed that in the face of climate change, journalists must play a major and enlightening role and be the link between scientists and citizens.

“The main issue in terms of education is, in fact, to be interdisciplinary,” said Ms Tézenas du Montcel. “The study of climate change is necessarily interdisciplinary. It is not only a philosophical problem, climate change is fundamentally an ethical issue. It is also a political, scientific, technological and economic problem,” added Mr Kelbessa.
“Journalists need to understand climate science and climate ethics. They should understand and educate citizens about the ethical dimension of climate change policy formulation,” concluded Mr Kelbessa.

The WJEC is described as a unique place to meet journalism educators and colleagues from all around the world, where every three years, the international community of journalism education get together to share their best teaching practices and to listen to top-notch research papers, all dedicated to journalism education.

It started 15 years ago in Toronto. The first WJEC congress was organized in Singapore in 2007, after which it traveled all around the world. Specifically, it had been hosted in South Africa (2010); Belgium (2013); and New Zealand in 2016. China hosts the next edition in 2022.


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