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New Approaches to Journalism Education

The final ANZCA 2010 paper for today is presented by Felicity Biggins and Christina Koutsoukos, whose focus is on journalism education. There have long been calls for journalists to adapt to a changing media environment in which anyone can be a journalist - so what is the value of journalism education? Online, citizens can participate in unprecedented ways - and are sometimes called citizen journalists, as opposed to 'professional' journalists - in the case of major events, anyone with a mobile phone can become a journalist. If the value of journalism comes from the underlying value of journalistic activity, that value is now near zero, some contend.

The shift towards greater user participation in journalistic activities clashes with notions of professionalism, objectivity, and the cultivated arrogance of journalists towards their audiences - and a recent review of journalism courses at the University of Newcastle aimed to reposition its degrees for this new environment. The university's regional placement also needed to be taken into account here, of course - employment options for journalism graduates in the immediate neighbourhood were limited. Additionally, the journalism degree is situated in the Faculty of Information, Science and Technology, rather than in the Arts Faculty.

Remapping the journalism major meant realising that not all graduates would work as conventional, industrial journalists, and that they would therefore need a wider range of related skills and knowledges; they also needed appropriate skills in current new media technologies and prepare them for further technological change, and to be prepared to work across multiple media forms and formats - no future graduates will still work only in newspapers, radio, or broadcasting, but they will rather need to multitask and file across different media forms.

Problematically, too, incoming students' existing digital skills are difficult to foretell, and even within the degree it is not always guaranteed that they will pick up necessary digital skills during the early semesters. Further, the diversity of skills across the same cohort means that it is difficult to teach them all effectively. At the same time, media organisations continue to stress basic journalistic skills (like being able to write clean copy) over technological skills.

Some of the changes as a result of the course restructure include the following: Introduction to Journalism now includes filing a slide show with audio track to YouTube; Feature Writing now requires students to publish a story (with images) online to a Wordpress site; Broadcast Journalism turned into two units, Radio Journalism and Television Journalism (both also incorporating online components); and Journalism dumped an essay component in favour of a choice of writing a feature, creating a video or audio story, or recording an interview.

Core skills which the course pursues address the areas of research, interviewing, gathering information, news understanding and analysis, communication in various formats, and delivering to deadline and in appropriate form. So, this is not all driven by technology, but by a holistic understanding of the skills and knowledges required of journalists today.

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