Journalism training institutions strive to equip students with not only knowledge but also the necessary skills needed in the industry. As such, most training institutions start the process of putting theory into practice in classrooms. But, as panelists discussed at the Conference of African Journalism Educators, this has proven to be an uphill task.

As she documents the life of UB Horizon – a student learning tool for the University of Botswana’s Media Studies Department – Wanja Njuguna is left with more questions than answers on how to run a university student newspaper. According to Njuguna, UB Horizon was envisioned as the department’s most powerful journalism teaching tool, providing students with real, hands-on journalism experience. However, not long after its establishment, serious challenges surfaced. They included:

  • Missing of story deadlines as students participated in the production of the newspaper on voluntary basis without any incentive;
  • Shortage of skilled staff to monitor the production; and
  • Shaky relationships with advertisers threatening the financing of the newspaper.

To address some of the problems like the issues of deadlines, the department decided to incorporate the newspaper production into the curriculum where students would be assessed for their contribution. However questions on how to coordinate and finance the student newspaper to ensure its independence remain.

Njuguna’s presentation provoked debate among the conference participants on how best to run a university student newspaper. The participants discussed the best structure of university newspapers as regard to whether it should be entirely run by students or put in the management of independent personnel. It was discussed that while there is more independence in a newspaper run by students themselves, the problem is that it lacks continuity when school breaks. On the other hand, the independence of the newspaper is shaken when the paper is run by outsiders, although continuity is guaranteed.

Manka Tabuwe from the University of Buea argued that the issue of financing is crucial to the independent running of a student newspaper, as mostly the financiers would want to censor the newspaper and the department needs to be prepared on how it is going to deal with such a situation.

Lesley Cowling from the University of Witwatersrand’s Journalism Programme raised the question of the difficulties of assessing students for their contribution to the newspapers. In response, most participants said they allocate a certain percentage of the final grade to a student’s participation in the production of the newspapers, including news-gathering, editing, designing, soliciting adverts and distribution.

Edward Chitsulo, representing the University of Malawi, pointed out the need for universities to put more emphasis on radio and television in practical learning. But the issue of broadcasting licences presents a challenge to operating a campus radio. However, some institutions, like the University of the Witwatersrand, are embarking on doing radio practical learning, in addition to print.

The argument on the need for a variety of practical learning experiences was brought home by Professor Anton Harber’s presentation on preparing journalism students to work in new and multiple media future. Harber, head of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Journalism Programme, said training institutions do not have enough time to teach students to be conversant with all media, especially if “we do not know the changes to happen in future”. He advocated for the approach to teach students general principles that they would apply to all media.

The basis of Harber’s presentation was the case study of a television and mobile journalism course the department, in partnership with the mobile television unit of Multichoice, offered in 2008. In the course, the students were given the task of creating a mobile news and information service for students at the university. Harber said through the course the students learned various skills including:

  • General journalistic principles which might be considered requirements of journalistic practice in any media;
  • General media skills applicable to any media product;
  • New media skills specific to websites, mobisites and mobile media; and
  • Management skills.

During the discussion, Monica Chibita from Makerere University asked how best content (specialisation) could be covered in practical learning instead of concentrating on general journalistic skills. However, some participants said it would be difficult to cover every aspect of the media in experimental learning, and the best approach would be to impart general journalistic skills.

The panel, through a presentation by Muyiwa Popoola from Ajayi Crowther University in Nigeria, also dealt broadly on teaching investigative journalism. Popoola advocated for what he termed “PUNASOW”, an acronym Purpose, Nature, Sources of, and Writing Structure of Investigative Journalism. In essence, Popoola advanced the importance of investigative journalism to society and that students needed to be informed of its dangers.

During the discussions, Frank Windeck from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung asked whether educators encourage students to work on investigative stories during classroom practicals, in addition to the other general stories. Chitsulo wondered whether training institutions should not consider courses in management in investigative journalism to train media managers in handling investigative stories, to compliment the training offered to reporters.

The educators also deliberated the question whether in investigative journalism a story is worthy a journalist’s life. No definite answer could be provided but the general consensus was that journalists should do their best to serve society’s best interests and that media managers should strive to protect reporters risking their lives doing investigative reports.

For abstracts and papers, click here.