Lesley Cowling from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Journalism Programme, summing up the conference, noted the discussions had fallen into an arc, with earlier panels outlining issues facing journalism training institutions, and the latter part dealing with the way different institutions have tried to address those problems.
Cowling said one of the problems pointed out in the earlier discussions was the divide between the media and the rural populations. The participants felt that the media mostly serve the elite in urban areas, leaving out a large number of people in rural communities either through language use, distribution, the kinds of topics that are addressed, and the type of professionalism practiced by journalists.
The other set of problems were around actual professional skills with regard to ethics, the ability to produce the kind of writing that is necessary, the difficulties of students being properly prepared when going to newsrooms and the structure of newsrooms and media themselves.
Cowling categorised the two major challenges that came up in the papers as:
- The challenge to produce proper professionally skilled journalists for the media;
- The concern or discomfort around the professional model that educators are working with and its appropriateness (or lack thereof) to majority communities.
She identified two major responsibilities assigned to the media in society as providing information to society and providing space for debate around issues that concern society. Cowling said the participants agreed that it is important for media to play some sort of positive role in society and democracies. But the actual specifics of how that role should be played is not agreed upon and such debate had also been part of the panel discussions.
The conference, said Cowling, generated a lot of debate around the terms development journalism, community journalism and public journalism, with some participants actively arguing against these approaches. She said the debate was not so much about what people are doing in their particular projects, but about how historically those concepts have been deployed in society. The concepts, she said, have been deployed by governments to undermine criticism of the state.
However, what the educators at the table talked about (in advocating such forms of journalism) is going to constituencies that may usually operate outside the usual domain of democratic engagement, being journalists in those communities, in a sense, to understand what their issues are and to report on those issues and provide the communities with a space to debate issues of importance and interest to them.
Cowling indicated that as a group, the educators might want to think about their role by posing the following questions:
- Do we want as educators to become advocates, step a little bit outside the classroom to advocate certain kinds of professional behaviour, or do we want to become ‘disorienters’ making students think critically about a variety of possibilities and leaving it up to them to go into the world and apply them?
- Do we want to focus exclusively on the classroom, continue to talk to each other, and come up with plans to make our teaching fantastic and to put wonderful journalists out into the world?
- Do we want to establish collaborations outside our journalism departments and programmes, in the industry and in society more generally?
In response, participants suggested:
- The need for ongoing training for journalism educators for them to continuously upgrade their skills in relation to the changing media industry.
- The need for the educators to maintain a critical distance from the industry and to be innovative in providing training that fits the needs of the industry, instead of “blindly” following the industry.
- The need for educators to play a role in trying to develop best practices for public broadcasting that is independent, so as to build good working environments for the students.
- The need to create thinkers out of journalism students, who need to have critical inquiring minds.
- The need to prepare students for the challenges of the global world, as well as worrying trends in African society such as conflict/hatred, and how to report on such.
- The participant then discussed the potential for future networking. This included:
- A suggestion to establish exchange programmes between African journalism educators;
- A discussion on the sustainability of the network, in terms of manpower and funding;
- How the Conference of African Journalism Educators could link to the World Journalism Educators Conference (WJEC) to be held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in July;
Both the University of the Witwatersrand and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung expressed commitment to support the future networking of African journalism educators.
In a subsequent meeting, the group decided to constitute itself as a network, dubbed the Forum for African Media Educators (FAME), to seek institutional affiliations to FAME, to examine the potential for a system of pedagogical exchanges between the institutions in the network, and to develop a publishing project, which would help participants publish and disseminate their academic work and research more widely.