By Aarti Bhana

Adjunct Professor at the Wits Centre for Journalism, Franz Krüger published a discussion paper for the Shorenstein Center on Disrupted media – Disrupted Academy: Rethinking African J-schools, in February 2022.

The paper seeks to address the ongoing changes in the media and journalism industry in Sub-Saharan Africa and how journalism teaching institutions can adapt to make meaningful contributions to sustain media and journalism across the continent.

In his paper, Professor Krüger raised the question: “what, who and how should journalism schools teach in order to remain relevant?”

In a virtual webinar hosted by the Shorenstein Center in partnership with the Wits Centre for Journalism on 29 March 2022, Professor Krüger highlighted the implications for African journalism schools amid this change and how they need to rethink their methods of teaching, while also understanding the broader role they play in helping journalists define themselves.

Foremost, Professor Krüger talks about distinguishing journalism as a profession and as a practice. He said, teaching journalism has historically been linked to the idea of professionalism and that most journalism schools are preparing people for proper, formal jobs, but he also proposed the idea of journalism as a practice.

Professor Krüger wrote:

“A new understanding of journalism can be suggested, placing practice at its centre, rather than notions of a traditional profession. At the same time, a normative sense of public service is essential.”

Journalism, he explained, should be seen as “a set of communication practices that serve the public interest in reliable information and civic discussion.”

Read: The original paper here, or you can access the republished version on the Wits Centre for Journalism here

He said discussions then open journalism to a host of different public role players who contribute to the information pool, but it also risks “muddied waters”, because the information from the public is not always verified. He explained that there is then a need to find ways to distinguish quality information and find signals of what is credible. This led to the discussion of who we should teach:

One is young people who want to become journalists, the other is full-time journalists who seek to improve their qualifications.

When it comes to teaching journalism, Professor Krüger highlighted that schools should infuse traditional skills such as research, verifying, interviewing, and fact-checking with new skills such as data journalism, multi-media storytelling, analytics and social media. He talked about this in his article Journalism has changed. Education must reflect the reality.

It opened the discussion with his colleagues, Dr Emily Maractho, Director of the Africa Policy Centre at the Uganda Christian University and, Professor Anthea Garman, Head of the School of Journalism & Media Studies at Rhodes University.

 

Dr Maractho addressed the issue of journalism majors struggling to get a job in a newsroom.

“From a teaching point of view, you have to recognise that you are teaching people who will have to compete with people who have never been to journalism school at all and the question then becomes what more do you give people who come to journalism school that gives them then an edge in terms of practice?” she said.

She suggested students do courses on topics like gender and social justice to deepen their knowledge and become more competitive to have some sort of claim to professionalism compared to working journalists who do not have an educational background.

She added that faculties also need to “retool” because many teachers who have been in the industry for too long are not aware of changes, suggesting, for example, digital pedagogy especially since online learning is becoming more popular now.

Professor Garman concurred that to address the fragility of journalism in Africa, we also need to look at the ecologies of teaching and training.

“We [must] move away from the idea of individual journalism school, and its own pattern of relationships in a highly competitive environment, into a constellation of practices, a community of practitioners and, widening the boundaries so that we can think more comprehensively about how people are serviced with very good information and that they can tell the difference… between information and misinformation.”

She also proposed the idea of journalism institutions advocating for media literacy, while also lending skills from other services like science, economics, management etc.

Beyond teaching

The conversation also highlighted how African journalism teaching institutions can contribute to the broader media landscape. Professor Krüger said institutions can get involved in public engagements, thought leadership conferences, grants, fellowships, internships and awards, and provide support for media start-ups and innovators.

As Professor Krüger pointed out:

The African experience is simply glossed over too often, and I think a real contribution can be made if we do more work to actually bring into the global conversation what it means to be a journalist on this continent or to work in media on this continent.”

He added, “institutionally, we have strength, we have a position that demands of us to go beyond what has been the traditional role and to do more – I’m saying that African journalism schools should become the intellectual home of journalism on the continent.”