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Opinion: Media needs an education

Cindy Nguyen / June 03, 2014 04:53 PM

The University of Queensland is considering scrapping its undergraduate journalism degree.

Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Tim Dunne, proposed this change in an issues paper obtained by the ABC, citing “the change in the job market and failing demand” as why he has flagged the restructure. He suggests the disbandment of the School of Journalism and Communication and the merge of its academic staff with the school of English, Media Studies and Art History.

Job cuts in the media are nothing new, and it is a very realistic sign of a changing industry, but this doesn’t mean degrees in journalism are redundant. The specialized skills offered in journalism tertiary degrees are key in differentiating citizen journalists from the professional media. Instead of axing degrees, it’s the content of degrees that  needs to change in accordance with the digital age.

Social media statistics released in Australia by reveals that Facebook, YouTube and WordPress are the top three subscribed websites on the internet, clearly representative of the shift to digital. Of course online news has its advantages and disadvantages, but the shift in journalism is here to stay and the industry, including its educators, needs to adapt.

While social media provides instant, rolling coverage of news, without a regular and efficient moderator, the public runs the risk of inaccurate content. And what sort of impact does social media have on journalists? Peter Fray, former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and founder of Politifact Australia, told Chris Kenny "social media has a place, a huge place, but there is more to life than being retweeted".

Fray believes “framing cogent arguments, asking pertinent and probing questions, may not fit into the 140-character paradigm that is Twitter". In other words, Fray doesn’t think social media is an accurate or cohesive way of consuming news. But social media allows for news stories to be shared quickly. One news story can gain a large and immediate following and attract readers who wouldn’t normally consume news.

The lack of focus on social media is something that needs to be changed in journalistic studies. Social media can be a tool for journalists where they can share and find stories, as well as gather potential sources. In Chris Kenny’s article ‘Changing the truth: digital media is distorting mainstream media coverage’ in The Australian, he sounds like a social media skeptic.

“Inexperienced journalist can build a profile on social media and progress quickly to commenting on national affairs which they have limited knowledge or experience,” Kenny says. This may be the case, but if there was a focus on how to use social media as a positive weapon in journalistic studies, Kenny’s argument wouldn’t be such a threat. Of course there will always be those who don’t have any experience as a journalist, calling themselves a journalist, but they aren’t going to have the scope to generate the balanced and informed discussion an experienced and educated journalist could provide.

Kenny and his likeminded commentators highlight the detrimental impact online journalism has had on mainstream media. He says, “The digital age favours jejune journalism over wise analysis.” What he fails to highlight is how the digital age has brought a breath of fresh air to journalism. It has allowed the art of journalism to be innovative and fresh, where infographics and videos can now accompany news stories, making them not only more entertaining but interactively engaging. The internet has also allowed the access of news to be easier and quicker. Consider how much easier it is to catch up on the top news on your phone, instead of pulling out a copy of a newspaper on a crowded train.

As a current journalism student, I find being constantly reminded of the lack of jobs is extremely daunting. Daunting because print journalism is on the decline, but the rise of the digital age also brings a sense of confidence. We need to focus this confidence on the potential of digital media. In RMIT’s undergraduate journalism course, only one subject is dedicated to online content. This could potentially hinder the chances of students getting a job in a digitally-focused market after they graduate. The skills taught in current journalism degrees may not be completely relevant to the evolving industry. There needs to be more focus on specialization. With print newspapers shutting their doors, digital start-ups and online news organisations are the employers of the future.

Journalism has changed and will continue to change. Education around journalism should not be redundant. The content of the degree should change in accordance with industry at the time. Having trained journalists is always going to make the Australian media stronger and more accurate. To completely make journalism degrees redundant is a very bad move.

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