journalism training in an age of globalization and the Internet.
This research project proposal was successfully submitted for a Fulbright African Research Scholarship. It proposed to investigate the relevance for southern Africa of contemporary journalism training in the USA. There are three strands: democracy, Internet and training impact. The estimated duration is seven months. and the overall methodology is qualitative.
by Guy Berger, Aug 1999
The context of this proposal is one of globalization of both the media industry and of journalistic norms (cf. Murdock, 1994; Dahlgren 1995, 1997; White 1994), a development that combines trends both towards increased homogeneity and heterogeneity within the whole. Put briefly, at the most developed pole of the global media, as represented by the USA, there is high media penetration with rampant new media technology, in a system that is overwhelmingly private sector-based and has the back-up of advanced journalism training resources. At the other extreme, much of Africa is characterized by media scarcity and low technology levels, a public sector-based system and very limited experience in journalism training. And yet, within such heterogeneity within the whole, there are nonetheless significant common threads - such as globally shared normative concepts of press freedom and the democratic role of independent journalism, an expanding recognition of importance of the Internet as a mass medium, and a universal accord about the need for impactful training for an institution as important as the media.
Against this background, a study of contemporary US experience in these issues can generate valuable knowledge of relevance to the African situation. In some cases, this knowledge may serve precisely to underscore the differences between the two poles and thereby clarify the specificity of Africa. In other matters, the study may discover trends or models in the USA that have similarities to the African trajectory. This is not to suggest that African experience has no value to the USA. At the very historical moment when the independent press in Africa has been playing a popular (if also chequered) role in campaigning for democracy, numerous recent studies have charted the decline of media credibility in the USA (Fallows,1995; McChesney 1997; Journalism Credibility Project; Urban, 1999). American media scholars, journalism teachers and journalists could gain a lot from greater understanding of Africa's valuation of press freedom. However, the core thrust of this research is to investigate the US condition for its relevance to African journalism teaching. The study, in a nutshell, examines the globalization of journalism teaching from the vantage point of Africa, and the knowledge accumulated will be on interest to both Africa and USA.
To conduct such a study requires criteria as to what aspects of the USA's situation are relevant to Africa, and this presupposes knowledge of African conditions. The research therefore proceeds from the basis of what is known about contemporary journalism and journalism training in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where an amount of knowledge, both first-hand and in research documents, exists. Before proceeding to the USA, a month will be spent aggregating and analysing this information as essential backdrop to the work to be done while based, it is hoped, at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC). At the same time, a proposed association with the nearby Duke University (with inter alia its Center for Africa and the Media) will serve as a valuable source to add to this understanding of Africa.
A preliminary analysis of African media and journalism training in SADC countries reveals a number of key areas which have some parallels in the USA. The first is the media-democracy relationship; the second is the challenge to journalism training posed by the New Media (most notably, the Internet); and the third is raising the impact of journalism training. While each of these areas discussed below is framed as a self-contained project, they are all inter-related. It is likely that at the completion of the whole project that complementary research outputs will be produced, but also an overall integrated set of results will also become possible - such as a journal article highlighting the links between democracy, new media and journalism training within the framework of contemporary African journalism training.
1.1 Research background and rationale:
A number of writers have tried to analyse and document the role of Africa's media in the democratisation that has developed on the continent during the 1990s, but it is fair to say that the output has been patchy (Ansah, 1988, Blake, 1997; Kasoma, 1997; Ronning, 1994; Bourgault 1995, African Media Review, The Journal of African Communications, Misa Free Press). Certainly, journalism training is still short of comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the media-democracy relationship in Africa, and how this compares to the media-democracy dynamics in places like the USA.
In the past decade, journalistic and media research attention has been given to the fact that the introduction of multi-partyism in Africa did not automatically usher in a fully-fledged democratic society, and that democratic transformation needed to take into account much else, including the role of the media. The 1992 Windhoek Declaration underscored the importance to democracy of freedom of expression, press freedom and media pluralism. In turn, this thrust focussed on the right of citizens to publish private newspapers and transforming government-controlled media into non-partisan pillars of democratic practice. Also up for analysis has been the problem of opening up the airwaves to private broadcasters without the existence of any impartial institution or public process to govern the issuance of licences in a way that befits democracy.
Other areas that have come into view are media economics, Freedom of Information, the gender character of Africa's media and the significance of the Internet for the democratic role of African journalists. An issue that has also emerged has been, and its implications for democratization. Into this picture has come the recent crises of democratically elected governments severely repressing critical journalists. The question is whether these developments signal a regression to the past when African media's contribution to democracy on the continent was minimal and even negative.
1.2 Research objectives:
Little has been done to make comprehensive sense of all these issues by way of a holistic analysis of the democratic (and non-democratic) significance of media in southern Africa. Even less has been done to theorise the media-democracy question in these conditions. There are advanced theories in the USA and Europe, entailing concepts like the "public sphere", "civil society", "civic journalism", and "public journalism" (see Lichtenberg, 1990; Curran and Gurevitch, 1991; Corrigan, 1999; Rosen, 1996; Sparks and Dahlgren, 1992; Howard Rheingold's writings; Media Studies Journal; Pew Center for Civic Journalism; The St Louis Journalism Review). A relevant research project therefore is to assimilate the complex issues facing Africa's media, at the same time as drawing upon, where applicable, theorisation born of societies with rather different media conditions (see Akioye, 1994). The exercise will serve two purposes: adding insight to African media's democratic limits and potential, and testing the utility of general theories with different roots.
My expertise in these issues has been recognized in that I have been a regular speaker at the Media Institute of Southern Africa, a regional press freedom lobby group. In addition, I have supervised five programmes for editors from southern Africa, all of which have a democracy thread. I have further conducted research in southern Africa on how journalism training has impacted on the democratic role of journalists in the region, and in 1999 I initiated a course on African media debates at Rhodes (http://journ.ru.ac.za/amd). I have contributed on media-democracy questions to the Review of African Political Economy, the Rhodes Journalism Review and to newspapers around South Africa. All of this underlines my background in the research topic, plus demonstrates that my findings will be fed into a range of future outlets.
1.3 Methodology and output:
The methodology for this research will include a literature review, researching the online database of African media at the Duke Center for Africa and the Media, and participating in relevant seminars at Duke's DeWitt Wallace Center for Communications and Journalism. There will also be interviews with media scholars at UNC-CH's School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JOMC) and in particular with individuals like civic journalism expert Prof Philip Meyer, Freedom of Expression scholar Dr Cathy Packer, First Amendment researcher Dr Margaret Blanchard, and Dr Robert Stevenson who has written on the politics of information in the Third World. The African Studies faculty at UNC-CH will also be a useful resource. UNC-CH's JOMC library subscribes to 225 publications as well as online databases which are not easily accessible within South Africa, and the School also operates a respected Center for Research in Mass Communication. These are very valuable research resources.
The time period for this research is two months and the output will be one or two substantial articles which will be submitted for publication in academic journals. The information will also be fed into teaching programmes for both students and working journalists within the SADC region.
2. Teaching new media to African journalists.
2.1 Research background and rationale:
Just recently the Internet was only an additional medium alongside other old media; now it is increasingly drawing in, and even superceding, some of the separate and distinct traditional skills (see Online Journalism Review, Press Time; Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Christine and online work of Christine Ogan and Mindy McAdams). Attention has been given to the value of online resources as an input to journalism, with expanding numbers of courses on Computer-Assisted Journalism in the USA. In addition, there has been a focus on journalistic output for the Internet: such as the interactive possibilities and on what writing style best suits the Internet. Increasingly, the emphasis has been on the multi-media character of the Internet, and the way this medium can integrate text, design, photographs, audio and video. The debates here can be found in the Online Journalism Review; in Bierhoff and Schmidt (1996), Houston (1996), Garrison (1998) Reddick (1998) and Jones (1999); on key listservs like CARR-L, JOURNET and NEWSLIB; as well as in the online writings of Steve Outing, Nora Paul; John December, Dominique Paul Noth; JD Lasica; and Julian Sher.
For journalism training, these developments have raised the issue of how to teach both the input and the output skills relating to the Internet. The as-yet unanswered question is whether these changes make for new (possibly ghetto-ized) teaching programmes, or ones that are better integrated into existing ones. The new media technology also raises the question as to its potential uses in journalism training (especially for servicing off-campus learners like mid-career journalists).
Part of researching these issues is predicated on knowledge of what the societal and industry trends are in the new media at large. This has a further bearing on the journalism curriculum: the challenges facing journalism teachers are not just how and where to teach the skills of research and publishing online, but also what to do about "cyberstudies" - an understanding of the social significance of the computer-mediated-communication that is made possible on a mass scale via the Internet. This raises questions of how a journalism curriculum should cover the Global Information Society (see Bangemann Report and sequels), the WWW's global market and cybereconomics, not to mention issues of language, culture, cyberlaw and ethics. Questions of online individual identity, cyberdemocracy and electronic townhalls, etc. (see the webwork of Howard Rheingold,Daniel Chandler and Sherry Turkle) are critical areas as well.
Work around these issues is advanced in the USA and both African media and African journalism training facilities still have a long way to go in order to reach current levels in the USA. African conditions for journalism training are extremely different to those in the USA (James, 1990) - but some of these will be temporarily so as Africa gets "wired". In addition, the very character of the Internet as a global medium underscores the relevance of "high-end" experience for this continent. It is also the case that Africa may be able to leapfrog certain technological stages, such as bypassing wires and cables and going straight to satellite use of new media.
My interest in the Internet's relevance to African media saw me initiate the Rhodes' department's New Media Lab in 1995. I have also written much on this field, and have supervised MA research students here. Rhodes was the first southern African journalism training institution to begin teaching New Media skills. In 1998, I was named as one of 50 global people to know in new media by the respected Online Journalism Review. In addition, I pioneered a pilot "virtual community" of journalism teachers in South Africa, and I have conducted four workshops to train Internet trainers in southern Africa.
2.2 Research objectives:
The strategic place of new media in a curriculum in a context of media convergence is an issue that impacts on the traditional boundaries between media skills, and between media skills and media theory. It has ramifications at the level of technology used in and for teaching. In this light, there is much relevance in assessing trends in the USA concerning how journalists utilize and are trained in, new media technologies. In African conditions, the questions of how to teach the skills of online research as well as internet publishing can be answered in part by drawing from US journalism school experience. To concentrate, critically and close-up, on one leading example as at UNC-CH, is a coherent research endeavour.
2.3 Methodology and outputs:
The methodology for this project will be analysis of curriculums available in the USA, interviews with instructors at UNC-CH, and observation of their classes. Key personnel there include Dr Deb Aikat, Prof Rich Beckman, Prof Phil Meyer and Barbara Semonche (list-owner of NEWSLIB and instructor in database journalism). The output will be discussion papers and draft curriculums which will be circulated via printed copies, website and listservs, within the USA and Southern Africa. The expected research time is two months.
3. Maximising the impact of journalism training:
3.1 Research background and rationale:
Many of Africa's journalism training facilities are relatively young and inexperienced. There is no community of journalism teachers as in the USA where organisations like the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) play an important role in raising the standards of the profession. There is also no system of accreditation of journalism training in southern Africa, although the prospect (with various pros and cons) has now arisen in South Africa, through this country's new SA Qualifications Authority, and the embryonic Sector Education and Training Authorities (Duncan, 1996). The USA, however, is a pioneer in accreditation systems, and with more than 100 journalism schools accredited there, the country is an ideal base to research and evaluate, at close hand, the effectiveness of these measures on the quality and quantity of journalism training. This is not to suggest that journalism education in the USA is problem-free (see Medsger, 1996; ACEJMC Ascent; Journalism and Mass Communication Educator). But it is still worth investigating the mechanisms entailed in accreditation, and some assessment of their relative costs, problems and successes from the point of view of possible replication in the African environment.
Another issue relating to the impact of journalism teaching is that most of southern Africa's journalism training facilities concentrate on entry-level journalists, rather than on working journalists. Meanwhile, the relatively low level of training of Africa's mid-career journalists is compounded by the new challenges facing these people, including an understanding of their democratic role as well as of new media and critical management/leadership skills. In the USA, many journalism schools do make the resources of higher education available to working journalists in a number of ways. There is much that Africa can learn here on the problems and prospects of servicing the mid-career media professional.
My background in this field is involvement in the question
of standards generation, quality assurance and accreditation in South Africa,
in my capacity as head of the country's biggest journalism school. I initiated
two national organisations of print and broadcast teachers last year and
was this year voted convenor of a committee representing heads of departments
in negotiations with the media industry and the SA Qualifications Authority.
I was also twice elected as education and training convenor of the SA National
Editors Forum, a position I currently occupy. I have delivered numerous
papers on the topic of journalism education, and I teach a course on Media
Pedagogy (drawn from one run by Tom Bowers at UNC-CH). I have also initiated
a part-time MA programme at Rhodes, which serves mid-career journalists,
and I further co-ordinate all the department's short courses for this constituency.
3.2 Research objectives:
There are significant differences between the accreditation system in the USA and the proposed SA system. The extent to which the USA represents "best practice" to which the SA model should aspire, is a key topic for investigation here. This entails close range analysis of the American system both in microcosm at one leading journalism school, and more broadly across the USA, with a focus on the impact that accreditation has on training. Also under the theme of maximizing impact of journalism training, is the question of mid-career training. There is value in analysing and assessing the different ways in which journalism school expertise in the USA, especially a premier schoole, is made accessible to working journalists. Questions of impact are embedded in this exercise, and these in turn relate to the issue of follow-up, evaluation mechanisms, and lifelong learning within the journalism profession.
3.3 Methodology and outputs:
The methodology for this project will be scrutinisation of documentation plus interviews. There are a small number of journalism training needs assessments done in southern Africa, and these will be utilized to identify particular areas of training which in the USA could generate rich case study material for both accreditation and mid-career training.
Within the USA, besides an opportunity to study various documented reports on accreditation, I will be able to interview key informants such as Dean Richard Cole of UNC-CH who has chaired numerous accreditation site teams, and was vice chair of the national accreditation council for seven years. Tom Bowers, senior associate dean of the school, is currently a council member. Faculty member Raleigh Mann recently completed a three year term on AEJMC's standing committee on Teaching Standards. In 1997, UNC-CH was accredited as being "one of the country's very best programs" and highly praised for its equal emphasis for scholarship and professional excellence. It is likely that the UNC-CH people will also prove invaluable in directing my research to other relevant sources elsewhere in the USA who can then be interviewed by email.
In addition, UNC-CH provides training for mid-career journalists in the form of an accelerate doctoral programme and semester fellowships for newspaper copy editors. It further runs an Executive Education program offering short courses for working journalists on a range of topics. Observation and interviews about these programmes will further contribute to this research focus. Similar techniques will be used in regard to organisers and participants in Duke's DeWitt Wallace Center Visiting Media Fellows programme.
To research accreditation should take six weeks, and mid-career training matters, another six weeks. The outputs of this research will be a series of reports on the significance of US systems for southern African journalism training, which will be distributed to stakeholders in the SADC like journalism teachers and trainers, government education officials, and editors' and journalists' organisations.
The research projects described above together constitute
a coherent whole. They are achievable in terms of the specified time, available
research resources at UNC-CH (and Duke), and the researcher's own background.
There is a multi-faceted relevance and significance to them - academic,
professional and global - and the outputs will take a range of forms to
ensure maximum amplification. In short, the proposal to research African
journalism training in an age of globalization and the Internet is a program
that the applicant hopes will merit Fulbright support.
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