Journalism education in SEE: Students need more practice

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Experts debate on education of journalists - students and media outlets are often dissatisfied with the practical knowledge gained at universities.

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Christian Spahr (left), Head of KAS Media Program South East Europe and Thorsten Geissler, Head of the KAS Bulgaria office

Christian Spahr (left), Head of the KAS Media Program South East Europe and Thorsten Geissler, Head of the KAS Bulgaria office

On 28 March 2017, media scholars, students, NGO experts and representatives of state institutions from 15 countries have exchanged views and recommendations about reforms in journalism education in South East Europe. The conference in Sofia was based on a previous survey of a KAS expert group. It was conducted among journalism students in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia, who expressed the need for more practical elements in university courses and better implementation of technological changes.

The conference was opened by Christian Spahr, Head of the KAS Media Program South East Europe. He addressed the challenges to which journalism education needs to respond in better ways. He referred, amongst others, to the technical revolution, the civic responsibility of journalists and the collaboration between universities, media outlets, state institutions and NGOs in the field of education. In addition, Thorsten Geissler, Head of the KAS Bulgaria office, pointed out in his welcome speech, that professional journalism education should have highest priority for politics, media management and the universities. "High-grade and independent journalism is an important precondition for a viable democracy," he said. The President of the European Journalism Training Association, Nico Drok, said in his keynote that it is necessary to rethink the goals of professional journalism in the digital era. He presented a general framework for future journalism education in Europe, including journalism and language skills, general knowledge, research and critical thinking. "We need reflective practitioners," Drok said.

Journalism in the digital age and media ethics – two sides of the same coin

The first panel was focused on the role of journalists for democracy in the digital era. The discussion was moderated by Andreas Ernst, Western Balkans Correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung daily. Jonila Godole, Executive Director of the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture in Tirana, addressed media ethics as an issue for journalism education and the so called "copy and paste" journalism in particular. Another problem she sees in the inability of students to make a difference between journalistic reports and PR articles. Tom Law, Director of Campaigns and Communications of the Ethical Journalism Network in London, expressed the opinion that the difference between journalism and other types of communication are the professional values of journalists. According to Bertrand Pecquerie, CEO of the Global Editors Network in Paris, journalism schools are not preparing young journalists for the work life that comes after graduation. "Only one third will become journalists. More journalism students start in communication departments than in the newsrooms," he said. In terms of journalism education, Pecquerie stated that mobile journalism is the future and this is what students should learn nowadays first. Ljiljana Zurovac, Executive Director of the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, argued that technological revolution is something that will keep developing, but what makes journalism a profession, are its core values and ethical principles. Tom Law added that journalists and their audience should not need to choose between new forms of journalism and media ethics, because professional standards are the basis of quality journalism.

KAS survey on journalism education in South East Europe

Manuela Zlateva, Communications Manager of the KAS Media Program South East Europe, presented key findings of the KAS survey among journalism students and the book "Requirements for modern journalism education". The results show that 34 percent of the respondents defined journalism as their dream job. Another 34 percent declared their motivation to study journalism with the possibility to engage in society and politics. However, the career perspectives in the field are discouraging: Only half of the students want to start working in journalism after their graduation. The respondents in all examined countries estimated that the technical equipment of the faculties is critical. Every second student declares that the universities are insufficiently technically equipped. Moreover, a majority of students think that practical exercises are not sufficient. Zlateva drew conclusions and recommendations based on the survey such as deepening the dialogue between media owners, academics and Ministries of Educations as well as attracting new state and private investments for providing modern teaching technology. The study was a starting point for the next panel discussion on reforms in universities and political support.

More in the event report.

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Bulgaria, March 28, 2017