SPJ Reading Room
Journalism Education goes global in Singapore
Norma Green, graduate journalism director at Columbia College Chicago and SPJ member since 1972, recently returned from the first ever World Journalism Education Congress, held June 25-28 in conjunction with the annual Asian Media Information and Communication Centre in Singapore. Here’s her travel report.
Time Travel to an Asian Century
It’s the destination, not the journey. That’s the aphoristic twist I had to keep telling my Midwestern self as Friday’s 19-hour flight from Chicago to Singapore via Hong Kong was delayed more than 20 hours. I lost the lone day I had scheduled to recover from jumbo jet lag and see a bit of the city-state island nation before an intensive global journalism education conference began.
Arriving early Monday, I finally felt the promise of lung-gripping tropical heat and humidity as I stepped from the air- conditioned Changi Airport terminal to an equally chilled taxicab about 30 minutes from the meeting headquarters. Traffic was light on the well-marked tree-lined boulevards of Singapore amid hundreds of high rises housing most of its 4.5 million residents. Around 2 a.m. I arrived at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel on Havelock Road, not far from the central business district. For the first time in 48 hours I didn’t have to wait in a line to check in. By the time I showered off two days of economy class fatigue, I had four leisurely hours to rest before breakfast and registration followed by eleven hours of newsworthy opening sessions.
Despite my journey’s inauspicious start and its 20,000- mile carbon footprint, being part of the first World Journalism Education Congress was worthwhile. “When [journalism] trust and credibility are scarce and change is immense” as National University of Singapore’s Prof. Kishore Mahbubani stated in his opening remarks — “with the end of an era of western domination of world history coupled with the rise of Asia...it requires us to change our mental maps.” As a U.S. journalism professor and self-proclaimed “news cartographer,” I felt the need to experience some of that 21st century geopolitical socio-economic feng shui.
No teleconferencing will ever substitute for all the face- to- face conversations — in four days of formal sessions as well as during coffee breaks, at meals, in the lobby, the elevators or even the inevitable queue for the women’s restroom. Under one roof with English as the lingua franca, the congress brought together some 400 representatives from 45 countries and 30 journalism education associations around the globe to hash out a universal declaration of principles of journalism education and mull over a UNESCO-suggested “Model Journalism Curricula for Developing Countries & Emerging Democracies.” The latter item caused more discussion than the former (because we had an actual 148-page book to thumb through rather than ephemeral screen projections) but journalism ethics were at the heart of both documents.
J-Ed Principles & Model Curricula
The declaration’s preamble, drafted on the opening day of the conference, read in part: “Journalism should serve the public in many important ways, but it can only do so if its practitioners have mastered an increasingly complex body of knowledge and specialized skills. Above all, to be a responsible journalist must involve an informed ethical commitment to the public. This commitment must include an understanding of and deep appreciation for the role that journalism plays in the formation, enhancement and perpetuation of an informed society.”
Among its eleven principles, the declaration called for practitioner-based faculty with “ experience working as journalists” and for these educators to “maintain strong links to media industries...[to] critically reflect on industry practices and offer advice to industry based on this reflection.” It further stated: “Journalism program graduates should be prepared to work as highly informed, strongly committed practitioners who have high ethical principles and are able to fulfill the public interest obligations that are central their work.”
Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon who is also a blogger, co-founder of Global Voices Online and now Hong Kong University assistant professor for New Media, scooped the congress organizers by posting the full declaration on her website.
The UNESCO booklet, described as a work in progress for member states, summarized university journalism education as typically following three “lines of development” including:
— norms, values, tools, standards, practices
— social, cultural, political, economic, legal and ethical aspects of practice locally/globally
— knowledge of world and journalism’s intellectual challenges
Citing the “increased recognition of the crucial role of journalism in promoting democracy, and...urgent demand for well-trained journalists,” UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication & Information Abdul Waheed Khan explained that the UN agency commissioned the curricula initiative in 2005 that resulted in this just-released list of recommended courses for undergraduate and post-graduate levels including mid-career training. Appendices include descriptions of post-secondary diploma or certificate programs (a popular form in many nations), detailed sample syllabi and a list of expected journalism competencies based on the European Journalism Training Association’s Tartu [Estonia] Declaration adopted in 2006. The full booklet [PDF] can be viewed at unesdoc.unesco.org.
Four professors/ program heads from Canada, Denmark, Lebanon and U.S.A. who oversaw the final curricula draft appeared on the WJEC panel for the initial distribution of the booklet. Magda Abu-Fadil, director of Journalism Training Program, Regional External Programs, American University of Beirut, was among them as the only woman and one of the few female panelists at the opening plenary or any other general sessions for that matter. She said she wanted to “help improve journalism training because [journalism is] an honorable and misunderstood profession.” Emphasizing the need for mid-career training, she said: “Journalists are like E.R. doctors. They are disconnected between what they were taught and what the market needs.”
She said the continuing education should cover grammar, spelling, titles, national histories, geography, media laws and ethics, thinking visually, the difference between news and editorializing, sensitivity training as well as a revision and upgrade of language skills. A Sri Lanka journalist vehemently disagreed with her observation that journalists typically have poor math skills that need improvement to be able to discuss such things as temperatures, currency and do investigative reporting. (If it weren’t for my two-faced wristwatch, I’d be challenged to figure out the 13-hour time difference between hotel, home, mind and body).
Beyond general concerns about a “one size fits all” template and potential homogenization [some worried about westernization] of curriculum regardless of local cultural specificities, a suggested two-year master’s level journalism program garnered the most questions and criticism. Citing his educational motto that “Media can be no better than their practitioners, “ N.(cx) Ram, editor in chief and publisher of India’s Hindu and Group Publication, said the postgraduate program should set professional standards for the industry, not the other way around. Deeming the proposed M.A. “a misconceived, waste of time, talent and resources, “ he said the length of the program was “impractical, confusing, too fussy.” He said 24 months was unrealistic because of cost and the eagerness of students to start [paid professional] work.
Hans Henrik Holm, head of the Danish School of Journalism, who later had the unenviable task of rehashing the Danish newspaper Muslim cartoon controversy in a freedom and responsibility session, admitted that the master’s level curriculum was not fully developed but said it would be a good basis for faculty discussions — which it was at the lunch immediately following and throughout the rest of conference. Many North American and European educators wondered aloud about a more selective admissions process, entrance exams and interviews along with the merits of practical and/or theoretical thesis projects while several professors from Asia and Africa lamented the lack of basic resources such as textbooks and computers for potential students as well as the journalism career limitations due to language barriers, government restrictions, political corruption and subsistence salaries.
The Congress included 27 journalism education groups from “every continent except Antarctica,” according to Robyn Goodman, WJEC program chair and Alfred (N.Y.) University professor. Two more organizations — in Indonesia and India-- joined on the spot during the congress. The gathering was conceived in the U.K. eight years ago and then carried forward to a Toronto conference by the U.S. based faculty organization--Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication under an International Task Force led by University of Oklahoma Dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication Joe Foote (who previously headed the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University and was first dean of college of Mass Communication & Media Arts at Southern Illinois University). The former broadcast journalist who has worked on communication projects in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East with Fulbright grants for Germany and Bangladesh said he saw the need to raise the profile of the discipline.
Reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield’s rant, it seems that journalism education gets no respect — within the academy or the industry. At the opening plenary, Foote observed that the time was right to hold a congress because of the state of journalism and its educational challenges. “No academic field has sustained growth [like that] of journalism in past 30 years. We have common problems and visions for the field of journalism and we want this to be a stronger field with clearer vision [as result of this meeting].” Foote said he wanted the congress to demonstrate cross-national solidarity. In a foreword to the printed program he wrote: “Most countries...began journalism programs less than 40 years ago...It is time for us to make our presence known and to show the breadth and depth our field has achieved. It is also important for our profession to fully realize the contributions that journalism and mass communication educators are making to improve it.”
Nobody really knows how many formal journalism programs are operating around the world. To that end, a global census of journalism education has been launched with preliminary evidence of 1,859 programs worldwide (more than 400 in U.S.A.) indicating underreporting in developing nations, according to University of Oklahoma’s Charles Self. He said the actual number is believed to be twice that many. Preliminary research in Africa among more than 50 countries found 96 journalism programs. Of those, “just 15% have a cyber presence,” according to Guy Berger of Rhodes University, South Africa. He defined journalism schools as “all institutions specializing in education and training for journalism be they public, private or civil society, university, institute, company, NGO, entry level work, working journalist practical skill journalism...but no ‘fly by night’ operations.” Berger said the survey challenges are finding them with little secondary research available, some with no Internet presence (no electricity), poor connectivity with other programs and little follow-up to preliminary query. A University of Lagos delegate added that he knew of 58 journalism programs in Nigeria alone. A regional survey of “Arab World” j- programs by Saudi Association for Media and Communication President Al Al-Karni found 100 and among the 73 responding-- more females than males enrolled in Journalism except at Ph.D. level. (Just like in the U.S.A.). In China, it was noted that journalism is regarded as a second tier discipline in universities. Nevertheless, there are 130,000 journalism students in China with about one-third getting journalism jobs annually. Anirruddha Bahal of Cobra-Post.com reported “China has as many journalists in one country as the rest of world [combined].” Charles Self is coordinating the ongoing global census and can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Ward, University of British Columbia journalism professor, author of “The Invention of Journalism Ethics: The Path to Objectivity & Beyond” and former Canadian Press foreign correspondent for Europe and the Middle East, asked two key questions: “With more than 400 codes of ethics identified worldwide, what is the relationship between the WJEC Declaration and these codes of ethics? Where do we go from here now to increase legitimacy of the relationship with journalism associations?”
Reiterating a “first we circle the wagons and then we blaze a trail” strategy,
Foote responded: “We have to do work internally [within academia first].” At the closing session, a team of professors surmised that they often wanted to teach more than industry wanted but that arrogance in media needed to be overcome by building bridges with the industry and sharing ideas.
The Congress was held in conjunction with the 16th annual conference of Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), a Singapore-based NGO designed to “to encourage ethical and social responsibility of the media to support democratic access and participation in media development and production” as well as empower disadvantaged. The theme of the AMIC meeting was “Media, Education and Development: the Quest for New Paradigms.” (You know you’re among academics when you see the word p-word...Brother, Can You Paradigm?) The key issues, as outlined by AMIC’s Secretary-General Indirajit Banerjee, were commercial viability of journalism and protection of public interest. He also announced the launch of the “first global portal — the AMIC Young Communicators Network — to showcase student work and help with media internship matching.” Learn more at aycn.net.
AMIC was established with the support of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German-based political foundation involved in “international dialogue and development cooperation and commitment to... social democracy “ with offices in some 100 countries. At the opening plenary, FES representative Paul Pasch observed that journalism continues to struggle. “Forty years has brought a lot of success for FES but also more challenges. The media is not free and independent, free access is not guaranteed, quality of journalism is lacking, independent broadcasting is not yet a model, gender policy is not in code of ethics of broadcasting.”
In keeping with my compromised circadian rhythms, I sat in on the first day of parallel AMIC sessions when I wasn’t roaming among concurrent WJEC sessions including something called “Syndicate Teams.” I was invited to join one, even though the name conjures up some lost episode of “The Sopranos.” My team, (#7) was comprised of j-professors from Australia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, Peru, and U.S.A. including Puerto Rico. A few team members had dual roles like Ellen Hume, director of the new Center on Media & Society at the University of Massachusetts, who was covering the proceedings for the National Endowment for Democracy and me...covering for SPJ. Over the course of a three-day group discussion of what the ultimate journalism education looks like, at least two of the teachers confessed they had studied for the priesthood but became journalism professors instead. (Divinity or Deadlines — hum?).
The team brainstormed about what we hoped the ultimate education would produce. Consensus was that we wanted to graduate those who are passionate about their social responsibility and understand and appreciate the role of journalism in it. We would hope to inspire, excite — even incite — students. Team members thought the curriculum should be a mix of theory and practice with real world experience and internships strongly encouraged. One described journalism as social research and stressed developing critical thinking skills for those who were going to interpret society. The team pondered ways to help students transform information into knowledge. Another suggested a focus on stakeholders and a study of the [news] industry was critical along with ethics. In terms of the ultimate journalism education, the team said it should have a teaching and research nexus as learning should never end for professors as well as students.
I fully intended to attend Monday’s opening night “gala dinner” at 7 p.m. but saw a chance to take a late afternoon nap after the day sessions ended at 5 p.m. I awoke at 8:30 p.m., tossed on my coral batik floor-length dress--brought especially for the occasion--and dashed downstairs. I missed the keynote speech by Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett but did get there for dessert and some awards presentation to conference organizers. Arnett, who is freelancing these days, has been a visiting lecturer at southern China’s Shantou University’s Cheung Kong School of Journalism and Communication this semester. I would have been interested in what he had to say about education or...ethics. According to a brochure distributed at dinner, Shantou boasts China’s first media convergence lab opened in March in cooperation with the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Russia’s Moscow State University. The Mac lab is where reporting students get to practice incorporating text, photos, video and online material. Learn more at media.stu.edu.cn.
Night & Day Outside the Hotel
On the second evening, I decided to see a bit more of the 351 square mile island beyond the confines of the hotel. There are only so many windowless conference rooms I can take before I begin to crave the outdoors. So, despite front page headlines in the local Straits Times newspaper about widespread outbreak of mosquito born dengue fever, I ventured out for the Singapore “Night Adventure” tour. But not before slathering myself in DEET and wearing long sleeves and pants despite the heat. Arranged through the hotel, the three-hour tour included a river cruise on a Chinese junk, dinner at a Chinese restaurant (did I mention that Chinese constitute about 75 percent of Singapore’s ethnicity with 14 per cent Malay and 8 per cent Indian?). We also visited a tourist trap pewter shop and walked through Bugis Market, one of many open stall night shopping venues, where I smelled (but did not taste) my first stinky durian –a fruit that one guide said “smells like hell but tastes like heaven” and finally, the ultimate nightcap — an authentic Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar where the cloyingly sweet pink drink was invented but probably not enjoyed by the likes of guests including Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin. The British colonial era hotel built in 1887 and named after modern Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, is the only place in all of litter-free Singapore where one can let loose as patrons are encouraged to toss peanut shells on the floor. (We should be allowed to do most anything when paying 23 Singapore dollars for a souvenir cocktail).
Buoyed by my brief foray outside Tuesday evening, I signed up for a three-hour early Wednesday morning “City Experience” tour that promised to “showcase the contrast between old and new and the blend of East and West...the history, culture and lifestyle of multiracial Singapore.” I witnessed a well-mannered rush hour (no pushing, shoving, jaywalking, horn honking) in the business district, a view of various construction sites including a whole new part of city based on landfill reclamation along with visits to Little India and Chinatown (with a Tamil mosque side by side Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple), a gem factory where I broke down and bought some jade and finally 52 hectares of jungle orchids at high noon in the Botanic Gardens.
Back at the hotel...I attended wide-ranging research sessions that discussed redesigning Bangladesh journalism curriculum, core knowledge in U.S. journalism education, sensitizing communications students in a South African university to HIV/AIDS crisis, addressing the appropriateness of reporting on suicide and mental illness in an Australian journalism curriculum, the content of journalism education in Canada and cross-national student exchanges, the Soviet press legacy in Kyrgyzstan and Ukrainian j-programs as well as the search for centers of excellence in African journalism training and discussion by a Russian professor teaching in New Zealand of her efforts to use a detailed rubric to score the quality of student news stories.
With another free evening before me, I decided to throw caution to the tropical wind and indulge in the famed “Night Safari” that several conferees had been on earlier in the week. I did not sign up for the luxury package tour that included elegant dining while on a tram train pulled through the game preserve. Why would I want carnivores to smell me as well as what I was eating while I supposedly peered at them out an open air tram? So slathering on DEET (practically gargling it), I left the urban jungle and went out to an outlying rainforest where shadowy lighting and realistic-looking habitats illuminated the living, snorting rhinos, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, wolves, jackals, otters, porcupines, sloth bears, zebras, fox, giraffes, bearded pigs, Malayan tapirs, tigers, lions, giant anteaters, mousedeer, leopards, birds just a few yards away (behind supposed moats and invisible fences). Our tour guide threatened to stop the tram (turn the car around?) if insensitive photographers continued to use their flash that frightened the animals — despite repeated warnings. Having survived the 45-minute tram tour and a dark walk to fishing cats who wade into a stream to catch their watery prey, I watched a “Thumbuakar Tribal Performance” of what our guide described as “sexy young men.” Sure enough, fresh from the Borneo rainforests, there were buff and oiled young men in bikini briefs flexing their muscles to throbbing drum beats as they shouted and frolicked with fiery torches on a tiny stage much to the delight of nearby elderly New Zealand women on a wild night out. I was exhausted and glad to go back to hotel where I could continue to process the first world congress of journalism professors and now this second one of wilder animals.
On the final day, the AMIC plenaries provided compelling comparisons as to what really mattered in journalism and journalism education. Over the course of the conference, several presentations covered the technological changes in journalism and how new media is affecting education with examples of “gig subculture” in Thai youth’s use of mobile phones, file-sharing content and copyright violations in Japan, the impact of India’s new Community Radio policy and Jakarta’s citizen journalist-based Radio Elshinta. At the same time, there were parallel discussion about long-standing seemingly eternal conflicts about ethics and laws and journalistic rights. While some fretted about the role of bloggers in journalism, other expressed concern about just staying alive.
“I come from one of the freest and rowdiest countries where 51 journalists have been killed,” declared Red Batario of the Center for Community Journalism & Development in the Philippines. “We’re battling for survival.” He continued: “Freedom can be part of the problem when gossip and gore masquerade as news. What is alarming is that the public doesn’t mind if the price is low and it’s entertaining.” Batario said he works with “barefoot journalists” who are “susceptible to development journalism” and corrupt practices including bribery known as “ATM journalism” and “KQ [keep quiet] columnists.” He concluded with a question: “I wonder if democracy in the Philippines is really helping the press with unabated killings?”
Next year’s annual AMIC conference is scheduled for the Philippines. When and if there will be another WJEC is unclear. What is certain is that this gathering did make us sort of the “global pioneers” Joe Foote referred to as he thanked attendees for “building a strong foundation for cross-national understanding and cooperation.” After days of talking about journalism education, I appreciated an offer to visit a local campus.
On the last evening of the conference, Ang Peng Hwa, AMIC chairman and dean of the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, invited a busload of us out to see the campus of the host j-school. Ang & I were classmates in the mass media doctoral program at Michigan State University in the 1980s. We toured an uncluttered office of the Nanyang Chronicle student newspaper, an “Asian Communication Resource Centre” aka library, state-of-the-art multimedia labs, two television production studios, radio studios, audio suites and even a focus group room with two-way mirror as well as equipment for recording, playback and computer-assisted telephone polling. But most impressive was the donor wall at the main entrance listing those who have pledged $27 million--with matching government funds to come. (Not quite like the Fountain of Wealth I saw in Singapore’s Civic District but almost). In 2006, the school was renamed for Singapore’s fourth president, diplomat, broadcast executive and former journalist who died in 1993. The group dined at Raffles Quay Marina overlooking the twinkling lights of Malaysia just across the bay and I arrived back at the hotel well before my 2 a.m. wakeup call for 6 a.m. flight back to the States.
While I didn’t see all 263 square miles of the island, I saw enough to give me a glimpse into its future and mine. At the conference we discussed ways to build bridges with the industry and to share ideas. This travel narrative is one entry into that continuing dialogue.
WJEC Update: Name change and next meeting
At least they don’t have to change the monogrammed towels...
At the 90th annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication held Aug. 8-12 in Washington, D.C., AEJMC President Wayne Wanta announced that he volunteered the U.S. based organization to host the next meeting of the newly renamed World Journalism Education Council at its convention in Boston scheduled for Aug. 5-8, 2009.
“[In Singapore] to see it happen, it was remarkable that different people from different cultures came together...The commonalities far outweighed the differences, “ said Wanta who is a journalism professor at University of Missouri-Columbia. “I don’t think a full-blown congress will take place again. But we wanted to continue the collegiality.”
AEJMC President-Elect Charles Self of the University of Oklahoma said that based on the “sense of excitement and optimism” [in Singapore] WJEC decided to meet every two or three years on a rotating basis as part of ongoing efforts across nations.
“ Media education is becoming more professional and the meeting itself will have long lasting impact in terms of the growth of numbers of media education associations. While anyone can technically become a journalist, the conference showed that formal training is qualitatively different. The Chinese image of journalist is an ear at the door—a busybody. It was good to discuss training that includes critical thinking skills and ethics,” said Ang Peng Hwa, dean of Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Commmunication & Information and chair of Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore that hosted the historic joint meeting.
Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Professor Loren Ghiglione, president of the Association of Schools of Journalism & Mass Communication, a U.S. based group of administrators, observed that “U.S. education in general is somewhat provincial. I hope we find a way to send more students to study abroad to be citizens of the world and change how education is taught. An important beginning was WJEC.”