Everywhere I look I seem to see a journalism training course. Some are long, some are short; some are done by experts, some by people who haven’t been in a newsroom for years; some are skills-based, others are there to promote an agenda, like the plight of refugees, or environmental issues. But there is no shortage, that’s for sure.
Why, then are there still problems with journalism skills in our region? Where is all this training going?
The truth, the hard truth, is that much of this training is wasted. Either it is poorly executed, or the wrong learners are in the class, or the wrong teacher is in front of the class, or it is the umpteenth version of this course offered by different institutions within a few months, or it bears no relationship to what is actually needed by working journalists.
One of the worst problems is when courses exist only because funders – rather than journalists – want them. You can usually tell these courses by their high-flying names and the words ‘human rights’ in their titles.
Another common problem is the number of people who are signing up for courses in order to come to Joburg for the partying and the shopping. You can identify these students because they save up their per diems and skip the last day of class to head for Eastgate or Cresta clutching rands and dollars.
We have bred the professional course participant: journalists who have done something like three courses in three different countries in the last six months, and have spent so much time in classrooms and workshops that you have to wonder when they get to practice this profession they are so eagerly learning.
We are soon going to have one person, one training course. There’s a bunch of journalism training institutes, of which my programme at Wits University is one, and then there’s a whole bunch of other institutions who jump in as well. Recently, for example, the SA Institute of International Affairs ran a training course for journalists.
The truth is that there s a lot of journalism training going on, but not enough of the right stuff done in the right way. As journalism educators, we need to grasp this prickly nettle for the sake of our own credibility.
One of the things I am going to do in this blog over the next few weeks is try and grapple with this. What kind of training do we really need? How do we match up to it? What do we do, if anything, about the surfeit of bad training?
Join me in this discussion.