SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Journalism educators in the Pacific have called for more and better industry incentives and collaboration with journalism schools as a way of improving reporting standards.
A robust debate at the University of the South Pacific among experienced journalism educators revealed that improving the quality of education was an ongoing task.
But it could be helped if journalists had some motivation to stay in the job, instead of moving to higher paid global NGOs.
Lack of experience
A former head of journalism at USP and current PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Shailendra Singh, said he observed a “plethora of writing” and a “diversity of views” in the Australian media that was lacking in Fiji.
“In Australia, there are bald-headed and pot-bellied journalists. Fiji doesn’t see that due to a high turnover of staff,” he said.
USP's Radio Pasifik manager Semi Francis confirmed that media organisations in Fiji employed students straight from school, overlooking university graduates.
Misa Vicky Lepou from the National University of Samoa, and a graduate from USP, said it was the same in Samoa.
She confirmed there were many schoolleavers in journalism competing with graduates, and their substandard work was noticeable. She said the industry still criticised the journalism school for the poor level of journalism among young reporters.
Dr Marc Edge, current head of journalism at USP, said he was there to “increase the standard of journalism not just in Fiji but across the Pacific”.
“It needs to improve. Grammar, subject-verb agreement, style, little things like this need to improve considerably,” he said, adding that he too was still learning about the region, having arrived from Canada fairly recently.
He said low staffing at USP in recent years had not helped.
However, Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie responded that the journalism schools at USP and at the University of Papua New Guinea had achieved a lot on the international stage, particularly with USP’s success with the award-winning newspaper Wansolwara.
“At that stage in the 1990s, no New Zealand journalism course had a regular newspaper. We [at AUT University] do have today Te Waha Nui, which I started with a colleague after I came from USP, on the basis of the experience at USP.
“So I think it is hats off to USP - and UPNG in the past - and so on. Wansolwara has received quite a lot of awards. This paper (Te Waha Nui) has also been an award-winning paper, but it hasn’t won nearly as many awards as Wansolwara.”
Dr Robie also pointed out that Wansolwara integrated the "commercial reality" of producing a paper, unlike most other journalism schools, which were typically funded by the university or school.
“So students don’t get that broader picture of the economic reality and the difficulties producing a newspaper but Wansolwara does.”
Singh was also concerned to point out that there was much hard work done on the paper in previous years, which had continued under the work of former Fiji Times journalist Irene Manueli.
“The person working day and night on Wansolwara is Irene Manueli. Is she here, has she been acknowledged?”
A resounding round of applause broke out.
Dr Edge remained optimistic about the quality of future USP graduates.
“The first-year students we have this year are incredibly bright. They are as bright as any students I have taught anywhere in the world,” he said.
“And I believe with the kind of training and education they are going to get in the next three years we’ll soon be graduating students of great passion and depth.”
But Singh reminded Dr Edge that there had been great achievements in the past.
“It is not year zero, and you need to understand the local context ... If you come with the wrong attitude you put a lot of people off, and then it’s a very bad start.”
Room for improvement
Professor Robie also said Australia and New Zealand could learn from USP, as its internship period was six weeks, while AUT internships were only two weeks and far too short.
He said journalism schools needed to train students in an ever-increasing range of skills.
“One of the things we like to look for in graduates is the range of skills and the capability, because the media industry is changing at such a pace… they have to be incredibly flexible.”
He spoke about giving students practice in real reporting such as AUT's Pacific Media Centre does with the Pacific Scoop coverage of the Pacific Islands Forum in the last three years.
“It surprises me that no other journalism school anywhere in the region covers the forum, because you’ve got an opportunity there of such a range of issues and the politicians in one place, the NGOs and so on - so it’s an enormously beneficial training environment for any journalism school.”
He said AUT was focusing on producing “well-rounded graduates with critical thinking skills, strong exposure to business, economics, environment, government, history, politics, human rights and culture.
“And education is so vitally important in that process, just simply being trained in a newsroom is not enough. It’s a combination of the industry and journalism schools.”
In the Fijian context, Singh said there was a need to distinguish between responsible journalism and self-censorship, which was of growing concern in Fiji.
“More cautious, more responsible and more circumspect, doesn’t mean self-censorship,” he said.
Dr Edge said USP was looking to begin a postgraduate diploma in digital journalism in the near future, as well as an option to undertake a master’s degree.
In past years, USP had a postgraduate journalism programme and there have been graduates but this was dropped two years ago because of USP funding cuts.
Alex Perrottet is contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch. He was at the USP symposium as both a research paper presenter and a reporter.
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