New journalisms, new pedagogies

Authors: Fowler-Watt, K.

Start date: 9 July 2019

New journalisms, new pedagogies One of the key challenges of teaching journalism during a disruptive age is that we are now working within a context where mainstream media is a term of abuse. As educators, we seek to send out into the world the next generation of journalists who we hope will produce better journalism and bring audiences back into engaging with our craft – journalism – but how do we do that when so many powerful people seem to want to undermine us? As Emily Bell of Columbia University’s Tow Center explains: ‘The people who want to see journalism fail now have bigger megaphones than ever’ (Bell, 2017). How do we inspire trust when swathes of the public cannot discern fake news? The 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, found that just 41% of British people agreed that the news media did a good job in helping them distinguish fact from fiction. The figure for social media was even lower: 18%. Arguably, in the ‘post truth’ context, trusted, credible journalism, has never been more important, but levels of disaffection with the media are profound.

This paper explores whether re-imaging journalism education in this disruptive age offers a potential route for seeking connected publics and trusted journalism, since, ‘if we want digital connections to increase human connections, we need to experiment’ (Zuckerman, 2013: 131). The imperative to utilise digital media to help create a better world, where citizens and journalists feel they belong, where the powerful are still held to account remains, but perhaps now is the time for a more inclusive and diverse, more thoughtful, investigative and globally-aware journalism, or journalisms. Predicated on the Habermassian (1991) understanding that robust journalism plays a crucial role in healthy public discourse, this paper will ask how journalists’ faith in their own ability to have impact can be restored. Could a focus on teaching the ‘intangibles’ of emotional literacy, encouraging rigorous scrutiny of normative values - ethics, the shibboleth of objectivity and verification through the lens of critical self- reflection - lead to a different kind of journalism practice? Alongside re-evaluating politics, we need to rethink journalism practice (Helm, 2017). If journalistic storytelling is to have a meaningful, positive impact on society, in the digital age of ‘citizen - witnessing’ (Allan, 2013), it needs to become more intuitive, more aligned.

Presenting ideas for different approaches to journalism education, this paper draws on the observations of journalists and the author’s experience of working currently on a pedagogic project with US non-profit, Global Voices that focuses on community and unheard voices. It analyses the approaches and experience of running the project with final year undergraduate students over the past 3 years. It engages with the idea of journalisms, in the plural, and has been tested globally with students and faculty in the Middle East and the US, as well as with the international community at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. The focus is to encourage students to think about how they report the stories of others and how they place themselves within those stories, their authorial voice, their own auto/biographical ’take’. In practice, throughout the final semester of the final undergraduate year, all students took the key professional development module in my journalism school, with the theme ‘reporting marginalised voices’. Students engaged with a range of journalists who shared with them how, in their own journalistic practice, they had tussled with this issue – of giving voice, of reporting the stories of others in a responsible way, nearby and within. Given that stories of crisis and conflict can also lead to ‘ennui’ (Sontag, 2003), as stories of abuse can too, they considered how these stories could be made more compelling and also, how we can be sure that we are really telling them as those involved would wish them to be told. In other words, how to avoid WJEC 2019 Abstract ‘othering’. The journalists involved in the project had reflected on and distilled their own experiences, they had sought to find what was useful and credible in those experiences in order to share them and in so doing had deconstructed their own practice. The students also tested their own learning, seeking to explain to the world – through the creation of data maps and multimedia explainers - the complexities of the Syrian conflict, by accessing the voices of the people who were most affected. These learning experiences, garnered on the brink of their entry into the professional world, connected them with the notion of multiple journalisms, enhanced their global awareness and urged them to connect with different concepts of storytelling.

Engaging with the psychosocial notion that journalists who are emotionally and digitally literate are more likely to produce journalism that is inclusive, immersive and connected, this paper posits that transformative pedagogies provide a starting point in inspiring new journalistic practices.

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