By Kwemoi Kamary
Journalism is defined as the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business. It also refers to a course of study preparing students for careers in reporting, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines (Dictonary.com). Journalism operates in the milieu of mass media involving books, newspapers, magazines, radio, movies, television and the internet. Journalism continues to change owing to the speedy technological transformation and there exist various patterns
reflecting this transformation. This paper will deal with journalism as a course of study, that is, teaching and learning area rather than as an occupation.
Contemporary teaching and learning of journalism has been motivated by different aspects. This is particularly evident in the 21st century lifestyle characterized by technological advancement, economic competition and pressure, consumerism as well as environmental challenges.
Market driven Journalism
Journalism curricula have continually responded to changes in mass media industry’s hiring trends and strategies for competitiveness aimed at boosting popularity and readership. For instance, changes in journalism in Kenya reflect the cross-ownership nature of media whereby television, radio and newspaper are run under one roof. Other television and print news outlets have increasingly form partnerships with each other to gain larger audiences. Consequently, journalism educators have resorted for a cross-training in their curriculum. Students are not only taught a specific technique but are also given more training in different aspect of journalism including print, television, news media, advertising, marketing and photography. Journalism therefore is trying to prepare students for the realities of technological advances and emerging trends in mass communication of the 21st century. From this view, faculties will continue incorporating multiple forms of media into the curricula by adding new requirements. Daystar University’s updated catalogue, for instance, reflects this trend. In addition to print and broadcast media courses, new academic requirements like internet communication or online journalism have been incorporated. Current students of journalism are taking courses from across the communication sequences; electronic media, print media, public relation and advertising as electives, minors or as double majors.
Technology driven pattern
Journalism as a teaching and learning area is also undergoing transformation mirroring the rise and influence of the “dot-com communication” industry. Due to the speedy technological transformation, the definition of journalism and mass media is no longer clear cut. The continuing explosion of digital communication technology appears to provide more avenues for adjusting training approaches.
In the recent days, the rise of social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and chat-zones have significantly changed the traditional view of mass media. Social media has consequently given rise to citizen journalism which is no longer limited to conservative channels carried out by professional journalists, analysts, industry experts and experts. CNN’s ireporter is an example of citizen journalism where armature photographers can upload news graphics and videos from any part of the world. In a sense, anyone can be a journalist! Other technologically shaped trends in journalism have been an outcome of such channels as: online video, online social forums, newsgroups, podcasting, wikis, photo-sharing, social bookmarking, music sharing and multiplayer games.
Journalism curricula are adopting new strategies in response to these technologically driven media phenomena.
Prestige, celebrity status and commodification
Mass media influence has had a great impact in journalism training, at least in Kenyan context. Contemporary Kenyan urban population exposed to mass media particularly television, view media personalities (presenters, Disc Jockeys, and news anchors) as celebrities. Thus, journalism has been viewed, among young people, as a means to a profession that makes one attain prestige as a celebrity. Journalism in Kenya is becoming a popular academic course among young people whose concept of beauty and fashion is influenced by mass media content. Celebrities in television are considered pretty or handsome, confident, smart, intelligent and wealthy and therefore successful. Students who do not consider themselves by this standard tend to shy away from pursuing television related career.
Also, journalism has been viewed as a means of preparing individuals for the job market and therefore a factor of economic growth. Seen primarily from economic rationalistic standpoint, teaching and learning journalism has been commodified; turned into an item with a market value.
Issues driven journalism
As the world undergoes rapid changes, various contemporary issues that were not given much attention have now been the focus of journalism. Part of curriculum design for journalism has been aimed at responding to these issues alongside news, sports, business and politics. Environmental issues arising from global warming has restructured journalism training to encourage adequate mastery of environment and related issues. The impact of environmental changes in Kenya, for example, has been enormous in the recent years as seen through annual cycle of flooding and drought. Journalism training has been aimed to equip student journalists to appropriately deal with the issue.
More so, peace and reconciliation is taking up a special place in Kenyan (and African) journalism as a response to tribal and regional conflicts. Journalists are trained to handle conflict reporting objectively and sensitively. In the past, bad Journalism has been blamed for fueling tribal tension as it was the case in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and Kenya’s 2007 post-election clashes. Other issues getting special attention in journalism include education, globalization, health, investigative and special art. These issues have been reflected in mainstream media in the name of global journalism, environmental journalism, legal affairs journalism, entertainment journalism and technology journalism.
Critique of current patterns in Journalism – a Christian perspective
The necessity for a critique
This paper takes approach of none neutrality. All forms of education constitute a “liturgy” (Smith, 2009), a fundamentally pedagogical channel for forming of human heart and desires. Journalists operate the visual and visceral media (Taylor and Harris, 2008) with various life perspectives that shapes peoples imagination and intellect slowly and surreptitiously get absorbed into the kardia – the heart (Smith, 2009).
In a Kenyan context, the media, according to Gallup International Research Company, over 80 percent of Kenyan have their key trust in the media institution as an authority to inform, educate and entertain. Media ratings in Kenya have consequently been excessively optimistic with minimal critique on its educational influence. Journalism, both as a course of study or a profession, determines and shapes the functions of mass media and their influence in the society. Couldry (2000) observed that, “The media process does not merely interact with the rest of society; it has a major impact on how the rest of society understands and imagines itself” (p. 54). The society therefore finds itself in a hollow core resulting from the superficially neutral, but in reality profoundly ideological nature of media content – the reality of economic rationalism (Harris and Taylor, 2008).
Since how journalism is conducted is shaped by a particular worldview; a way of seeing and being in the world (Edlin, 2009), and is also means by which an individual of society views the context it finds itself in, it is necessary to critique its existing structure, patterns and outcome from an authentic perspective. A Christian worldview perspective offers a holistic approach to life and life issues, including education, through a consistent principle and laid out gauge – the scripture, and therefore is an authentic perspective.
A Christian perspective
The media has been in forefront in shaping the way people see and live in the world – their worldview. This is mainly because there is no neutrality in the mass media contents. Any claimed neutrality in mass media content can only be a reflection of an incorrect understanding for media frame (Harris and Taylor, 2008). From a Christian worldview perspective, teaching and learning in journalism should begin and point to God. This means that journalism curricula can faithfully respond to technological and economic changes in mass media industry and seek to be productive. However, journalism should not have its primary goal as economic competitiveness at the expense of engaging the culture truthfully and seeking the welfare of the area of they operate in.
From a Christian worldview perspective, everyone involved in Journalism recognizes that the world and all therein is a victim of the fall and in need of redemption. Journalism therefore is a task that can bear the truth, who is Jesus Christ and therefore all curricula design and teaching method should be brought under the Lordship of Christ. From this point of view, technology is a also a gift from God and therefore can be applied faithfully without making it a prime determinant of life direction. Teaching and Journalism should be set to confront the technological changes and put it into effective use.
The identity of Christians begins and ends with God. As image bearers of God (Genesis 1.26-27), students of journalism should not pursue journalism as a way to prestige or to attain celebrity status but as a means to serve God and his people faithfully in the community in which they live. All aspects of life are important to God and should be engaged as part of the fallen creation and journalism seeks to redeem the fallen cultures.
A Christian response
How then should a Christian respond to the patterns in of contemporary Journalism? In the Kenyan context where media is trusted greatly, Journalism as a profession and a teaching and learning area can be an agent of imparting the truth and forming people’s hearts. Journalism has a great influence through mass media (its mission field) and therefore should strive to shape people’s way of thinking and engaging the world through the authentic life perspective that bears the truth of the Gospel.
Journalism curricula, scholars, teachers and students are called to recognize that Journalism is an influential profession and proper training that acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ should be applied and advanced. Those who shape journalism, for instance, should expose the myth of neutrality that is prevalent in mass media and in the society. Journalism can respond to postmodern realities of technological advancement by employing theory-based approaches to pedagogy that is informs incorporation of digital technology into learning at all levels. Social-cognitive approaches illustrated by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky on the role of language use in development and participation in social practice as a basic to teaching and learning.
Journalism is a training ground for people will take up great influence owing to the power of mass media in which they will be working in. This therefore calls for Christian teachers of journalism to train students to see and be in the world through the message of the Scripture. Curricula and teaching and learning activities too should reflect a Christian worldview in engaging life issues. Journalism should be bold enough to expose unfaithful concepts such as individualism, consumerism and instead encourage acts of loving neighbor through charity and service to the community as a way of seeking the welfare of the society.
List of reference
Journalism. 2009. In Dictionary.com. Retrieved Novemeber 3, 2009, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/journalism
Couldry, N. (2000a). The Place of media power: pilgrims and witnesses of the media age. London: Routledge.
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Vygotsky, Lev. (1934). Thinking and speaking. Retrieved Novemeber 3, 2009, from http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/vygotsky.htm
Taylor, P. & Harris, J. (2008). Critical theories of mass media: then and now. Buckingham: Open University Press.
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