WHAT AND HOW WE TEACH
The current journalism curriculum tries to achieve the above objectives through multiple prongs.
- Skills training. Several courses focus on the reporting, writing, editing, management and technical craft skills required for entry level jobs. Students get to do journalism for newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the web. Increasingly, students and teachers are experimenting with multimedia, “converged” journalism. The six-month internship is another key opportunity to develop skills.
- Journalism in society. A freshman course on media professions and a final year course on media law and ethics focus on journalism’s role in society, critically assessing media practices and policies against journalism’s responsibilities. Students are taught the government’s position on the role of the press  including Singapore law, and other responsibilities to the public that are enshrined in various professional codes of ethics.
- Breadth knowledge. Most of the courses that a journalism student does are not journalism courses. They are instead non-journalism courses within the wider Communication Studies major, ranging from communication research to advertising and film studies, and general electives taken at other Schools. This is in line with the University’s emphasis on broadening the education of our undergraduates.
- Depth knowledge. The main innovation in our new journalism curriculum in the last few years has been the emphasis on specialised domain knowledge as a key requirement for journalists, who are increasingly expected to make sense of a complex world. The new regular specialised courses cover Business and Economics, Science and Technology, the Short Overseas Journalism Experience, and Going Overseas For Advanced Reporting. All are content-intensive practical journalism courses.
- Experiential learning. The various limbs of journalism education – the how, what and why – come together in opportunities for experiential learning: the Newspaper Practicum which produces the Nanyang Chronicle, Professional Internship, the Final Year Project, Short Overseas Journalism Experience and Going Overseas For Advanced Reporting.
Above: GO-FAR 2008 students reporting on the farming crisis in southern India.
It is not enough to get the curriculum right. It is equally important to have the right teachers. All journalism faculty – fulltime, adjunct and part-time – have industry experience as working journalists, bringing to the classroom more than textbook knowledge. Given the importance of teaching local context, as discussed above, it is noteworthy that most of the instructors engaged in teaching practical journalism courses have local industry experience. In the current semester, for example, nine out of ten practical journalism courses offered are taught or co-taught by lecturers with many years’ experience working as reporters or editors in Singapore. (The exception is a News Reporting and Writing in Chinese, taught by a colleague from mainland China.)
In addition, most fulltime faculty are PhDs actively engaged in media research in areas such as comparative media systems, media law and media policy. This helps to ensure that teaching is not informed exclusively by industry perspectives.
EVALUATING THE PROGRAMME
There has been no formal and comprehensive independent assessment of the School’s journalism programme. However, the School keeps a constant eye on several indicators to gauge if we are on the right track.
The job placement aspect of our role is the easiest to measure and gives us the greatest reason for satisfaction. We stay in close touch with our main employers and we know that our graduates are sought after. Our top journalism students are usually courted by more than one media employer, including international media organisations.
Criticism is more valuable to us than kudos, so we make sure we read between the lines even when employers are largely complimentary. The reservations most consistently expressed are that some of our graduates are not intelligently questioning enough (a major flaw for a profession that is depended on to ask questions on the public’s behalf) and, even when they are hardworking and motivated, may lack initiative and street-smarts. This underlines the need to emphasise critical thinking skills as well as internship experience in our programme.
It was also through our constant communication with employers that we received hints that our graduates might lose out in the long run to colleagues with non-media degrees. Non-media graduates may take longer to pick up the craft, but can then count on a depth of domain knowledge in economics, political science and so on. Once you know how to write, it’s what you write that distinguishes you as a journalist. This is was one key impetus in developing our specialised journalism courses and encouraging our students to pursue minors.
Our performance in areas other than job placement is much harder to measure. It is difficult to say if our students have adequately absorbed good professional values such as social responsibility and ethics, and enough understanding of local context. These qualities, or their lack thereof, only surface over time. When they do, it is not possible to attribute them entirely to what they learnt in the School.
However, there are several overlapping signals telling us that we cannot afford to neglect these aspects of journalism education. Members of the public and newsmakers, including the government, are quick to voice their unhappiness over any less-than-professional performance that they see in the media. Working journalists themselves are certainly not uncritical of their profession. Finally, our journalism educators are simultaneously media researchers or consumers or both, and feel deeply the need to produce graduates who can make a positive difference.
Above: Photo by SAM KANG LI from a Final Year Project on the contest for land in Singapore: reclaimland.sg
One meaningful indicator of students’ state of mind near the end of their studies is their choice of Final Year Project topics. It is gratifying to note that most journalism students pick FYP topics that are of high social relevance, often with the explicit intention of helping a worthy cause. The social value of their work frequently receives external validation in the form of grants such as the Young Changemakers scheme of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sport and other forms of support from foundations and non-profits.
A final touchstone that we pay close attention to is the guidance provided by comparable programmes and especially credible reports on journalism education reform. Two recent reports stand out for their depth, detail and their inclusion of what non-industry stakeholders require of journalism education. The first is UNESCO’s Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries & Emerging Democracies, which was launched in Singapore at the World Journalism Education Congress in 2007. The second is Journalism School Curriculum Enrichment, a 2008 report from the Carnegie-Knight Task Force on the Future of Journalism Education, involving the top journalism and communication programmes in the US. These reports suggest that our School’s philosophy and approach are closely aligned with international best practices – particulary in the way we emphasise not just the “how” but also the “what” and “why” of journalism.