Monday, 14 September 2015

Studying journalism is not just a vocational course

News today that the University of Canberra will from 2016 offer three new specialist journalism degrees will not come as too much of a surprise to many. The new degrees - in content marketing, social and digital campaigning and creative writing - make sense because they formally recognise shifts in the employment landscape that have been happening for a number of years.

The industry peaked in terms of earnings in 2005 but it has been downhill all the way since not long after.

As the quantum of journalism graduates finding gainful employment as actual journalists has diminished new graduates out of journalism schools have begun to seek work in other disciplines using many of the skills they learned during their years of study. PR, communications, advertising, copywriting - all have become valid candidates on a journalism graduate's list of career preferences. And it's the way it should be. At least until the industry learns how to adequately monetise the essential function it performs in society.

Some might say that so many new graduates are being employed in order to challenge the traditional role of the journalist, though it's very hard to blame a new graduate for looking for work where it will be found. But such a view assumes that journalists and PR operatives work on opposite sides of a bellicose no-man's-land. It's also no use blaming universities for enrolling more students than the industry can employ. University study cannot - at least it should not - be reduced to just a training exercise within the calculus of efficiency favoured by mere bean counters. Universities do a lot more than that. They should actually be teaching people how to think - and, perhaps more importantly, how to learn (or continually learn) - because one thing is certain: the employment market is constantly changing as new technologies, new businesses and new demands emerge in society.

Just teaching someone how to do a job would be depressingly limiting for many. A lot of people go to university in order to discover what they are capable of doing, in any case.

In future I expect many other Australian universities to offer new degrees that will enable prospective journalism graduates to develop skills targeted for an even broader range of jobs. The recent move in Canberra is just the tip of the iceberg. Storytelling is an essential human activity that shows no likelihood of disappearing. And all industry sectors can use storytellers to build their businesses. In fact they need them, in the same way a viable electorate needs journalists in order to make the critical decisions that national stability relies on. They don't call it the media - the layer in the middle, the information viaduct - for nothing.

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