By: Kemiso Wessie

Journalism teaching usually goes beyond theory, and involves students creating work for publication, radio stations, television and other media. However, covering real, sometimes controversial news is not always easy for educators.

(From left) Basil Hamusokwe, Rod Amner, Pheladi Sethusa and Dinesh Balliah

The benefits of teaching through practice is well established in many fields. Writing on student teachers,  Elize du Plessis highlights the importance of learner-centred education. In a journal article titled ‘Student teachers’ perceptions, experiences, and challenges regarding learner-centred teaching’ , she argues the method  focuses on “active learning, learner commitment and the construction of own knowledge.” Students learn through doing and learn to think like experts in their field by understanding the foundations of their respective fields and therefore knowing the reason for them being in place.

Similar points can be made about  student-produced media which can stimulate collaboration, connection and create a sense of community with those who are producing the media and the audience that consumes them. These media create content unique to the institutions and student community. The students behind these radio shows and articles are students of the institution themselves and have a deep understanding of the concerns and interests of the student body that they’re part of.

These media can have particular relevance to their audiences, as they capture student affairs in a way outside news outlets cannot, as can be seen during student protests and demonstrations. It is up to educators to use the experience of speaking to a student audience to teach skills needed to address audiences outside the institution.

The issue was discussed in detail at the recent Ajen round table.

Panellist, Rod Amner from Rhodes University in Makhanda, spoke about students from the School of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS), “they have a deep sense of belonging to this community, a sense of ownership of the project and that sense of pride” which is created by the school’s apprenticeship internship model allowing for a deep immersion in that community.

Amner went into detail about the activities of JMS, which took over the historic town newspaper, Grocott’s Mail, some years back. The newspaper has come under fire and has even seen senior political figures threaten student journalists with jail.  Amner said the intersection between political culture and social networks should be explored and highlighted the importance of allowing students to learn from being in the field.  It is through that kind of work that the best stories emerge, he said.

The Rhodes newspaper no longer has a printed edition, but is a  weekly PDF newspaper which is sent to WhatsApp groups with roughly 5000-6000 people locally with an additional 1000 subscribers reached via MailChimp.

Advisors, trainers and lecturers share their knowledge to make the students newsroom as similar to that of the “real-world” newsroom while sharing lessons on ethics, types of articles and different ways of producing and packaging news.

Basil Hamusokwe from the University of Zambia mentioned that in these environments, students can manage themselves and be individuals while maintaining the basics of journalism and different writing styles. He highlighted the importance of writing for today, where there are so many platforms for it to be seen and for this generation.

Pheladi Sethusa from the Wits Centre for Journalism stressed the importance of training “multi-talented, multi-skilled journalists” who can write, edit photos and videos, understand how to create podcasts and make graphics. These students can find purpose based on the varied skills they learned. She added that the university’s student newspaper, the Wits Vuvuzela, is solely available online because of such adaptation, as well as its podcast We Should Be Writing, which debuted in 2020.

Sethusa highlighted the importance of training students to be employable, the consideration of ‘entrepreneurship’, and to also find ways to make the learning of journalism “more tangible” and practical.

Students learn about media spaces beyond what lies within their universities and institutions. For instance, in 2020, when many publications and media houses closed around the world, student-newspapers were also no longer available in newsstands outside lecture theatres and cafeterias and this called for student newsrooms to adapt.

In the last 20 years, newsrooms have given up on training because they don’t have the capacity or time and they want journalists who can enter, ready to work and hit the ground running, said Panel chair Dinesh Balliah from the Wits Centre for Journalism. This means educators have to train students in a way that makes that a possibility.