By Enoch Sithole

The African Journalism Educators’ Network (Ajen) was formally founded at a round table meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, on August 28.

Attended by over 50 journalism educators from various Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the round table meeting also adopted the network’s constitution whose preamble reads: 

“As journalism educators from across sub-Saharan Africa, we have come together in the realisation that journalism schools have an important role to play in improving the quality of journalism and strengthening the information rights of citizens.  Journalism teaching takes many forms and is offered by a range of institutions, and can play various roles, including:

  • Teaching a new generation of journalists;
  • Upskilling working journalists;
  • Teaching community journalists and others outside of mainstream employment;
  • Contributing to knowledge generation through research and study;
  • Contributing directly to policy and other public discussion and practice;  
  • Supporting innovation in the media space.  

“We believe that in a rapidly changing and challenging media environment, journalism educators need to keep a keen eye on new developments in the working world, and need to come together to engage and learn from each other.“

The network will accept individual journalism educators and institutions as members.   While the original geographical scope was Sub-Saharan Africa, the round table agreed that membership should be open to North African countries.

An executive board was elected, with Dr Franz Krüger of the NLA Høgskolen, in Norway and of Wits University as founding president and Prof Nancy Booker from Aga Khan University, in Kenya, as deputy-president. Other members of the board are: Dr Sisanda Nkoala of the Cape Peninsula University Technical University (secretary-general),  Christina Chan Meetoo of the University of Mauritius (treasurer), Prof Margaret Jjuuko of the University of Rwanda, Dr Basel Hamusokwe of the University of Zambia and Dr Modestus Fosu of the University of Media, Arts and Communication, in Ghana, as additional executive members. The executive board will serve for a period of two years.

Some 40 educators present at the meeting signed up as founding members.  

The journalism educators at the round table meeting used the opportunity to discuss various issues that affect journalism teaching on the continent, under the theme Teaching new African journalisms. Among this was the perceived disjuncture between what is taught in j-schools and skills required in newsrooms. 

Leading the discussions was a panel of journalism professionals accompanied by Prof Jjuuko and facilitated by Prof Booker. Jamila Mahomed of the Citizen TV, in Kenya, kick-started the discussions by arguing that journalism interns coming from j-schools were not ready for the “practicality” of the newsrooms”. Other panelists, Nigel Mugamu of the 263Chat, in Zimbabwe and Julia Majale concurred, with the former arguing that “we used to assume they know something, now we assume they know nothing”.

Mugamu said there was a “generational” problem, where students were taught with old technologies which were no longer in use in newsrooms. “Teach them to use things they are familiar to them… teach them how to practise journalism instead of teaching them journalism,” he urged.

Prof Jjuuko said increased internship programmes would help bridge the gap between academic training and the newsroom. Academic programmes, she said, were “packed” and did not allow for practical training. “We are forced to teach each and everything in the menu,” she decried. There was also understaffing and a lack of professional skills among journalism academics, she added.

Since newsrooms don’t have enough time to nurture new journalists, internships should be extended and a four-year degree should be considered to allow for practical training time, said Prof Jjuuko.

Declining writing skills among journalism students was highlighted as a key concern. There was also the concern that students were taught in western languages yet they had to report in indigenous languages.

Prof Booker suggested that journalism academics take their sabbaticals in newsrooms instead of going to other universities. This, she said, would help academics understand the contemporary needs of newsrooms.

Bongiwe Tutu from the Wits Centre for Journalism presented findings of a survey assessing the use and impact of journalism textbooks in African universities, colleges and schools. As there have been few responses, she urged educators to take part using this link.