By Enock Sithole
The globalising world has informed the establishment of the World Journalism Educators Council (WJEC) “to keep the international discussion about journalism education going,” WJEC vice-chair, Dr Nico Drok, said in an interview with AJENda.
The WJEC, he said, was founded in 2007 with the help of UNESCO, bringing together journalism educators and formations from several parts of the world. “We found it very important that our students also got acquainted with this idea that you can co-operate with people from all parts of the world, which will become more and more necessary in the globalising world,” said Dr Drok.
The WJEC holds a conference every three years to discuss issues of interest to journalism education at the time, said Dr Drok. “We discuss not only the technological changes that have always accompanied journalism education, but certainly also the journalism values and the things we find really important, and thinking about the long-term future of the industry.”
The achievements of these conferences are very important even though they “may not be so tangible in what happens with individual teachers when they visit these international conversations and they take back all kinds of ideas to their own schools”.
Among the achievements of the WJEC is the creation of the Declaration of Principles for journalism education. This was necessary since “there is so much diversity in schools of journalism. We all come from very different backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, media backgrounds, etc. and still, we agreed on a good charter about what is good journalism education, and what it should contain,” said Dr Drok.
The organisation has also passed the Paris Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education. “We found it very important because in an increasing number of countries across the world, the freedom of journalism education is oppressed and it’s getting worse in huge parts of the world,” he said.
The WJEC recently conducted a study among journalism educators from across the globe on various issues concerning journalism and journalism education. The study sought to find out what the educators thought were the most important tasks of journalism into the future. “The findings give a good insight on how, in various parts of the world, people are thinking about journalism education and its priorities,” said Dr Drok who co-authored the report.
He said one of the challenges facing the WJEC and journalism education, in general, was how journalism should be redefined in the new information and communication order and context. “When we started in 2007, there was no social media, at all, and now, part of the information stream is taken over by amateurs and by people who spread misinformation, etc, etc.
“One of the problems is that when you look over the longer history, our definition of what we call journalism has broadened. Now, some people say nowadays, ‘everybody is a journalist’. I don’t agree with that. I think journalism is a real profession, and we should tighten the definition of what journalism is. Other things are also very nice and important, entertainment, etc., but it’s not journalism,” he argued. The challenge is to define what journalism is in the current context.
The other challenge is that the profession has become “colonised” by new technologies. “If you look at the curricula of many journalism schools, you sometimes hardly find any journalism left, but a lot a lot of technology. I may be exaggerating, of course. People have to know how to work with AI and you have to know how to work with drones and with that technology, and so forth.”
However, far too much time is spent on teaching technology and less on teaching content, he said, adding that “the simple, basic idea of getting the facts right, and getting the right facts is most important in journalism”.
It’s clearly a debate worth having because there are people who hold very convincing opposite arguments, he conceded. “In some countries, journalism education is not very academic, but vocational, and the teachers are not academics, but journalists. That gives another kind of perspective. I think it is very interesting and worthwhile to have this discussion because we are talking about the future of our students and the future of our society. A society cannot function without good journalistic content. That is my conviction,” he argued.
The WJEC will hold its next conference in Perth, Australia, between 1-3 July 2025, hosted by the Edith Cowan University and the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia.