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Malaysia: Journalism schools need to rethink approach

July 29, 2013

By Aziff Azuddin

Are journalism schools preparing graduates for the newsroom? The question is a pressing one especially with the reality of the journalism industry being one rooted in vocational skills – something that can be picked up along the way as opposed to having to sit through three years of university classes.

Editors from newsrooms indicate a preference not for those who have a background in journalism school but instead those who can think like journalists.

A knack for storytelling, a curious yet critical disposition, perseverance and a nose for the news – these are qualities that are deemed necessary, if not central.

Malaysia saw its first journalism school established in the 1970s after Mara director Arshad Ayub returned from his visit to Ohio University.

Alongside with two professors from Ohio University and Malaysian journalists, the whole programme was adapted locally and ran in motion to provide the industry with graduates embedded in journalistic skills.

That was more than 40 years ago. Since then, despite more journalism courses growing in local universities, when compared to other majors within the same faculty – enrolment rate is not too promising.

This can be attributed to the local stigma attached to Malaysian journalists and questionable reporting alongside a controlled media.

Of course, this does little to stop a handful of young hopefuls from enrolling in the programme. The biggest contention still remains: are journalism schools preparing graduates for the newsroom and are they relevant?

First, we have to look into the curriculum designed for journalism schools. In a field such as this, the context of what’s written is what forms the crux of the story.

Journalism graduates are given a slew of courses relative to the field of the media, dipping in advertising, broadcasting and public relations, to name a few.

However the curriculum fails to address the very concept and heart of journalism: the constituency of what happens around us.

Graduates are limited to learning within their own industry, rarely given a window to branch out unless by their own initiatives.

Journalism exists to help the public make sense of the world and what’s happening around them.

A curriculum that restricts future journalists to explore only within their industry is mind stifling if not restrictive at best.

With a lack of context and basic understanding in reporting the world around them, it comes to no surprise that newsroom editors prefer those from different backgrounds.

Doctors, artists, engineers, teachers and economists are among the few who have stepped into the field and have performed incredibly well, at that.

It is this diverse and rich understanding of their background is what gives their story and reporting character and depth.

We need to break the restraints of the journalism curriculum and allow cross-faculty courses.

Why not offer journalism graduates the opportunity to attend if not sit through philosophy and politics courses from the political science faculty?

An exposure and study into different political systems worldwide will allow journalism graduates to contextualise their political reportage and give it more “meat”.

Journalism schools have to adapt their curriculum to not only equip their students with necessary skill sets but also engage them with an understanding of the world. Read more in the Malaysia Kini.

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