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Paul Parsons Leads Sessions in South Africa

Paul Parsons, professor and dean of the School of Communications, led the administrative sessions for delegates attending the World Journalism Education Congress in South Africa on July 4-7.

Paul Parsons (right in gray coat) led sessions at the World Journalism Education Congress.

More than 300 journalism educators around the world participated in this second-ever congress at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, which featured Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the closing speaker. The inaugural congress convened in Singapore in 2007.

“This was an extraordinary opportunity for educators from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere to interact about curriculum, new technologies and freedom of expression in a global context,” Parsons said. “It was a deeply significant congress, made even more memorable by Desmond Tutu’s address on the important role of good journalism in society.”

As president-elect of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, Parsons was asked to lead deans, directors and department heads from around the world in a first-time exercise to identify the most pressing issues their programs face. Participating delegates represented China, France, United Kingdom, Singapore, Qatar, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Morocco, South Africa and the United States.

Ten top issues emerged, some of them reflecting the substantive African participation in the process. The results do not reflect a scientific process, but the findings are a first attempt to identify and rank-order the leading issues facing the discipline worldwide. In ascending order:

#10 – Student enrollment demands. While a universal issue, this is particularly a problem in African nations where only a fraction of the students who want to major in journalism are able to enroll.

#9 – Faculty diversity. In Africa, this means the need for more female faculty to better reflect the student body that increasingly is female. In other countries, especially in the West, the emphasis on faculty diversity focuses more on the need for racial minorities.

#8 – Changes in curriculum and the emergence of new media. The challenge is staying abreast in an age of radical change, building and maintaining a balance of theory and practice, and revising courses and curriculum to reflect the growth of multimedia.

#7 – Specificity of Journalism. Delegates said journalism needs to remain a distinct discipline and not be absorbed into the general world of communications.

#6 – Textbooks and instructional materials. Journalism heads in African nations lament the shortage of books for their students – books that are affordable and authored by Africans. In the West, the challenge is a different one – getting students to buy useful books in an online age.

#5 – Electrical power and Internet connectivity. An unreliable energy supply appears primarily to be a problem on the African continent. Education is disrupted when classroom lights flicker off, or computers can’t be turned on, or access to the Internet is interrupted.

#4 – Government issues. These are “free press” issues revolving around licensing, restrictions, censorship and self-censorship, which appear more a problem in Africa and Asia than in other regions of the world.

#3 – Faculty hiring and retention. Salaries tend to be low, which cause Journalism programs in non-Western nations to lose qualified faculty to industry or to exchange programs in other countries.

#2 – An ethical disconnect with journalistic practice. Journalism heads in Africa refer to a disconnect between the classroom and newsroom. For instance, they teach ethics, then students go into internships where they see some journalists engage in payoffs and bribery.

And the leading issue faced by administrators attending the World Journalism Education Congress ...

#1 – Technology and infrastructure. For those on the African continent, infrastructure issues range from a shortage of facilities to the need for technology such as computer labs and cameras for student use. For those in other parts of the world, this challenge translates into diminishing program budgets because states and nations are facing growing debt.

Colin Donohue,
7/21/2010 8:23 AM