Is Aussie Journalism Education Lagging in Teaching Online Skills?

    by Tammi Ireland
    June 21, 2010

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    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

    It wasn't until the latter half of second year that the word 'online' was used. That's too late in my book."

    I graduated last year with a journalism degree from Curtin University of Technology in Bentley, Western Australia. As with many journalism programs, the first year was an introduction to print and broadcast. It wasn’t until the latter half of second year that the word “online” was used. That’s too late in my book.


    The course was very hands-on, which is what you want from a journalism degree. We had our own university newspaper and a studio for shooting news reports that could end up on television. With the newspaper, we learned a bit about InDesign and how to lay out a simple news page. This has no doubt proved invaluable to those graduates who left university to be a newspaper reporter.

    Personally, I enrolled in a journalism course because I wanted to get into magazines or newspaper column writing — less hard news, more conversational. But the course was not at all conducive to this. The only chance I had to write somewhat creatively was when we wrote feature articles during one of the 22 classes I took during my degree. I believe this also left us at a disadvantage for learning to write for the web.

    Not Trained For Online

    Had we been taught how to write short, snappy pieces with a bit of wit, we’d have had a much better chance at securing positions at online outlets, the now-preferred medium in Perth, where I live. Many of us with aspirations to write rather than work in broadcast left university and soon discovered that the three magazines based in Perth were fully staffed and offered only unpaid work experience and unpaid writing opportunities. On top of that, the only local newspaper positions were suited to those with a hard news style of writing.


    During my studies, the possibility of working for online outlets was never even brought up. Instead, students were vaguely told something along the lines of, “Media is changing and you’ll need to know how to shoot and edit videos, write scripts and stories, and layout a page.” What about learning how to utilize social media to find sources to interview? Or learning to write for online? We also could have used a few hints as to the online publications that may want to hire us, how to lay out an online page, or how to edit photos for online use. Looking back, many things were glossed over that really shouldn’t have been.

    I wish more emphasis had been put on all types of media. There was definitely room for it in terms of the course schedule. We did one class where we looked at the Asian online media (mostly China’s), but the relevance of that to Australian’s own online news community was not driven home.

    In a world where anyone can start a blog and call themselves a journalist, it’s important for those of us who have journalism degrees to feel confident with online writing and video-editing for online. While it’s understandable that technology is always advancing and it’s also expensive to upgrade university facilities with the latest tools, a few manuals or brief tutorials on new media would have been helpful.

    Self-Directed Learning

    Thankfully, those of us who did some work experience throughout our degree realized that we’d need to teach ourselves how to write for online if we wanted to make a living off what we loved to do. Most of us graduates who focused on print and have not found full-time employment have started blogs to keep us occupied while freelancing. Others have taken entry-level jobs at newspapers as a first step toward their dream of becoming columnists.

    In the future, I think universities need to bring in more industry insiders from outside their walls to talk to students. The most valuable class experiences came when foreign correspondents, news producers and online news editors came into our class to tell us about their career journey. These were invaluable because we could mentally make lists of what we needed to learn in order to successfully make it as a journalist.

    Since graduating, I am still in contact with one of my lecturers who informed me a few months ago that the university is developing an online site for its journalism students. But whether this is for them to practice writing for online media or simply to upload PDFs of the popular newspaper is still not clear…

    Tammi Ireland, 20, is a freelance journalist in Western Australia and editor of beauty website Coveted Canvas. Since graduating from Curtin University of Technology with a journalism degree in November 2009, she has written for various publications including Flourish magazine, SunsetMag.com.au and wangle.com.au. Tammi loves travel, writing and fashion.

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    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

    Tagged: australia curtin university of technology journalism education journalism graduates journalism school
    • I’m a Media student at the University of Adelaide and, while Journalism and Media are different obviously, we have a huge focus on the online world and new media (including writing for online formats, online newspapers etc.) Unfortunately the Media degree doesn’t offer enough practical experience like you’ve described. Seems that some sort of combination of the two would almost be the perfect degree.

    • Hi, I studied at Deakin in Geelong – A bachelor of arts (public relations), majoring in journalism. My course seemed similar – I had a similar experience with a focus on hard and fast print journalism. We did 1 radio news assessment, and also a video one. We had one unit which focused on new media – and other countries moving ahead in leaps and bounds – a bit about online…. but like you said – it was glossed over.

    • Tammi, as an online journalism educator I can understand your frustration.
      A couple of years ago I did a quick survey for the Press Council’s State of the News Print Media reportof what Australian universities were offering in the way of online and convergence journalism.
      Only a handful, including Latrobe in Victoria and UTS and Wollongong in NSW looked to be offering integrated programs.
      One problem is that university curricula are far too slow to change. Second it’s hard to find staff who are online journalism practitioners and have up to date skills. Most people with excellent practical knowledge are in demand in the industry. And it helps to have both web development and reporting experience to teach online journalism – which narrows the field even further. Third, many university IT departments aren’t set up to support online publishing, so it’s painfully slow setting up and running a WordPress publication that your uni will fund and maintain (not just a blog you personally have to manage and legal). Fourth learning and staying on top of all the technologies takes a lot of time, and detracts from research, which is the only thing that academics are really rewarded for.
      Fifth as you note, online journalism requires good kit and is not a cheap form of media education to run. And finally, the whole uni sector has been undergoing painful rationalisation – so maybe not all programs are running on four cylinders.
      So your lecturers are probably painfully aware of all the problems you raise. They may not have the skill, will and funds to tackle them.
      Students are best off heading for the programs that do have online publications, online internships and engaged practitioners while the other institutions play catch up.

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