The Journalism Education Gap

As this is my first blogpost in 2009, may I take the opportunity to wish readers a healthy, happy and rewarding New Year.

Here is my translation of the article:-

“I have recently entered the field of journalism education, which experience makes me feel dejected. It seems like a bad joke to watch tens of thousands of students newly graduated from China’s thousands of journalism colleges and to find that most of them are either unable to find jobs or incapable of producing articles in the format and timeline required by the media. One of the media’s recruitment rules – not hiring any fresh graduates – is just like a pillar of shame erected right in front of all of China’s journalism colleges.

In reality, the upgrading of journalism quality depends a lot on individuals’ efforts. Within the context of the evolutionary development of journalism, the history of media, not taking into account the bigger political picture, is made up of numerous stories of heroic struggle on the individual level. So, very often it is just a moment of deep passion that drives one to follow his/her path of ideal – it is such passion that could have improved China’s journalism standard. But the truth is that without the bowing out of one whole generation of education professionals, there can be no hope of improvement. The only comforting thing is that currently good reporters are not the ones who come from the journalism colleges, so the paralyzing of the whole journalism education system will not have a great impact on reality anyway.

In the U.S., all journalism colleges are post-graduate schools that offer professional training. In other words, journalism students have all finished four years of undergraduate studies in general subjects like language, politics, law, history, economics or science. The real journalism training in the States only consists of one to two years of media writing training. This way, before receiving professional journalism training, students will have already gained professional knowledge in a variety of subjects. Thus they are able to write about those subjects once they graduate. But in China, journalism students spend half their time learning media theories during their undergraduate program, and thus have little or no knowledge of other subjects. They may be able to write, but can you really trust them to report on news related to the fields of economics, law, technology or politics?

As American journalism colleges are professional training institutes, so their media training courses are very intensive. They set up deadlines for assignment submission and students are required to observe the deadlines. After being subjected to such ritual for one to two years, students have no problem adjusting to the real-life media deadline requirements. In China’s journalism colleges, each course is taught one to two times a week and no teacher can implement a deadline system as it would clash with students’ schedules. Thus their students have a hard time getting used to the deadline requirement after they graduate.

As American journalism colleges are strictly defined as professional training institutes, thus most of their teachers are selected from well-known incumbent media professionals including renowned editors and reporters. Students are expected to submit assignments that bear relevance to real-life media – taking one to two years’ training course at colleges is equivalent to taking an internship with media companies, which experience is solid and reliable. At China’s journalism colleges, most teachers have never had contact with real media all their lives. The courses are all about abstract theories, if not media criticism. So the students they produce are either sub-par personnel who are only capable of empty-talk but who cannot even write proper news articles, or self-suspecting people who are unclear about their own professional principles. No wonder the media do not want to recruit fresh graduates, who probably need to let society convert their thinking first before they can become employable.

Perhaps other branches of the education system can still use the historical big picture as an excuse for their incompetence. But journalism education in China really has some serious fundamental built-in flaws. Each year tens of thousands of young kids enter journalism colleges full of hope, yet they always come out totally disappointed after having spent four years there. At the end of the day, all journalism educational workers should be charged as guilty. In fact, what these kids need cannot be more straightforward – just someone to tell them how to be good reporters. Probably only one month’s training course will be adequate to accomplish that. Why is it that after teaching for four years, we still cannot produce at-par graduates?”

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