Yes, Employers Mind the Gap in Journalism Education

European Journalism Centre

In Czech Republic, experienced journalists often cringe when asked to train new colleagues.

Jan Stejskal has worked for the Czech Press Agency (CTK) for 37 years. He’s been in management, had foreign correspondent stints in Moscow, New York and Kabul and is currently working the foreign desk. When someone new joins the foreign desk, it’s his job to train them.

“When we have a newcomer I take care of them, which is awful and I see the product of the universities,” he said. “Not all have a journalism education, some are lawyers or linguistics.”

He believes that journalism education overall in the country is not bad. But when it comes to news journalism, he says, deficiencies exist.

“The minority of newcomers have a journalism education. Instead they are experts in economy, politics, but not journalists,” he said. “Even if they have a journalism education, I see they lack a lot of important information one would expect them to have.”

The Need for Practical Training

Strong independent media outlets are, of course, essential for democracy. And for innovative publications to thrive, trained journalists are crucial to the process. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have seen significant changes overall in their media landscape in the past 20 years. At the same time, they have also had to cope with recent upheavals that have affected the industry worldwide. In the Czech Republic, there are mixed reactions to the effectiveness of journalism education.

“It was quite practical in Brno; we had several projects during the study, for example writing an online magazine, we had rotating roles so tried everything from editor-in-chief to proof reader to see how it works,” Tereza Harbichová said.

Ms. Harbichová graduated from the journalism program at Masaryk University in Brno. She currently works as managing editor of an educational magazine for students. While she believes she came out of school prepared to work, she admits being a bit stunned when she did an internship at a regional newspaper.

“It was quite a shock, we were taught how it should be but everything was different,” she said, “When I really saw how it worked it was shocking, there were no professional journalists; the editor-in-chief and I were the only ones who had studied journalism.” She’s quick to note that this was her experience at a small paper, and at major publications in larger cities, it might be different.

Trying to Bridge the Gap

Dr. Jan Macek is a professor and researcher in the Department of Media Studies and Journalism at Masaryk University. He says the university transformed its curriculum in the last couple of years to focus on practical skills, skill-oriented lectures, plus added a thematic emphasis in new media teaching students how to work with video, editing, websites and content production.

“The demand from media companies is that they need people who can write, but also cut videos and edit,” he said. “It is difficult; students won’t be prepared until they get real contact with a newsroom which is why we require them to do a minimum three month fulltime internship at a newspaper, TV station, etc.”

Does this lack of trained journalists in the newsroom have an effect on news generation? Mr. Stejskal believes journalism in the Czech Republic is poor and not improving.

“I would call it a crisis and in the near future the situation won’t change,” he said. “Most media believe they will train newcomers themselves, better than any school. Many media don’t expect their reporters to even have a university education. It has a direct impact on the quality of journalism in this country.”

Dr. Macek says he knows there will always be a disconnect between the classroom and the newsroom, but he and others working hard to bridge the gap.

“We invite lecturers from the media world, real practitioners and we cooperate closely with major TV stations and dailies and I believe it works,” he said.

Newsroom Impact

In a study entitled Professional Self-Image of the Czech Journalists: Selected Attributes conducted between 2003-2005, Jaromír Volek from Masaryk University and Jan Jirák from Prague’s Charles University found that 48 percent of questioned journalists had a university degree, albeit not necessarily in journalism. Dr. Macek believes the trend is changing, but media outlets are still open to hiring journalists without a journalism degree. The Masaryk University programme is unique in that it requires journalism majors to also get a second degree in a field such as political science, environmental studies, psychology, sociology, etc. He too thinks journalistic standards need to be improved.

“We have excellent journalists but sometimes the standards of even the big dailies and websites is bad,” he said. “Especially online, the job is too quick and there’s a lack of confirmation of information.”

Dr. Macek does know what is most missing in the country’s journalism education programmes – mentors.

“We don’t have elite journalists who are willing to go back to university and act as mentors,” he said. “They are still working in the media fulltime and usually only come as guests. We need them more, to share their professional skills, morals – it’s necessary for our students to meet these professionals.”