The lack of basic news writing skills and the ability to write and file news stories under deadline pressure is an area of real concern for news editors when they want to employ journalism graduates.
This was a key finding from a national study that involved interviews with 50 news editors across Australia.
The interviews were conducted by Edith Cowan University’s (ECU’s) Head of Journalism, Associate Professor Trevor Cullen, Professor Steve Tanner from the University of Wollongong and Professor Kerry Green from the University of South Australia.
The study showed that while news editors want universities to provide their journalism graduates with a broad education and solid research skills, they also urged educators to re-focus on basic skills such as grammar and news writing.
In response to the editors’ concerns Professor Cullen has introduced ‘live’ media conferences into journalism units at ECU.
“We invite experts in the fields of health and politics to speak for roughly 20 minutes and that’s followed by 10 minutes of questions. Then, students write and upload a 450-word news story within 90 minutes,” Professor Cullen said.
"It’s a marked assignment and students are handed the top five news stories as a way to benchmark what the best story looks like.”
Some of the expert speakers include: Alistair Darling, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer; Former WA Health Minister, Kim Hames: Professor Ralph Martins, Chair in Aging & Alzheimers Disease: Professor Rob Newton, Co-Director, Exercise Medicine Research Institute: Professor Neil Drew, Director of HealthInfoNet, and Jaelea Skehan, Director of Hunter Institute for Mental Health.
“It’s difficult to get all students to media conferences in central Perth due to their study timetable. So, we decided to organise press conferences at ECU and seek speakers that address current issues and problems within the community,” Professor Cullen said.
“This is one of many innovative teaching practices that we use to get our students ready for when they complete their studies.”
Professor Cullen said this approach is tied closely to graduate employability which is embedded in ECU’s journalism curriculum via authentic workplace experiences.
Professor Cullen will present research papers on innovative teaching at the World Congress of Journalism Educators in New Zealand in July and at the national Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) conference in December.
Professor Cullen was the first journalism educator in Australia to receive an Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) National Teaching Fellowship, in 2015. His research addresses concerns that journalism courses vary considerably in structure and content. He is developing new guidelines for the design and implementation of a final year ‘capstone’ unit for all 29 Australian universities currently offering journalism courses.