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Unpacking the four knowledges in journalism education

Guy Berger's picture

How to integrate different knowledges in the teaching of journalism has bedevilled decades of curriculum development. So, no surprise that integration is an issue currently consuming discussions around the programme for fourth year Journalism and Media Studies students at Rhodes.

Teachers on the course agree that journalism is not pure operational technique (of course no technique exists outside of ideology, history, ethics, representation, etc). Knowing “how to” is indeed a necessary element of doing journalism as a practice, but it is certainly not sufficient.

Media studies (encompassing the more specific field of journalism studies), on the other hand, is a body of knowledge that doesn’t require the specific knowledge required for the skill of media production.

Part of the challenge is to put these two realms of knowledge together meaningfully in the same course. It’s compounded when different people, understandably, have different expertises.

In one staff discussion here, the insight came to me that in between the technique knowledge, and the media studies knowledge, lies a third body of knowledge. This is the medium specific knowledge.

To illustrate: teaching photojournalism entails building student knowledge about technique and about theories of semiology, identity, “the gaze”, political economy of imagery, etc. – and the relevance of each to the other. But there is also the “subject specific” knowledge – like that about specific ethics around digital manipulation and their history.

People with expertise in general media studies (for instance, media ethics) may not be familiar with these medium particularities; meanwhile those skilled in technique and digital manipulation debates may not have the general level of media-related knowledge and debate.

So, the key thing is to recognise three distinctive bodies of knowledge to bring together in teaching journalism, and to use whatever human resources can be assembled to deliver and inter-relate this trinity. Given that it’s unlikely that one person can combine all three knowledge fields, collaborations are called for.

BUT, of course, we should never forget a fourth field of knowledge: new knowledge being generated out of the fusion of the three fields in conjunction with the creative interaction between, and among, the lecturers and learners.