John Drinnan: AUT plans change for journalism education

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AUT's Sir Paul Reeves Building.
AUT's Sir Paul Reeves Building.

AUT University is re-shaping the curriculum for its Bachelor of Communication Studies degree, after an internal review found its communications school needs to adapt to the rapidly changing media industry. To do that, a 2016 review team says the school needs to act on its recommendations - and on recommendations not acted on after a 2011 review.

The School of Communication Studies is a high profile part of the university, which, under its former identity as the Auckland Technical Institute, was a mainstay of media industry training.

But media are facing upheaval, and traditional journalism is not what it was.

Faced with calls for change, the communications school says it is looking at developing journalism as a skill-set rather than a career prospect.

The five-yearly internal review at the end of last year was "disappointed" there had been no progress in restructuring the curriculum as recommended in 2011.

The 2016 panel said the earlier recommendations were crucial to a rapidly converging media and technology environment.

It was now urgent that the programme address issues identified in 2011 and 2016, said the report.

Essentially, the latest review found that even as the industry converged, AUT's courses were kept as separate silos.

However, the review gave the programme high praise and noted that students interviewed were happy with the practical experience and facilities.

But the tone of the criticism - while muted in comparison with what you might expect in the private sector - is unusual in an academic setting, according to one source.

Rob Allen led the review and recently stood down as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of AUT - though the two events are not related. He said there was nothing untoward in the fact that the school had not acted on past recommendations.

The head of the communications school, associate professor Alan Cocker, said initiatives other than those recommended in 2011 had been applied.

One media industry source said the school's digital media training operation was strong, and needed to become a bigger part of the degree.

Focus on skills

The Communication Studies degree reflects the view that AUT is geared to practical training, while Auckland University has more academic kudos.

Cocker said the public knew that was AUT's strength, but public policy was focused on research and more academic approaches.

Cocker estimates there has been a 5 per cent fall in the demand for the journalism major this year, similar to other communications courses.

Numerous tertiary institutions are pumping out journalism graduates, but there are precious few traditional jobs. Hence, AUT's plan to re-focus on journalism as a set of skills that can be used in numerous careers, rather than a career in its own right.

AUT's attempts to change the degree curriculum coincide with the development of a communications major at Auckland University, as part of its Bachelor of Arts programme.

Watching America

I am a news junkie. And I cannot resist watching the news generated by the implosion of the Trump presidency. Viewing figures from the time of the US election show I am not alone: Sky TV reports CNN and Fox viewing in New Zealand was up 39 per cent and 28 per cent respectively in November, compared with 2015.

I have always tried to balance out the biases by watching both liberal outlets and the right-wing Fox News. But I've given up on Fox after watching the Michael Flynn resignation on CNN, when Fox pretended half an hour later that it had not happened. CNN and Fox have different narratives, though seems to me that CNN is more committed to the news.

No Left turn

The People's Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media is not the first attempt to extend the media offering away from taxpayer-subsidised commercial TV.

A campaign of meetings was announced on Wednesday, with six panellists including Bill Ralston and Lizzie Marvelly inviting people to give their views on public broadcasting.

The campaign - run by the activist organisation Action Station and the Better Broadcasting Coalition - is well-timed at the start of an extended election campaign, and at a time when the economic foundations of the media industry are under intense pressure.

As always, the questions are what constitutes public broadcasting and how much the public should pay for it.

The downside of this latest campaign, in my view, is that it will offer a politically biased view of what public broadcasting should be about. Too often, support for public broadcasting has reflected opposition to National policies, and a focus on leftish ideas.

Better public broadcasting should not become a liberal media ghetto. Any attempt to promote public service non-commercial broadcasting starts from the position that there is limited taxpayer funding - much of it already provided to fund commercial broadcasting on free to air TV.

The most obvious solution in a tiny country is a levy on pay television - though of course consumers pay in the end.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been a business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s.

Read more by John Drinnan

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