(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)
by Rosemary D’Amour
Special to Sutradhar’s Market
To develop my capstone project, I started thinking about my particular research interests: culture (in both how ideas, norms and beliefs are formed, and represented), and communication. I see communication as a natural extension of culture, really, in that the ways in which people communicate are reflective of their experiences and origins.
So, to bring these two ideas of culture and communication together, I decided to look at an intersecting point: education. As a graduate student, the education I receive affects the way in which I communicate — it affects the way I think, approach problems, world issues, and most likely where I’m going in the future. Do other people, in programs around the world, receive the same kind of education? Do they learn the same values, the same skills? When you think about the education journalists receive, this idea is transformative, because journalism as a communication medium has the potential to impact everyone. So I started to wonder if my education was in some way reflective of certain cultural norms, or if, perhaps, it has a culture all of its own.
My research concept, then, is as follows: to identify whether journalism has a culture all of its own, or if it reflects in some way the culture of specific countries. To break this down further, I’m going to be looking at an institutionalized, foundational, level: journalism education.
My theoretical framework follows along several different veins:
- How journalists become journalists — this arena is changing, as now, breaking into the business is a difficult feat without connections or training. What, specifically, are journalists learning in this new environment, in both the areas of skills and values?
- Cultural soft power and the idea that cultures influence the development of others through varied avenues — such as education, and journalism.
- Defining journalism as the professional training and skills received through institutional education systems, rather than citizen-generated or citizen-journalism.
- The cultures present in journalism education (specific news values that permeate into the training received).
- Comparing media systems — from distinctive cultures.
This research will be organized into a multiple part case study, analyzing journalism education at higher-level institutions (colleges and universities) from three countries with distinctive cultures (at the moment, the United States, Egypt, and Japan). Each country is chosen because of specific attachments either to social structure or communication structure which has affected its political, economic and social development throughout history. Japan is dominated by social hierarchies — to see if this is reflected within journalism education will be very interesting. The United States, a huge exporter of culture, is also a founder of the free press for democracy movement — how has that affected its education for journalists, and perhaps that of other countries? Egypt has seen a year of significant political upheaval — what are journalism students learning in terms of values about the role they play in this?
This research will draw a distinction between higher-level education and other forms of education or training, such as through third-party organizations (such as non-governmental organizations like Internews). While other levels of training and education are relevant, institutionalized education systems are engrained within the community (in most cases—and if they are not, that also tells us something!).
Specifically, I’ll be analyzing the curricula of three universities within three countries (nine colleges in all). There will be a distinction, again, drawn between what we’ll call “professional skills values” and “journalism cultural values.” The former are arguably objective skills-based education such as web design or photography, that reveal industry values, but are not necessarily culturally-specific. They are also arguably necessary for any journalist to get a job in this convergent media market. “Journalism cultural values” are more subjective, and encompass ideas and concepts like ethics training, which, for the purposes of this study, will reveal if there are cultural values that permeate into journalism education.
While looking at curricula, mission statements, and faculty profiles, I will also be conducting interviews with administration, staff and (hopefully) students at these universities. The purpose of this feature is to reveal deeper cultural values that may not be reflected on paper.
This research, I believe, builds off of existing studies, which focus heavily on either cultural values represented in journalism products (but lack looking at the foundational level of how journalists are trained), or on the curriculum of journalism education from a technical, skills-based perspective (rather than cultural representations). I believe that this type of knowledge can help to create better communicators, better understanding of a person’s background and how they think and operate on a professional level, and perhaps help us to create better journalism education in the future. In what ways, if any, does journalism education reflect the culture from which it originates? Are journalistic values formed by education, or by an outside force?