Future of Journalism Courses: The Case of Colorado

Information was leaked today about plans by the University of Queensland to discontinue its journalism course, and to merge the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) with the School of English, Media Studies and Art History (EMSAH). An Issues Paper intended for internal discussion found its way to the ABC, which noted the following points:

“The change in the job market and falling demand suggest UQ should look for smaller cohorts of top students in the future”

“Some elite universities now only offer postgraduate programs in journalism (eg Columbia, Melbourne, Berkeley) and this might provide a plausible direction for UQ”

“UQ has dropped the OP for the B. Journalism degree from OP8 in 2012 to OP11 in 2014”.

The UQ Journalism program is one of the oldest in Australia, existing in some form for 80 years, and as a fully-fledged degree program for over 40 years. But the context for the change is not only related to issues at the University of Queensland. The changes to higher education funding announced in the May 2014 Australian Federal Budget envisage Commonwealth funding to communication courses being cut by 49 per cent, from $11,790 per full-time student in 2014 to $6,021 per student by 2016, with the shortfall to be made up by upfront student fees.

It may be timely to note the changes at the University of Colorado, which restructured its journalism program, and discontinued its Journalism degree in its existing form in 2011. Two factors were critical in the CU decision, which was recommended by an External Review panel, despite the program continuing to have healthy student enrolments.

First, the view was taken that the academic staff were not sufficiently active researchers for a university that considers itself to be research intensive. As UQ, did not submit in the 1903 Journalism and Professional Writing panel in the 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, this may have also been a factor. Second, the External Review panel were of the view that the program had not responded sufficiently to the challenges of new media. The recommendation to close the program was bitterly fought at CU, and had many critics at the time.

I have been aware of subsequent developments at CU, having been invited over to discuss curriculum reform in the context of the QUT Creative Industries changes in 2012. The recommendations of the Information, Communication and Journalism Steering Committee, chaired by Professor Andrew Calabrese, were released in April 2012. This document proposed bringing Journalism and Mass Communication into a new College of the Media, Design and the Arts. Core aspects of the new College would include a focus upon: creativity; media fluency; design thinking; collaborative, project-centred learning; applied curriculum; practical and marketable skills; and a liberal arts core curriculum.

The latest iteration of this proposal, now going to the CU Fellows, is for a College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI). The CMCI co-locates more traditional disciplines and fields such as journalism, communication, media studies and film & television with information science and intermedia arts and design. Information on the Journalism program can be found in the attached link, but it now effectively takes the structure of one part of a double degree:

Journalism majors develop skills in information-gathering, storytelling, and analysis across a variety of platforms, including television, social media, mobile devices, radio and print—using an ever-expanding variety of media tools and technologies. In addition to their professional preparation, students combine a broad education in the liberal arts (through the College of Arts and Sciences) with a robust Additional Field of Study (for the equivalent of a dual degree). Students complement their skill competencies with courses such as Journalism Law and Ethics and conceptual courses offered elsewhere in the college and university. Journalism students are also encouraged to acquire multi-departmental certificates in such areas as Media Entrepreneurship, Environmental Communication or International Media.

Note: A statement from the University of Queensland says that the ABC story is incorrect.

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About Terry Flew

I am Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I am the author of New Media: An Introduction, the fourth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. I am also the author of Understanding Global Media, published by Palgrave in 2007, and The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, published by Sage in 2012.