Journalism training beyond journalism schools – how can digitalization help create better access to better training?

(This paper I wrote for the World Journalism Education Congress in Paris in July 2019 where it will be discussed. Come back for updates!)

Similar to the journalism industry worldwide, journalism education is experiencing an era of disruption. While the demands on journalism schools to better prepare students for this disruption are growing, resources are shrinking. Schools have less money, less time, and fewer faculty.

Though this reality is impacting journalism education, digitalization offers new possibilities to overcome these trends by using the Internet and it’s platforms to create new forms of training and give access to resources worldwide. This includes making it easier to find colleagues from other media organizations, universities and/or countries, to organize peer-to-peer training, exchange knowledge and other learning opportunities.

A disclaimer: This post by no means intends to imply that universities and journalism schools are obsolete. On the contrary, they remain crucial, especially for initial training. But in a lot of regions of the world there are not enough universities and schools. And there is therefore not enough training, or good training, because

  • potential students live or work far away from a journalism school or a university,
  • they don’t have money,
  • they don’t have time

or a combination of these three factors. This is also true for later-career training. As a result, this paper is not only about initial training, but also about updating knowledge and skills at a later stage.

(Please note: Some of journalists can not access the Internet because they

  • live in countries restricting access, or they
  • don’t have the means to go online (because they can not afford a connection, or because the lack adequate Internet infrastructure) or they
  • have difficulties because they are handicapped and offers don’t fit their needs.

While there is nothing we can do about countries restricting access to the internet, we can at least design everything we do so it works on mobile phones, uses minimal data and is accessible for handicapped persons.)

So the big question is: How can digitalization help create better access to training and increase its quality?

In order to find useful answers we first need to have a look at what is changing through digitalization. We can basically:

  • do more things: for example publish (also as one-to-many), find information, get access to information, find others, connect with them, share, exchange, co-create, co-work, collaborate, …
  • make use of the network-effect
  • share and duplicate not only content but also infrastructure

How can we make use of these new possibilities for journalism education?

For this syndicate I propose to focus on an approach described by Sangeet Paul Choudary, an Indian entrepreneur, advisor and business author known for his expertise on platform economics. He focusses on businesses, but the lessons are applicable for schools too.

From “stuff” to “platform”

In an article written for «Wired» Choudary argues that the focus of companies and organizations (such as journalism schools) has to shift from the “stuff-approach” (offering products such as classes) and the “optimization-approach” (getting more efficient) to the “platform-approach” (solving customer problems).

What happens if we apply Choudary’s approaches to the problem “we need more well-trained journalists”?

We get the following answers:

  • The “stuff” approach: This is the approach of the industrial age to solving customer problems. If there’s a customer problem out there, you set up factories and build more stuff. So for journalism education this could mean: Let’s set up a new school to train more journalists! Or let’s create an additional class about fake news!

Thanks to this approach, we were able to set up the journalism education system we have now. It has a lot of good schools with long traditions that do a wonderful job in further developing programs. But: Almost everywhere in the world, there is much more demand for training than there are available resources.

  • The “optimization” approach: This approach aggregates the offer and uses the help of algorithms to distribute your content optimally. For journalism education this could mean using blended learning to make better use of qualified staff.

A lot of schools have learned to use digital services and tools to optimize teaching and make efficient use of existing resources. In recent years, we have learned to use the Internet as a tool to get more efficient.

  • The “platform” approach: This approach uncovers new sources of supply and enables schools to offer more without creating more stuff. So for journalism education this could mean: Let’s redefine ways to access and receive education with the help of the Internet. And let’s use the possibilities of co-creation and co-working in digitalized environments, between schools, between schools and industry and so on.

This approach has developed recently. We are aware that the Internet has much more to offer than just spreading our content in a more efficient way. But so far there there are not a lot of really far-reaching, transformative journalism education platforms or services (as there are in other industries, like Uber for transportation or Airbnb for accommodations).

So coming back to our question, “how can digitalization help create better access to better training?” I would like to propose focusing first on problems we should solve for our customers. As illustration I mentioned some examples (there are of course many more):

What problems do we have to solve?

I propose we focus on the following problems journalists have. Some of them already are partly solved, others not yet.

Problem 1: (Future) Journalists don’t know what possibilities exist

This problem can be solved by offering an overview of all available training possibilities. This could, for example, be done in one of the following ways:

  • Gather all the relevant offers in one place

There are a lot of examples, but none are complete listings.

  • Provide a meta-search engine specialised in journalism training
  • Provide a hashtag everyone can use for free journalistic training material

Problem 2: Journalists don’t know what they need

This problem can be solved by offering an opportunity to assess where they stand. This could for example be done with the following measures:

  • Offer journalists the possibility to do an assessment. Especially of their knowledge, know-how, level of expertise and level of experience.

This way journalists can benchmark themselves along profiles typical for the industry, for certain profiles, for certain regions/countries, and for specific journalistic cultures. (It could be combined with a website where journalists have to answer questions so they can find out where they stand. With the help of the data it would be possible to make recommendations for further development / trainings.)

  • Offer coaching

Sometimes the problem is not necessarily that they don’t know what they need, but they are reluctant or too shy to ask for help. So it is important that journalists are encouraged to train. This is especially important for women in countries where equality is a problem.

  • Give the possibility to ask questions on different levels (coaches / experts, peers, etc.)

Problem 3: Journalists don’t know what good training is

This problem can be solved by offering clear criteria and means to measure quality. This could, for example, be done with the following measures:

  • Define a journalist-centered catalogue or checklist of criteria for good trainings, including methods, goals, level, intensity and duration of training.
  • Provide standardized useful information for every offer that fits the journalist-centered catalogue
  • Create a certification for good journalism training
  • Create / use existing recommendation systems

There are a lot of examples of recommendation systems. Some cover single courses, others rate single answers, for example → Stackoverlow, where users can ask questions and others can answer. Answers are rated by the audience.

Problem 4: Journalists don’t have the money

This problem can either be solved by bringing together people who are willing to share their knowledge for free or by making access to money easier. This could for example be done with the following measures:

  • Set up networks where journalists teach each other without being paid, because it is offered as voluntary work, direct barter (reciprocal) or non-reciprocal barter (with a voucher-system to be used later for services provided by others taking part in the system). There are several examples, e.g. the Japanese project Fureia Kippu.
  • Make it possible to donate a training (buy one for yourself and donate another one for somebody else, like a caffè sospeso).
  • Give access to addresses of funding donors and agencies (state, public, private).

There are a lot of different sites listing donors. Most of them are neither comprehensive nor searchable, and are very often not up-to-date.

Problem 5: Journalists are not in the right place

This problem can be solved by making use of digitalized approaches. This could for example be done with the following measures:

  • Make training independent from places

Digital learning formats like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), webinars, etc. Besides universities and journalism schools other organisations are also sharing their knowledge, like Civil.co or Poynter.

Problem 6: Journalists don’t have the time

This problem can be solved by making opportunities more flexible. This could, for example, be done with the following measures:

  • All forms of training have to be flexible in different aspects, such as size (short, longer, long), ability to portion them into smaller units, scheduling and duration, and means of transmission of information (read, listen, watch, especially important for journalists living in regions with bad connections to the Internet).
  • Make sure the material works also offline
  • Make sure the journalists find the most effective training for their needs

Make it possible to search for training possibilities with additional search options like: no video, only in English, …

Problem 7: Journalists don’t speak the language the trainings are offered in

This problem can be solved by making content machine-translatable. This could, for example, be done with the following measures:

  • Content has to be machine-translatable

All content should be provided in a way that it can easily be translated by machines. It should always be clear when content has been translated.

  • Translations have to be reliable and good quality

All translated content should be open to a feedback / recommendation system so that the quality of translation can be judged.

Problem 8: Journalists know more than their teachers

This problem can be solved by finding better teachers. This could, for example, be done with the following measures:

  • Make it easy to find, connect and exchange with other experts in the field
  • Create open or closed user groups of experts who help each other (from open (Facebook-) groups to member-only-sites like investigativ.ch.

Problem 9, 10, 11… :  ?

I am sure there are more problems, but I could not think of them… Maybe you can? Leave a comment at the end of the post!

How can digitalization help to solve these problems?

Digitalization can help in all of Choudary’s approaches. We can make our “stuff” better and create more of it. And we can “optimize” it. But do we already use the “platform approach,” which calls for redefining ways to access and receive education with the help of the Internet?

Most schools and universities are focussed on the “stuff” and “optimization” approach. They hardly make use of what platforms can offer. Why? The reason, in my point of view, is twofold:

  1. Journalism training is often publically funded and not a (big) business (especially if we want to reach out to journalists who have little or no money). As a result, schools and universities don’t really have an incentive to develop platforms. They might even consider them a threat, because platforms give access to training outside of their institutions.
  2. It is not only a question of “how” but also “who”: Platforms are more like infrastructure. Schools and universities use infrastructure. They don’t create it. So the platform approach necessarily involves other players, because the problems they can solve need bigger approaches then what single journalism schools and universities can or want to offer.

At conferences like the WJEC in Paris we share a lot of ideas about content and increasing quality and efficiency of journalism training. The problems defined above can serve as a guideline to find answers regarding “stuff” and “optimization”.

But what do we do when it comes to “platforms”? Who could the players be? Journalism associations? Unions? An international organisation? Some new body? A network?

Where do we share ideas about and experiences with platforms – or, in other words, infrastructure?

And last, but not least: How/where can we share infrastructure? Because journalism is still very different from one country to another, it might be difficult and / or useless to share content. But why not for example use the same platform or the same technology to offer tutorials?


Choudary, Sangeet Paul (2014): A platform-thinking approach to innovation: Wired, accessed May 14th, 2019, https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/01/platform-thinking-approach-innovation

Rogers, David L. (2016): The digital transformation playbook: rethink your business for the digital age (no direct citation, but I got a lot of ideas reading the book)

People who have contributed (in alphabetical order)

Patrick Böhler, swissinfo.ch; Andrew Curry, freelance science journalist; Sylke Gruhnwald, Republik; Stephan Hille, freelance journalist; Tanja Kunesch, Erasmus Mundus Journalism, community @TagesspiegelUvA; Patrick Lenormand, journalism educator and strategist; Theodora Maniou, University of Cyprus, Cyprus; Judith Möller, ASCoR & IVIR, Universiteit van Amsterdam; Sébastien Noir, European Broadcasting Union; Judith Raupp, journalist and media trainer, Kongo; Susanne Rohmund, Member-Coordination IG Metall; Carien Touwen, HU Applied Sciences University, the Netherlands; Konrad Weber, journalist and digital strategist at Swiss Public Broadcast; Debora Wilson David, Journalism educator at the University of Lincoln (UK) and Member of the Board of EJTA.

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