The making of a journalist: the New Zealand way

Thomas, Ruth
Bell, Allan
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

This study is a first of its kind for New Zealand journalism education, following 20 students at two different schools throughout a year-long training programme. It used two methods to gain a deeper understanding: a discourse analysis of their news stories written at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the year, and retrospective protocol analysis, to provide insight into their thinking processes, through their taped reflections. The research found that journalism education controlled by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation still resembles that of 20 years ago, despite increasing numbers of students learning journalism as part of degree programmes. Students are trained for the media industry through learning by doing. They receive basic instruction and then are expected to perfect their skills by practising their writing and to learn the conventions and routines of the media industry through socialisation and work experience. In the first half of the year, the students developed some skills in writing the traditional inverted-pyramid news stories. However, by the end of the year, their news writing showed technical signs of regression. Firstly, they were not writing in a succinct, clear fashion, emphasising news values. Secondly, they had been inadequately trained to write outside of the inverted-pyramid news story or to use popular “soft” lead sentences, so that their writing tended towards being promotional. Thirdly, journalism institutions strongly favour subediting by tutors and this detracted from the students gaining understanding of their own writing and being able to self-monitor and evaluate it. Lastly, they failed to show the critical thinking skills and independence necessary for a professional journalist so that they could research thoroughly, reflect deeply and write entertaining, informative and important news stories with flair. Their reflections confirmed these findings, suggesting some stress and disillusionment. The students could “declare” what they knew about writing a news story but could not put it into practice. They blamed their failure to write high quality news stories on the pressures of the course, the deadlines and high volumes of stories. The gaps in their journalism education were also revealed through what was not mentioned in their taped reflections: in particular, they failed to mention the importance of news values in making their stories more appealing. The major influence at first was the students’ tutors, followed by work experience and the “real world” of the media industry. The concentration on job skills and gaining a job coupled with a lack of knowledge and discussion provided the students with an incomplete understanding of the pressures of the media industry they were entering. The study recommends more debate about journalism education and more research, as well as a change away from “learning by doing” to a more critical, reflective approach.

Journalism education , Skills-based training , Advantages of reflective practice , Discourse analysis , Thinking-aloud , Learning by doing
Publisher's version
Rights statement