Category Archives: Journalism education

Transformation at Western’s journalism program

IMG_0175Western University’s graduate journalism program — one of the oldest in Canada — has formally acknowledged plans to re-fashion its one-year master’s program to offer a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication degree. A promotional description of the new curriculum is here.

The decision to shutter the existing program was made by administrators in the university’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) last December, but has been kept low key, as it sought approvals from various offices within the university for a transformed curriculum. Full-time journalism faculty members have been engaged in the process of building the new credential in the hope that it might save jobs and preserve some form of journalism training at the university. Paul Benedetti, a longtime lecturer in the existing program, resigned as its coordinator late last year.

Originally modelled after the journalism program at Columbia University in New York, Western’s offerings began modestly at the undergraduate level in 1946. It became a 12-month master’s program in 1974, annually admitting about 30-40 students each year since then.

Over the past 20 years, the journalism program has had a checkered relationship with the university. Senior administrators attempted to close the Graduate School of Journalism, then led by dean Peter Desbarats, who rallied faculty, staff, alumni and the members of the university’s board of governors to save the school. (That campaign is chronicled here.) Although the effort succeeded, the graduate school soon lost its standing as a separate entity and was merged with the much larger Graduate School of Library and Information Studies in 1996-97, under the auspices of what is now the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

Desbarats, who had taken the reins as dean of the journalism school from ex-Toronto Telegram executive and founding dean Andrew MacFarlane in 1981, retired in 1997. Manjunath Pendakur, who now teaches communications at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, became FIMS’ first dean. Desbarats died in February. My London Free Press column on his passing his here.

The new graduate program intends to combine elements of journalism, media relations, communications and public relations. Mark A. Rayner, a FIMS lecturer, is taking the lead in coordinating development of the new curriculum.

Full disclosure: For many years, I have taught a summer course on journalism law and ethics as a sessional lecturer in the existing journalism program.

The multi-dimensional Peter Desbarats

Official UWO portrait

Peter Desbarats 1933-2014

As I wrote in a newspaper column last week, former Canadian journalist Peter Desbarats was a complex individual with many sides and a variety of literary voices: poet, journalist, author, essayist, children’s author, performer, scholar. Noted obituary writer Fred Langan captured much of this in his memorial piece in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, describing Desbarats as a multimedia man with “a Don Draper phase.”

Indeed, some of this complexity emerged at Desbarats’ funeral on Friday. There were tears; there was laughter. Nephews joked about his “sideburns phase” at Global Television and the fact that, for a while, he wore a cape. “Yes, an actual cape,” one said. Peter’s widow, Hazel, read one of his favourite children’s stories — Halibut York: The Night the City Sang, which Desbarats published in 1964. And there was, even among those of us who knew him fairly well, a new appreciation for the diversity of his writing.

John Longhurst, a communications staffer with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and a longtime friend, wrote to remind me that Desbarats had been a keynote speaker at a conference on faith and media in Winnipeg in 1998. In that speech, Desbarats revealed the texture of his spiritual side and how it meshed with his function as a journalist. Portions of that speech are worth reprinting here, as a kind of epilogue.

“I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic home, educated by Jesuit priests, rebelled against this in my late teens, became the first member of my family to go through a divorce (followed by many others in subsequent years), later insisted on sending my reluctant younger children to Sunday school and wound up to my astonishment as a member of the United Church of Canada, a denomination that my Jesuit professors used to refer to as the ‘Rotary Club of Canadian churches,’ ” Desbarats said.

“When I was in school, I was taught by my enlightened Jesuit professors that these two approaches [rationalist and fundamentalist] were not in irreconcilable opposition, and in fact could never be, because God had not only given some of us faith but had endowed us with intelligence. For instance, I was taught that the science of evolution was reconcilable with Roman Catholic doctrine, as long as we believed that an act of divine creation started the whole process.

“In centuries past, and up to my own school days, the contrast between religion and science was manageable, but now the gap has become unbridgeable . Rationalists who cling to religion because of tradition, or because it provides an ethical guide, do so with a growing sense of contradiction between what they know and what they believe. In practising their religion, they have to turn off a larger and larger part of their intelligence. In the same way, only more extreme, fundamentalists have to deny a larger and larger body of scientific evidence that is in conflict with their most basic beliefs. They do this by believing more intensely.

“Surely this growing chasm between rationalists and fundamentalists — which most of us see reflected in our own inner lives all the time, and witness constantly in the world around us and in its reflection in the media — surely this is the most significant development of our generation.

“Oddly enough, I suppose that what this typical liberal journalist is concluding at this point is that the big story of our time, the great and growing divide between rationalists and fundamentalists, cannot be properly covered by liberal journalists who are religious illiterates. It requires journalists who are rationalists, for journalism as we know it is essentially a rationalist undertaking, but who also know, understand and respect what is happening on the ‘other’ side, the fundamentalist side. This kind of reporting is not occurring at the moment, its absence is making it much more difficult for us to understand what is happening in our own society and in others, and the problem isn’t going to be resolved by paying more attention to, or trying to improve, religious journalism in the conventional sense.”

Desbarats’ observation remains apt, 16 years later.

Western University journalism award winners

Journalism graduate Tyler Buist celebrates his hat trick of awards with journalism program specialist Wendie Crouch.

Gold medalist Tyler Buist celebrates his hat trick of awards with Western University instructor and media specialist Wendie Crouch.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity, each summer, to teach a course in journalism law and ethics as part of Western University‘s master of arts in journalism program. It’s intensive, rigorous and lasts 12 months. Yesterday, the class of 2013 crossed the stage at convocation, heard a speech by Toronto Star journalist Chantal Hébert and then returned to the North Campus Building for a reception and awards ceremony. Here’s a list of the awards and their recipients.

Good luck to all the graduates in their future endeavours.

Corus Radio London Scholarship: Natalie Paddon
The London CAC/Rogers Cable TV Student Awards in Journalism: Tyler Buist, Katrina Clarke, Ryan Mallough
Haaksaan Responsible Journalism Scholarship: Katie Starr
J.B. McGeachy Gold Medal and Prize in Journalism: Tyler Buist
The Hugh Bremner Prize (Silver Medal): Katrina Clarke
The J.L. (Bud) Wild Prize (Silver Medal): Katie Starr
The Ursula Walford Memorial Award (Silver Medal): Ben Forrest
The C. Edmund Wilson Prize for Media Research: Blair McBride
The Western News Award: Ryan Mallough
John James Grier Memorial Scholarship in International Relations: Blair McBride
K.A. (Sandy) Baird Prize for Humorous Writing: Rubab Abid
William French Prize for Cultural Journalism: Katie Starr
Jerry Rogers Award in Writing: Blair McBride
The Walter Blackburn Award: Mekhala Gunaratne
David Murray Bowes Award: Ben Forrest
The J.M. Penny Crosbie Prize for Investigative Journalism: Kristina Virro
Norman Jewison Prize for Creative Writing: Brent Boles
Honorable Mention: The IDRC International Development Journalism Award: Katrina Clarke
Honorable Mention: The Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship: Idil Mussa

The award that Western’s David Mills didn’t win

CBC sportscaster Scott Russell, who hosted the retirement event, is flanked by David Mills and Wendie Crouch. For hundreds of Western journalism alumni, Mills and Crouch have been enormously influential instructors.

CBC sportscaster Scott Russell, who MCed the retirement event, is flanked by David Mills and Wendie Crouch. For hundreds of Western journalism alumni, Mills and Crouch have been enormously influential instructors.

The 2013 journalism award season is nearly over, except for the annual Michener Awards, to be held at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 18. The Ontario Newspaper Awards were given out at a gala in Waterloo, Ont., on April 27, The National Newspaper Awards were celebrated in Ottawa on May 3 and the Canadian Association of Journalists honoured its best the following night in the same city.

For anyone who attended Western University‘s graduate journalism program at any point over the past 35 years, however, one of this year’s most important journalism milestones arrived at the end of April with the retirement of broadcast manager David Mills. Though not officially deemed “faculty” at the school, Mills was one part of a dynamic duo that gave hundreds of students the practical, hands-on training that allowed them to blossom as fully formed multimedia storytellers. The other, as any Western alumnus will quickly tell anyone who asks, was media specialist Wendie Crouch. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance and impact of Mills and Crouch to the Western program.

All of that was evidenced by the warm and spirited retirement reception for Mills hosted by the university’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western’s Great Hall on April 25. Effusive tributes flowed. Professors emeriti came out. There were tears of joy and appreciation. And testimonials from graduates, both in-person and via video, spoke to Mills’s long and deep reach into the successes of the program’s alumni. Among the characteristics most frequently mentioned were his patience, resourcefulness and friendly mentorship. He was a master of the Socratic method: He taught by helping students think through their difficulties and challenges, rather than by simply answering their questions.

David Mills was a significant part of the education of hundreds of Canadian journalists who have gone on to win nearly every type of award in the national panoply: NNAs, CAJs, ONAs, CABs, Geminis, Canadian Screen Awards and dozens of lesser-known honours. If ever the Canadian journalism community were to create an award for an instructor who has had a significant, long and lasting impact on both individual journalists and their craft, candidates such as David Mills would win it. He didn’t — only because it doesn’t yet exist.

Remembering a great journalism educator

Les Anderson (WSU)

I was saddened by the news this morning that Les Anderson, 62, a journalism professor at the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, died yesterday evening of a heart attack.

To most of my Canadian journalism colleagues, Anderson will be an unknown. But to anyone who has had anything to do with journalism in central Kansas, he was an icon.

Anderson was my first journalism professor; I first encountered him in a news writing course at Wichita State in 1982. I’ll always remember the joy and humour that suffused his teaching. To him, journalism was the most interesting, exciting and noble of pursuits. And while he was a stickler for detail (as all good j-profs are), he never failed to bring his trademark warmth and enthusiasm to the classroom. He cared on a personal level about every one of his students and cemented in me a belief that journalism should be my career.

Ironically, Anderson and I got reacquainted only in the past six months. The connection was assisted by Jesse Huxman, who, with his spouse, Susan Schultz Huxman, moved from Wichita to Waterloo, Ont., this spring. Susan is the former director of the Elliott School and is now the seventh president of Conrad Grebel College; Jesse is a well-travelled communications executive and news producer who is now the communication strategist with Mennonite Foundation of Canada.

The video below tells the story of Anderson’s career much better than I can. And it’s laced with precisely the kind of humour that Anderson would have appreciated.

CBC Online leaves impression on Conestoga students

When I asked my new media students in class today about the things that were most memorable or surprising about last week’s field trip to CBC Online in Toronto, they responded nearly unanimously: It was the buzz, the electricity and enthusiasm they felt among the staff working on the fourth floor of the CBC Broadcasting Centre. Amid the rapid changes that have seized the journalistic enterprise over the past three years, here was a group of eager and committed professionals who avidly embraced the changes that have left so many experienced journalists dour and shell-shocked. For the visiting students, the palpable sense of energy among CBC journalists was at once refreshing and reassuring.

Credit where credit is due: The visit was largely arranged by Waterloo Region Record reporter Jeff Outhit, who teaches computer-assisted reporting in Conestoga’s postgraduate New Media: Convergence program. Outhit contacted one of his former Record colleagues, Lianne Elliott (@cbclianne on Twitter), now a producer at CBC.ca; she met our group and arranged a discussion on the future of online media with Kim Fox (@kimfox), CBC News’s senior producer for community and social media.

Amber Hildebrandt

Following that session, online reporter and producer Amber Hildebrandt (@cbcamber) spent some time describing her use of new media in various reporting assignments, including the trial of serial murder Russell Williams last year. (Read Hildebrandt’s reflections on that experience here.) The morning wrapped up with demonstrations by Elliott of the software and other tools CBC.ca uses in its online reporting, as live coverage of the final landing of the space shuttle Discovery was underway. It included an interview with former Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who had flown on Discovery, on a set nearby.

Along the way, there was also a quick introduction to CBC Radio weekend news anchor Martina Fitzgerald, another of Outhit’s former reporting colleagues, this time at the Kingston Whig-Standard.

Hats off to CBC Online’s staff, who went above and beyond the call of duty in challenging and inspiring our students. The trip was a stimulating and potent reminder of the power of a well-organized field trip to leave an indelible impression.

Will La Presse be Canada’s first paperless newspaper?

The front page of La Presse on March 12 featured coverage of the earthquake in Japan.

Whenever I’ve taught courses in the history of print journalism in Canada, I have invariably made reference to a book that is now more than a quarter century old: Wilfred Kesterton‘s seminal work, A History of Journalism in Canada (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1984, 304 p.). First published in 1967, the book meticulously chronicles the development of Canadian journalism through four distinct press periods and is an authoritative collection of the significant names and dates along that odyssey.

Yesterday, amid reports that the Montreal newspaper La Presse plans to go entirely digital within five years, I wondered whether some future history book on Canadian journalism (would it be published on paper?) might not point to La Presse and yesterday’s date as the harbingers of a new “press” period.

La Presse is beginning the transition immediately. It plans to offer long-term subscribers a free iPad and hopes to trim its print run drastically over the coming years. The newspaper company, a division of Gesca Limitée, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Corp., has a printing contract with Transcontinental Inc. that runs through 2018.

J-Source.ca reported yesterday that La Presse has already invested more than $7 million in its “iPad plan” and expects to spend another $25 million to realize it. Postmedia News newspapers, including the Windsor StarOttawa CitizenMontreal GazetteCalgary HeraldEdmonton JournalSaskatoon StarPhoenixRegina Leader-PostVancouver SunVancouver Province and Victoria Times Colonist, have been delivering its products via the iPad since late last year. But the La Presse announcement goes further in that it foresees a complete transition to digital.

As a postsecondary journalism educator, I often get asked about the future of newspapers and, for that matter, the future of journalism. My answers: The future of printed newspapers (“ink on dead trees”) has a finite horizon, as it should. Few of today’s journalists entered the vocation because of a love affair with ink-stained fingers, giant printing presses, metal plates and rolls of newsprint (those romances belonged to an earlier generation). Rather, they entered — and continue to enter — the vocation because of their interest in research, interviewing, an innate curiosity, writing and storytelling across a variety of delivery platforms, and a deep desire to better understand the world, from big-picture issues to esoteric minutiae. That future, I think, remains bright.