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Rethinking Zim’s journalism schools

 

By  Munorweyi Siziba

It took a lot of soul searching more than writing this piece reflecting on my journey as a journalist of about eight years.
During introspection there are times the imposter syndrome hits me as I feel not good enough a journo on the back of comments I read and hear over my articles.

Known by a variety of monikers like “impostor phenomenon”, “fraud syndrome”, “impostorism,” Impostor Syndrome is a disjunction between internal beliefs and actual accomplishments.
Imposter syndrome defined as aggressive and constant feelings of self-doubt — can get inflamed in remote work environments such as freelance journalism.

Journalism is a delicate profession that needs to be handled with care. It is not a fragile career but one known to make or break communities and the world at large.
Training for journalism in Zimbabwe particularly in recent times has been nothing but desirous.

With the rise of social media and blogging in this technology revolution aspiring writers or wanna-be writers are ‘getting away with murder’ of journalism. Or do they care given they are in it for the money rather than the burning desire to ammend or create better opinions that shape a better humanity.

Pardon me as I digress but the fulcrum, the pith in the words of the eloquent celebrity lawyer Thabani Mpofu during the televised contested 2018 Presidential Election Results, is that of the depletion of training standards in schools of journalism.

Creative writing is used when we are writing fiction, while journalistic writing describes news stories and real events.
Poorly crafted headlines, misleading headlines, spelling and grammar mistakes have become the order of the day in newspapers.

Some creative writers make up stories purely from their imagination, but some creative writers also base their story on their real life experiences. Journalism is simply a creative way of portraying real life, timely events that have occurred. With basic training in the field, a creative writer will theoretically have all of the elements that they would need to write a story based on what they have witnessed and gathered in the field.
Educational tertiary institutions either colleges, universities or vocational training schools are there to hone the skills and talents that individuals have. If that individual is raw, he or she should come out perfect.

Training of journalists has been a controversial issue in Zimbabwe. Universities have been seen to produce half baked journalism students.
This is true being an MSU alumnus. At this institution, training was more inclined to producing media analysts instead of journalists. There was too much theorisation of media and development. We hardly got training on environmental journalism, health journalism, and investigative journalism.

On attachment at The Herald, I envied the training at the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA) and Harare Polytechnic College. Their students in their internship would come up with clean hard news copy. When it comes to essays, opinions, editorials, feature articles, and reviews, I can safely say we were at par. Making us more of creative writers than journalists.
MSU and other institutions have realised the demand for higher education enrolling tens of thousands of students every year that is from Bachelors Honours Degree Levels up to PhDs.

In a single bachelors degree class, say in mine, there were close to 80 students. In some programs, I would here there were close to 200 students. They are in it for the money.

Cutting the lecturers some slack, they are training more of media analysts than journalists. They are training more lecturers than journalists.
Is the profession slowly losing its reverence amidst the rising social media and blogging personell coupled with the biting economic challenges? Once-journalists have chosen other careers. Reputable newspaper companies like Daily News, Herald, Sunday Mail, NewsDay and the Standard have seen employees resigning for other jobs and or careers.Others were dismissed last year with companies citing COVID-19’s adverse impact on their businesses.

Many are now shop till operators. Some have become product merchandisers and others resorted to become marketers.
Others have been fortunate enough to be employed by highly paying non-governmental organisations, or corporates.

The Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services commissioned an inquiry into the state of the media industry in Zimbabwe. In 2014, an Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) was then established to produce report.

Mr Geoff Nyarota the IMPI chairperson stressed out that a realization was made in 2013 by the Ministry of Information that a lot of concerns had been raised by the public, media and Members of Parliament and it was agreed that an effort be made systematically to find out the exact areas of concern regarding the media industry. After consultations, a decision the Ministry set up IMPI, whose main objective was to consult Zimbabweans.

He pointed out that the panel had 7 committees which are as follows:-Media as business, including new media whose task was to assess the performance of all media; Information platforms and content of media products; Polarization, Perceptions and Interference; Media Training, Training Capacity and Ethics, which was concerned about the ethics of journalists and quality of news; Gender Advocacy and Marginalized groups; Employment Opportunities and conditions of service and Media Law Reform and Access to Information. He further pointed out that during public consultations, IMPI faced challenges on legality and in some areas were treated with suspicions, low turnout in some districts and cases of violence were also alluded.

During the discussions it emerged that the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry Report is not designed or tailored for the interests of the former Minister and that the only recognizable beneficiary is the public of Zimbabwe. Of note was also the imminent absence of the officials from the Ministry of Information. It also emerged that IMPI and the Ministry are still working together. It was pointed out that the executives are the owners of the document and it is their mandate to implement. The IMPI believe that they covered all the vital aspects of the task that they were given. Some media organizations and the Midlands State University (MSU) have already taken on board some of the recommendations made by the IMPI in the report.

In the report there is section on Media training , training capacity and ethics presented by Ms Susan Makore who was the CEO of ABC Communications.
Ms. Makore observed that the Thematic Committee on Media Training, Training capacity and Ethics was mandated to inquire into the values and standards of professional journalism to seek ways of addressing the sectors value crisis in a comprehension and professionalism.

With regards to ethics and standards of perception, the major findings were; there is no single body of rules or standards of ethics or professional behavior to guide Zimbabwe journalists in the practice of their profession, although a few media organizations have crafted their own code of ethics to guide ethical operations. In an effort to encourage and preserve ethics, the following recommendations were made; Journalists must take an oath that they will uphold the ethics of their profession; Journalists need to find a platform where they agree on common goals in Zimbabwe and there is need for an ethical body to be established that is empowered to deal effectively with those editor and writers misrepresent information.

With regards to Content, she said that members of the public questioned the level of integrity when journalists are  allowed to publish such obscene photographs as are depicted in newspapers, such as H-Metro, should focus on publishing productive stories instead of concentrating on spying on peoples private lives. Some members of the public spoke on the need for what they termed patriotic reportage and also the need for positive coverage of women especially achievers such as business people and female politicians.

Recommended was the issue that Zimbabwe must establish a school of journalism, a world class institution or transform one of the existing institution offering quality curriculum subjects; Journalism training need to keep up with new ownership trends especially in new media; Zimbabwe must establish a special radio and TV academy for building capacity in a professional area that is a story feature of the media landscape including radio reporting and TV reporting; short line courses in operating machines, equipment, build system, write and produce materials. separate body should be established to promote and maintain training standards in media colleges and other institutions, including reviewing modules and recommending for improvement; Ministry of information, Media and Broadcasting Services must take a greater oversight role in media training including Ministry of Higher and tertiary Education, Science and Technology; A national Film Board should be established among others.

Intensive discussions were made regarding the quality of journalist being produced from colleges. Of concern was the mushrooming of fly by night colleges who are offering diplomas and degrees in journalism. The committee questioned the capacity of such jouranalist to be ethical and observe the code of conducts. The Committee acknowledged the recommendations by IMPI as viable.

But a question boggles my mind. What is the status update for that school of journalism?

This story is published under the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) Investigative Journalism Fund with support from the European Union (EU)

Staff Reporter
the authorStaff Reporter