Making Tomorrow’s News
UWI’s Certificate in Journalism begins
The first group of students enrolled in The UWI’s Certificate in Journalism programme will start classes this September, and according to the Programme Coordinator, Patricia Worrell, they’re on a journey that will “change the culture of journalism in Trinidad and Tobago.”
“This programme has a mandate from the media industry itself to produce competent graduates who will be able to carry their weight in any newsroom, certainly, and who, above all, will behave professionally and ethically,” Worrell says. “I think everybody recognizes that while there are excellent journalists in this country, a fundamental change in the culture of journalism is urgently needed.”
The 30 students who make up the class are a diverse lot, ranging from total novices to practising journalists, from students who have just left secondary school to persons in mid-career who believed that it was time to make a change, and who seized the opportunity to fulfill a long-time aspiration.
The programme was developed at the request of representatives of the media industry, Worrell recalls. “They approached us, not for the first time, and asked us to do this, because, as they told us, they themselves felt the urgent need to improve the standard of journalism in the country. What we told them, basically, was that we would work with them, but if they really needed the programme, they should commit to funding it… and they did. Mr. Ken Gordon himself approached the people in the industry, and they responded beautifully. And we, in turn, have done our part. We produced a programme that was developed at every step of the way in collaboration with representatives from the media. Every decision was discussed with them, and every decision was assessed against one basic principle: it had to prepare our students to work effectively in the industry.”
The one-year, full-time programme, which was approved in 2010, includes courses that introduce students to fundamental principles of journalism, to the laws and ethical dilemmas that will inform the decisions they make, and to knowledge about the social context in which they will practice their profession. However, most of the courses seek to develop practical skills and knowledge reporters need: how to conduct effective interviews, and the skills and strategies needed for investigative reporting. Above all, however, students are being taught how to tell an effective story.
“I remember,” Worrell says, “that when we were developing the courses, one member of the sub-committee – a very experienced journalist – was lamenting that there were so many journalists who could go out and do a really excellent job obtaining the facts.
‘And they’d come back to the newsroom and tell us the story, and it would be fascinating,’ she told us. ‘And then they’d sit down to write, and you know, the story would just lose all its appeal when they started writing it. They simply didn’t know how to make the story come alive.’ So it was quite clear to us what we needed to do.”
The students in the Certificate programme are learning how to make a story come alive. They are learning, too, that they must find and produce stories while working in newsrooms with all the organizational challenges and supports provided there. In their second semester, students will be doing internships at different media houses.
Worrell has no illusions about the challenges to which the journalism programme must respond. People come up to her, she says, and complain about the grammatical mistakes they have identified, the sometimes superficial interviews, some journalists’ apparent inability to probe and question, and about the total lack of objectivity that so often characterizes news reporting in this country. It is clear, she says, that they expect that these things will change overnight, once this group graduates.
“Thirty students will be graduating next year,’ she says, “and even if they perform superlatively well, thirty journalists can’t change the face of journalism overnight. But we will have started the journey towards excellence. And that’s the focus we intend to maintain.”