Journalism programs adapting to the changing news industry amid layoffs


Published June 18, 2023 at 3:18 pm

Journalism schools across Ontario say they are adapting their programs to better reflect changes in the industry, teaching students how to become storytellers not just in traditional newsrooms, but in other fields as well.

It’s a shift media educators say will prepare graduates for careers that might have to withstand several shocks – a reality underscored as many journalism students received their diplomas this week while massive layoffs took place at Bell Media.

“In the same week we have this joyous occasion of convocation, we have this job massacre at Bell Media, which is significant and not good,” Allan Thompson, journalism program head at Ottawa’s Carleton University, said in an interview.

BCE Inc. said on Wednesday that it would be cutting 1,300 positions, closing two foreign bureaus and shutting or selling nine radio stations under the Bell Media banner. A staff memo said Bell Media was “moving to a single newsroom approach across brands,” citing cost pressures for the change.

Those cuts came a few months after newspaper chain Postmedia laid off 11 per cent of its editorial staff.

Despite the cuts, Thompson said there’s still good reason to consider a career in journalism, citing the need to combat disinformation and provide solid, fact-based accounts of daily events.

Tina Cortese, chair of the school of media at Seneca Polytechnic, agreed.

“There still is an absolute need for journalists and really good storytellers,” she said.

But journalism schools have had to recognize the realities of the challenges facing the industry and prepare graduates for careers that might take them beyond traditional newsrooms, she said.

“It’s about really preparing our students for the future of this industry,” she said. “It is about creating content across multiple platforms.”

Ravindra Mohabeer, chair of journalism at Toronto Metropolitan University, said progressing in the industry today is not as linear as it used to be.

“It used to be that you thought about the idea of going to journalism school because you had an explicit goal to go a large network,” he said.

“Now, there’s a greater diversity of places that students are seeing themselves as being involved and invested in telling fact-based stories that are important to their communities.”

In Hamilton, Ont., Mohawk College recently stopped new admissions to its journalism program, citing low enrolment and graduation numbers. It said, however, that it planned to revamp its offerings to better align with industry changes.

“It is our intention to launch a revised or new program to respond to the evolving media landscape,” said Wendy Lawson, associate vice-president, academic at the college.

Gina Lorentz, co-ordinator of broadcast journalism at Fanshawe College, said journalism skills are transferable into fields outside of news media, including in digital and corporate communications and the non-profit sector.

As a result, journalism programs are highlighting freelancing skills and teaching students how to work independently, Lorentz and other media educators said. Schools are also teaching students how to create digital content on multiple platforms, including social media and podcasts, they said.

“Those newsrooms of the past don’t exist anymore,” Lorentz said. “So it really is about providing them the experience, the knowledge that they need to make it in what is a new way of looking at our industry.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2023.

Nairah Ahmed, The Canadian Press

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