Joined: 27 Dec 2008
|Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 5:33 am Post subject:
Eager, enthusiastic faces of students flashed across the screen at the inauguration ceremony of Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), an event held on March 23 in the presence of HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation. And all 38 (of which 14 are Qataris and the rest a mix of all nationalities) of them had one strong – rather optimistic – dream, that of making a mark in the field of journalism and media, right here.
By Sindhu Nair
A tall claim, some might comment, but buttressed by the strong foundation of Northwestern University and the backing of Qatar Foundation, this dream might soon be a reality.
And all this spins off from the concept of story telling, according to the Dean of NU-Q, John Margolis, “The Middle East is a region rich in the ancient tradition of storytelling and the concept of ‘story’ is central to the academic programmes we have brought into Education City. Whether in a news article or broadcast, a narrative stage or screen work, our journalism and communication curricula focus on telling a story.”
The need for a course to educate aspiring professionals in Qatar, which is establishing itself as a regional centre for journalism and media, has never been stronger, says Margolis.
“Digital communication technologies are transforming how we gather and distribute news, how we share information, how we give expression to our creative spirit and how we connect, influence and govern.
“And it is expertise in all these emerging technologies that we intend to inculcate in the students here.”
On how the course intends to demarcate itself from various other programmes in the region, he says, “We have two goals that we will focus on. The first, obviously, is to provide world-class education in journalism and to encourage and guide students to take leadership roles in organisations. Secondly, we want to be a constructive force in the region in the discussion of important issues, to serve as a catalyst for constructive change in these areas.”
The real picture
Journalism though, is not only about classroom study, it is the tension that is pervasive in newsrooms, it is the eye of the edit team to spot a story, the glib questions of an interviewer, catchy headlines and an attractive presentation that attracts the reader or viewer. Transparency is another virtue that a journalist outlearns fast in a region that preaches press freedom but practices it much less frequently. And if these challenges are not enough, there is the persistence of economics over edit
with economics winning the battle, in the end.
So how will the students have a fair idea of all the challenges they are in for?
Richard J Roth, Senior Associate Dean for the Journalism Programme at NU-Q, with his huge and varied experience in all areas of reporting and editing, was just the right person to pose this question to.
“We do educate our students on all these. The fundamental way we teach journalism is by practice. We have them do internships; we make them experience the aspects of reporting on day-to-day incidents. For this, we send our students to reputed organisations like Qatar Today or the Gulf Business in Bahrain. They learn to practice what we preach.
“Unlike many other professions, which require a period of working under expertise, journalism requires one to go out into the arena from the day you join. There is no habituation period where you get a timeframe to fit into the real game of reporting. This is why we want all our students to have a fairly good idea of the newsroom culture.
On transparency, Roth is quite optimistic.
“Change is imminent as we understand from the leadership’s vision and from the communications we have had. The country is still in its nascent stage, give it some time and soon all these doubts will be cleared and transparency will be in place. Our students will demand it when they begin to work because that is what we have been teaching them,” he says.
Adapting to the region
The Northwestern University in Qatar offers two undergraduate programmes: communication and journalism. The School of Communication offers a programme in telecommunication, radio, television, film and interactive media technology. The journalism programme, created by the Medill School of Journalism prepares students for careers in print and broadcast news media through journalism and integrated marketing communications.
The courses though had a minor change to make it more compatible for the region.
“The biggest change is in the content of individual courses. We have a quarter system at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus of
10 weeks and here it is 15 weeks in a semester. We just had to reshape though it is essentially the same curriculum. We have added a
HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned,
Chairperson of Qatar Foundation chats with the first batch of students at the NUQ launch ceremony
few tailored lectures pertinent to the media in Middle East. We will need to streamline more but we will do that as we move on,” says Dean Margolis.
“There are issues of culture and habit which does spring up but I feel all that will change as the students get educated in a multicultural background. Like we had a Qatari girl on the cover of our alumni magazine which was disapproved by many, but the girl was adamant
and her parents too agreed to it. So things are changing,” observes Roth.