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Welcome to JDD

Welcome to joblog! I am Rod Amner, a Journalism and Media Studies lecturer at Rhodes University, South Africa, currently teaching a semester-long course in Journalism, Democracy and Development (JDD) at the third year level. I am writing this blog as a way of thinking aloud and reflecting on this course as it unfolds. I write mainly for my students - to allow them access to my ideas, hopes and anxieties, and to encourage them to respond. To get things started, here is some background to the course...

JDD is premised on the notion that differing conceptions of democracy and development have implications for the way journalism is conceived, organised and produced, which in turn shapes journalistic form and content. By exploring this relationship between ideas about journalism’s role and the alternative assumptions and practices of various ‘journalisms’, this course aims to bring together – through critique – the Media Studies and Media Production components of the third year curriculum into something described as ‘critical media production’. South Africa is a young democracy with considerable developmental challenges shaped by both its peculiar history and by globalising forces. One of the urgent questions the course addresses is: ‘How should journalistic practice support democratic and development goals in this context?’ If journalism is viewed as a particular kind of democratic practice, it naturally belongs with political theory, which nurtures an understanding of democratic life and institutions. When framed by theories of journalism, democracy and development, most non-mainstream approaches to journalism emerge with an enhanced image, as they are understood to have a legitimate – even crucial – place in a diverse, multi-layered democratic media systems. This underlines the importance of studying and practicing these approaches in the overall academic project of the department.

The Journalism, Democracy and Development course requires students to evaluate a number of different approaches to and definitions of democracy and development. In small groups, students will have to forge a common understanding of democracy and development and the kind of journalism they propose doing in pursuit of these ideals. They will encounter a number of different ‘non-mainstream’ approaches to journalism (including public/civic/community journalism, radical/ advocacy journalism, development journalism, communication for development, participatory/ citizens' journalism and literary journalism) and evaluate the potential value of these approaches in advancing democratic and developmental goals. The lectures are being used to map out the theoretical and conceptual context for the course and to set up a production plan for a themed ‘critical media production’ project, which will be run for the duration of Term 4 (six weeks). The focus in this current term is on the expansion of our vocabulary of analytical terms to describe the complex ways that different approaches to journalism enrich a composite democratic media system. In the final term, students from all specialisations will collaborate on a multi-media project themed around the problems faced by young people in Grahamstown using a range of non-mainstream journalistic approaches.

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