The best journalism schools in SA

Lyndon Johnstone, managing director, OFM

“OFM regularly uses students from the Tshwane University of Technology. Their students, from our experience, are best equipped in terms of broadcast journalism. They have an understanding of the electronic media environment, and have to a large extent mastered the basic skills required, such as interviewing for radio, soundbyte editing, how to use a recorder, microphone technique, etc.
While we have high regard for the other schools offering journalism, Tshwane up to now has been our institution of choice.

“At the same, OFM is speaking to the Leadership of the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein to look at broadcast-specific courses. OFM is also actively involved in assisting the CUT in setting up their own campus radio station. This widens the base for skills development for our industry.”

Peet Kruger, editor, Beeld and Charles Naudé, editor, Sake24.

“At Beeld and Sake24 we actively recruit potential journalists by offering up to eight study bursaries per year for the post-graduate B.Phil in Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch. The candidates are graduates or final-year students from any university, but in practice most of them come from the University of Stellenbosch, and the rest from Pretoria University, University of North West, University of Johannesburg and Free State University. We have granted a small number of bursaries for study at North West, Pretoria, Rhodes University and University of Cape Town on occasion, and we have appointed students from all those universities and Wits without their doing the B Phil at Stellenbosch.

“The top three would probably be Stellenbosch, Pretoria and North West, with Johannesburg a close fourth. Many of these appointments are not as a result of the skills imparted by specific departments at the universities, because we often appoint students without them having done specific journalism training. The universities where we have found the journalism training to be of practical use and whose students do have a head start, are the B.Phil at Stellenbosch and the journalism school at the Potchefstroom campus of the University of North West. The same applies to Wits and Rhodes, although they mainly train English-speaking journalists.”

Ken Varejes, CEO, Primedia Unlimited

“Vega (School of Branding) and the Red and Yellow School (of Logic and Magic) are my top choices. They are geared to our industry and as such the interest of that candidate is already ascertained. I further also think the two schools have a great focus and attention to detail on the ad industry and have produced some great people.”

Chris Burgess, editor, Farmer’s Weekly

“I try and not hire people straight out of varsity. The best is Stellenbosch, the worst Rhodes and Pretoria Tech, or whatever it’s called now. Stellenbosch graduates just seem to have a better overall understanding of journalism, but maybe that has more to do with their stiffer entrance requirements, which results in them attracting better candidates, than what they actually teach there.

“Frankly though, I think a tertiary qualification in journalism is often a waste of time, if not a definite drawback. I’m far more interested in people who have work experience in a pressured environment like a radio or daily newspaper newsroom, but journalism shouldn’t, and can’t, be taught at a university. It’s in newsrooms, where one is exposed to grizzled old timers, that journalism is learnt. These, sadly, are also becoming increasingly rare, as media houses cut costs by appointing younger journalists at lower salaries.”

Gordon Patterson, managing director, Starcom

“The University of Johannesburg is my first, second and third choice, specifically those graduates from the business science disciplines. University of Johannesburg is a melting pot for the new South Africa. The entry criterion is based on academic achievement rather than parents’ ability to pay the fees. It offers ‘hard’ business subjects that I believe present real scope and value to our industry going forward. Whilst a B.Com has general value it often attracts students who are unsure of where they want to go.”

Matthew Buckland, publisher, Mail & Guardian Online

“Rhodes University students have a multi-disciplinary approach and are technology savvy. They have a good theoretical understanding of the media environment, which makes teaching the basics on the job easy. They also have a strong online media specialisation option. Ironically, practical writing skills could be better.

“At Wits University solid, core journalism skills are taught, becoming increasingly online savvy. Students have good practical writing skills and a good theoretical approach too.

“Durban University of Technology are savvy and embrace new technology with a problem-solving approach and have a good understanding of how to use technology to enhance journalism.”

Suzy Brokensha, editor, Fairlady

“One thing I’ve learned after all this time in magazines is that nothing beats in-house training. But there are two serious problems with this - firstly, it’s very difficult to get into the industry without any training or a qualification behind you, and secondly, people are reluctant to stay in one position long enough really to learn from it: most people expect to be fast-tracked, which means there are often holes in their experience that have not been plugged by a degree or a diploma.

“At Fairlady, everyone we shortlist for a position is given one or two assignments so we can see for ourselves how they perform before we make a final decision, and this performance always counts far more in our assessment than the journalism school the candidate attended. Having said that, the journalism schools I have always thought offer very interesting course work are Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Kwazulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg. I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones with which I have most come into contact.”

Yusuf Abramjee, group head of news and talk programmes, Primedia Broadcasting

“1. University of Johannesburg: The academic standard is of a high quality and we work closely with them. In fact, we have a number of interns in our newsroom whom we have since employed. The lecturers are also very pro-active and much emphasis is placed on gaining practical experience not loosing sight of theory. Rate: 8 out of 10.

“2. Rhodes University: Rhodes has an excellent track-record. The students have a comprehensive knowledge of the industry and the curriculum is also practically inclined. Practical experience forms an integral part of their course. We continue to have Rhodes students in our newsrooms. In fact, a number of our journalists studied at Rhodes. Rate: 7 out of 10.

“3. Tshwane University of Technology: The students have much hands-on experience and a bit more emphasis can go into the actual business of radio. The students are always enthusiastic. They are taught well on how to use the equipment which some other institutions can improve on. Rate: 6 out of 10

Paddi Clay, head of programme, Johncom Pearson Journalism Training

“Some observations: I am looking at this current year’s class for our Johncom Pearson Graduate Training Programme and see that nine different universities supplied our intake of 12. Not by any design but it just happens. We have a preponderance of Rhodes University people generally because so many of our senior journalists have Rhodes roots and also because they have supplied many of our digital people this year.

“We also have ties with the university in various ways, but nearly every year our intake reflects a cross section of tertiary institutions. Perhaps because we are aiming for a diversity of types and experiences which will enhance our journalism and because we do not only recruit from journalism schools but from universities generally in our bid to find people wishing to go into financial journalism. Because no university delivers exactly what we want, usually we run the Graduate Programme of a year. It is especially useful for those who maybe did studies that they were not so sure about and want to revert to their first love - the media or for those who are not sure what their journalistic strengths are or whether the way we practice it is what suits them.”

Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief, Mail & Guardian

“We recruit from a wide selection pool but my tops would be: Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the street. Most of our best journalists do not have journalism degrees but as the craft is increasingly professionalised, I have enjoyed Rhodes students. While we’ve not recruited from Stellenbosch, I have interacted with students who I find unerringly professional, interested and interesting. Our Rhodes graduate interns are well-grounded in the basics of journalism and the ones I have worked with have been go-getters.

“A few weeks ago I had the privilege of talking journalism with Wits students and I enjoyed their vibrancy and energy a lot so I look forward to recruiting a talent or two.

“This year we have recruited a promising young woman from the Durban University of Technology and another from Potchefstroom University,”

Tyrone August, editor, Cape Times

“1.Stellenbosch University - their students are generally better prepared for work in a newsroom. They tend not to rely on the ‘press release’ approach to journalism, which is increasingly becoming the case with entry-level reporters. They are also better at research and at analysis.

“2. Rhodes University, for much the same reason as above.

“3. Cape Peninsula University of Technology - some of our most talented reporters have come out of its journalism department. Gaining practical experience as interns during their academic programme appears to be key to the success of its journalism course.”

Patrick Conroy, national news editor,

“I’ve canvassed the news room. Our good people come from all over. Some from Durban University of Technology, Tshwane University of Technologies, Rhodes University and University of the Witwatersrand. I think it would be grossly unfair to pick one over the other at this point. We’re generally happy with the candidates we’re seeing from these institutions.”

Diane Macpherson, news editor, East Coast Radio

“Being a KwaZulu-Natal-based radio station, East Coast Radio prefers to recruit people who’ve lived in the province, as they’re more likely to be familiar with KZN’s unique political and social dynamics. So, this doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have studied in KZN. Out of our small news team of eight, most come from a technikon background - either the former Technikon Natal or Durban University of Technology. The rest hail either from Rhodes University or the old University of Natal (prior to the merger). As an editor, I have no clear preference out of these institutions. I believe that while these tertiary institutions obviously provide a sound grounding for aspirant journalists, it is up to the individual to show their passion and commitment beyond the confines of a place of education. This is why I regularly include people who have no formal training in my interviews.”

Leigh Herringer, editor, Food & Home Entertaining.

“We look for a different type of ‘journalist’ here at Food & Home Entertainment as you know because we also require food-orientated people. So I look at the English skills obtained at a secondary level as well as the experience in both media studies and the culinary arts at a tertiary level.

“While universities are not accessible to everyone and while technikons and colleges are reputable, I would still say that an internationally recognised university degree or post graduate degree in journalism is best even though there is so much being said about the journalism skills or lack thereof that students are actually coming out with. However, Stellenbosch University, the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg come to mind.”

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