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Should journalists and philosophers get together?

As the university places its faith in valorisation and emphasises the value of working closely with corporations, should journalists look to philosophers to learn how to better maintain their position as ‘guardians of democracy’?

The prevailing wisdom is that journalists should foster critical thinking and serve as ‘guardians of democracy’, but are students of journalism getting the skills they need in order to go along with the changing role of their discipline? What fundamentals should a student of journalism acquire in order to become a stronghold against corruption and poor decision-making so often found in our society?

I believe that the curriculum of journalism students should involve more philosophy subjects, such as logic and political philosophy. Why do they need these skills? To see why, one only has to consult the valorisation brochure, a small document written by the RUG’s Research & Valorisation Department, a faculty body that works to connect the research we carry out at our university with external business interests.

Arbiters of valor

The arbiters of valour are of the opinion that the students should, in addition to journalistic skills, acquire the business sense in order to find their place in a highly-competitive market economy. In the same brochure, it is stated that the department of journalism should provide services to media entrepreneurs, helping them to ‘align’ with the existing and changing ideas of ‘greater good’ in our society.

But what does all this mean? To me, it means that future journalists hold what seems to be a contradictory position. They are ostensibly tasked with being independent and critical ‘guardians of democracy’, yet they are simultaneously expected to provide their services to media entrepreneurs. I see this process as part of the corporatisation of the university which jeopardizes the status of the journalist as an unbiased observer, because it is economic incentive that has the final word, not the greater good.

According to the valorisation brochure, a journalist should simultaneously be a ‘guardian of democracy’ (I apologize to my readers, but can’t resist overusing this beautiful phrase) and part of the corporate structure of the university. But upon graduation, what happens when the newspapers place more value in political favouritism than in their employees?

Corporate interests

A recent case of a Breitbart reporter leaving her position after the company didn’t back her up and even questioned her account when she was allegedly assaulted by presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager nicely illustrates the ongoing discord between the corporate interests of media companies and individual freedom of speech for their employers.

What should be done to push back against this trend, at least at the university level? The journalists-in-training could join forces with the philosophy department to form a stronghold against the complete corporatisation of the university.

Philosophy departments are often bashed for not being profitable to the university and failing to generate services with market value: it is extremely hard for the humanities to translate their activities into something that could be money-making, much less in keeping with the tendency to connect research and external business interests.

Asset

Developing analytical and conceptual thinking, getting an overview of moral theory and its implications for decision making are skills that may be difficult to utilize for special business interests, but I think that these tools of the trade for philosophy students could prove to be a great asset to future journalists as well.

While journalists are seen as the intermediaries between policies and the public, it is often the philosophers who work on the design of those policies. For both groups to do their jobs as best as possible and to maintain their roles as politics-free disciplines, they should avoid possible conflicts of interests which naturally arise once those fields become part of the corporate structure.

Even once we become aware of the fact that we are but a part of the giant macrostructure, it will still take serious effort to preserve and, eventually, re-establish the unique position of journalism and philosophy practitioners.

17-03-2016