News Corp Australia has teamed up with its old nemesis, Google Australia, to create the Digital News Academy to send hundreds of journalists to a university business school for “shameless” business journalism training.
Murdoch’s director of corporate affairs, Campbell Reid, will be the first director of the Digital News Academy (DNA), and renowned News Corp writers Joe Hildebrand, Hedley Thomas and Sharri Markson will be available to students as ” expert”.
More than 250 news reporters as well as Australian community media and some smaller outlets will complete the nine-month course each year through the University of Melbourne’s business school, a move that has sparked anger of Victorian University journalism scholars.
Director of the Center for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, Andrew Dodd, said the first time he heard about the decision was when he read the press release.
“Our concern is that the training takes place via the business school,” Dodd told Guardian Australia. “And that News Corp seeks to work with the business school to avoid the kind of questioning of the culture of liberal arts and humanities colleges. It’s really a reflection of the antagonism that News Corp has had for university journalism programs for many years.
Reid told Guardian Australia the business school was chosen ‘because it is shamelessly into journalism’ and they wanted to design a program from scratch.
Reid said the academy would teach students to do journalism that was “suitable for commercial purpose from the moment of creation” because the public was willing to pay for “trusted sources of information” through subscriptions.
Times had changed and journalists now had to know how to reach the target audience for a podcast or data journalism, he said.
News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said the academy would build a stronger Australia “by keeping society informed through strong, fearless reporting and advocacy”.
“The academy will play a role in equipping news media organizations and information professionals – from journalists in the field to editors and publishers – with the toolkit, skills and state necessary to seize the opportunities that digital media presents,” Miller said.
Just 12 months ago, Google signed a multi-year deal with News Corp that saw the search engine pay for journalism from news sites around the world. The deal follows years of interest from Murdoch accusing the search engine of killing the newspapers’ business model.
The idea for the school was floated during News Media Negotiations Code negotiations between News executives and Google Australia chief executive Melanie Silva.
Melbourne Business School Dean Ian Harper declined an interview but said the academy was a “deep education initiative”.
“We believe the Digital News Academy has the potential to transform the future of organizational learning, as well as journalism,” Harper said.
Reid said the school would attempt to replace institutional newsroom knowledge lost over many years of attrition. “Not so long ago, a fledgling journalist was surrounded by people who were both grumpy and generous with their time and expertise,” he said.
“But the beating heart of a newsroom isn’t as vibrant as it used to be.”
Reid acknowledges the tension between the press and journalism schools that Dodd says drove the decision, but he said the business school was not chosen for that reason. “There is no doubt that over time at News there has been tension or skepticism about certain schools of journalism, and I have to say extraordinary skepticism in schools of journalism about News Corporation he says.
Meg Simons, honorary senior fellow at the Center for Advancing Journalism, said it was “incomprehensible” that the university “apparently entered into this agreement without consulting its journalism school.”
“You can’t teach technical skills separate from all the rest of journalism,” Simons said. “Journalism happens in a context, a social and economic context.”
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen went even further, saying that in the United States, business schools are not given responsibility for journalism education, “just like we don’t. ‘We don’t offer playwriting or masters in film-making there’.
“He says he wants to train the next generation of journalists to tell the story of Australian communities,” Rosen said. “I had the impression that the Center for the Advancement of Journalism at the University of Melbourne did this work, but they seem to have been excluded from the agreement. I would expect that from Murdoch companies. I wouldn’t expect Australian journalists and academics to accept that.
Reid said Google’s financial support of the school was not part of the Media Negotiation Code agreement.