4. Visiting professor in journalism education

The School of Communication, Media and Theatre (CMT; University of Tampere) has established a post of visiting professor in journalism studies. The post is intended for a journalist distinguished in his/her own field. The purpose of this professorial post is to bring practical working life and university education and research closer together.

The post is filled for a fixed term of one year at a time, as the purpose of the professorial post is to introduce into teaching a variety of practice-oriented journalistic know-how and expertise. During their studies, the journalism students have an opportunity to be supervised by many skilled professional journalists.

The post of the visiting professor of journalism differs in many ways from a conventional professorial post. A visiting professor is not expected to engage in or supervise scientific research work, nor, in the filling of the post, is special emphasis placed on scientific merits. The purpose of the post is to bring practical working life and university education closer together. The focus is on hands-on familiarity with the field, and the post is intended for an individual with journalistic merits in his/her own field; this person will be expected to impart this knowledge and experience.

The work includes the further development of a special aspect of journalism according to the application and separate work plan and also teaching in journalism to prospective journalists studying at the University of Tampere. The professor is required to monitor the development of his/her field, to teach courses as agreed, and to take care of the relevant examinations. According to the current collective bargaining agreement on remuneration, the working hours of a professor amount to 1,600 hours per year.

The visiting professor is expected to deliver news from the field, that is, what the relevant issues and processes in journalism are, and in that way, to give feedback for teaching. (Is the journalism education up to date and correctly prioritized?)

The visiting professor is expected to participate in teaching on various levels, to deliver lectures, workshops and small-scale seminars and to produce course materials. An important part of teaching is a master level full-year workshop course, in which the selected students plan, produce and publish a journalistic work. For instance, in recent years, this has included a series of journalistic stories published in a newspaper, a book and a series of investigative journalism television reports.

According to the report made after five years of visiting professor practice (Uimonen 2011), the benefits from the practice have been as follows.

For the university and students:

  • journalism education closer to journalism practice
  • new contacts (professional journalists) for both the school and the students
  • visiting professors as professional role models for students
  • visiting professors enriching the content and methods of teaching
  • students appreciating the feedback from the professional journalists/visiting professors
  • contact and discussion between the profession and university; more knowledge of what is happening in both “worlds”
  • stronger growth of the status of journalism education

For the visiting professors:

  • a possibility to take a year off from journalistic work and focus on issues they are interested in
  • clarification of their ideas on journalism through teaching
  • learning to make arguments and to comment on journalism has been helpful when getting back to journalistic work
  • learning what journalism students think and know at present
  • growing interest in university life and research
  • for one of the visiting professors thus far, a new career in university

Need for development:

  • ongoing discussion whether one year is too short a time — on the other hand, it may be difficult to take a leave from work for a longer period
  • visiting professors have so far been Finnish — opening the position for international applicants?
  • visiting professors should be integrated better among the researcher community (now mainly a teaching post)

For the first five years, endowment was received from the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation, but under a decision taken by the Rector of the University of Tampere on 28 April 2011, the post became permanent as of autumn 2012. The practice is now well-known among Finnish journalists and academic communication scholars.

According to the report (Uimonen 2011), visiting professors have brought new dynamics to journalism in teaching at the University of Tampere. Journalism students have had better chances to publish their stories created in journalism courses in Finnish media than earlier. The visiting professors have continued to keep in touch with the school after they have left their position, and their expertise has been used on different occasions in the administration of the university.

The visiting professor practice is close to the so-called professional practices system that is in use especially in technical universities. The difference is that in the School of Communication, Media and Theatre, the visiting professor is chosen for only one academic year. The short term is suitable, since journalism as a profession has many dimensions and is changing rapidly. Changing visiting professors brings different viewpoints into journalism education and helps develop different journalistic skills among students.

A one-year post is also administratively flexible; the dean of the school can appoint visiting professors. It is possible to apply for funding outside the university for the visiting professor post, for instance, from journalism-oriented funds, as has been done since the beginning of the visiting professor practice at the University of Tampere.

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