An interview with Stephan Russ-Mohl

Interview with: Stephan Russ-Mohl, Professor of Journalism and Media Management at the Faculty of Communication Sciences, Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano and Director of the European Journalism Observatory.

Interviewd by: Simona Pezzano, Research fellow at IULM, Italy


1. Challenges of current journalism education: What is problematic in teaching digital journalism?

  • Nobody currently knows what should be taught, since the new technologies are evolving too rapidly, and it is not possible to keep up with the incredibly fast changes. What it is necessary to do, instead, is teach the students how to be open and flexible, in order to be prepared for any innovation.
  • Another crucial issue is teaching them the values they should follow, not only as journalists, but also in being, at the same time, part of the audience that consumes news.

2. Challenges of current journalism education: What is good?

  • What is truly important in this field is that everybody should be aware of the cross-language barriers. A minimum precondition for anyone in Europe who wants to work in journalism is becoming fluent in speaking and writing English. It is also fundamental to be fluent in some other languages to connect journalists to each other and to be ready to deal with a global networked digital environment.
  • Just to give you an idea, please have a look at the website of the European Journalism Observatory: www.ejo.chOne of the missions of the EJO is building connections among journalists across Europe and the U.S.A. The content of this website is currently available in 11 different languages, with journalists and scholars, who write for it, based in over twelve countries.

3. Developing journalism education: How to teach social media skills?

  • We certainly need to include social media in our teaching approach and to adapt our discourse on the practice of journalism to these new applications.
  • But I don’t think we should teach how to deal with Facebook or with Twitter as media journalists; these are social media for which nobody knows how long they will last in the media environment. In fact, at any time, we may find ourselves dealing with different social media that come up in the near future, with new rules and a new way of working. What is crucial, at the moment, is rather to explain to the students that they should be aware of the time they consume in interacting with them.

4. Combining practice and theory

  • It has always been important to combine practice and theory in a balanced way, and not just now. This has always been a crucial and, I suggest, an old question. In fact, there has always been a strong division between these two fields. On the one hand, there are scholars who think only to teach theory, and on the other hand, there are those who come from the working field, who are too overwhelming on practice.

5. Local market needs: How to meet them?

  • First of all, students in journalism education should be reduced in numbers; who should we admit into our courses? We should have a small number of students and pay close attention to the selection, as is already done by those private journalism schools that are linked to television media in Switzerland.
  • Having a small group of very highly motivated and well prepared students would allow us to follow them better and would provide them with a better chance to spend more time practicing in labs. In this way, we would also guarantee them a greater opportunity to enter the working world.

6. Interacting with the audience

  • We should teach our students how to handle all comments that come from audience, but at the same time, we should question who should be responsible for this kind of job (it is more a Media Management responsibility) and who will pay for it.
  • On the other hand, it is also true that in Switzerland, some websites have prevented the audience from posting their comments on the news, since this flow of opinions can easily go completely out of control. We should be aware that there is a high risk in handling freely posted comments.