Beatrice Dernbach, Beate Illg (eds.): Journalism and Journalism Education in Developing Countries

Reviewed by Guido Keel

Journalism, which plays a key role in the political, economic, and social development of countries, is facing two challenges at once: First, it must find its role in social transformation. It must determine whether it should help strengthen political and economic structures as a government-loyal actor, or whether it should question the changes as a critical observer. Secondly, it must – at least in part – first build the necessary (infra-)structures, or reform them to create a new self-image. This also includes training journalistic staff.

The state of journalism and journalistic training in selected developing countries is described in Beatrice Dernbach and Beate Illg’s anthology. It includes five general and 13 country-specific contributions by writers from academia and development practice. The contributions are as diverse as their origins, which is particularly true for the five introductory contributions.

It starts with Christoph Schmidt, who describes the state of journalism training in developing countries. He first comes to the conclusion that most journalism training takes place in university contexts, which poses the risk of making the instruction too theoretical. In his conclusion, he identifies three possible improvements that are directly or indirectly related to this problem, which are then spelt out in the following country-specific contributions: Teachers and trainers must be specifically trained for their tasks; there must always be a balance between theory and practice; and technical infrastructures must keep pace with developments in the media world to adequately prepare young media professionals for their future careers.

In the second introductory article, Barbara Thomass and Inge Drefs discuss the role of NGOs in journalism education. Werner Eggert, an experienced journalism trainer, then describes the possibilities and limits of blended learning and e-learning. In the following article, Helmut Osang, former head of media development at Deutsche Welle, reports on his personal experiences in journalism training. The last one of these general contributions is a report by Christoph Spurk and Michael Schanne on a project to measure the success of training programs using scientific methods.

As varied as these five contributions are, they all share a common tune that is very familiar to the ears of journalism educators: Who should train journalists? What are the right skillsets? How do you strike a balance between theory and practice? What are suitable didactic formats? And how do you verify outcomes?

The subsequent contributions then show how these issues have been addressed and solved in different real-life contexts, and the specific challenges arising in each country. The geographical focus is on countries in Central and South (East) Asia, supplemented by one contribution each from the Arab world and Latin America, as well as two contributions from Africa. The articles reveal certain commonalities despite all the differences between the various countries.

The journalism profession and its associated training formats are popular among young people in spite of all challenges. All countries are grappling with the question of how to strike the right balance between theory and practice. Related to this is the problem of who should train young journalists: Instructors are often too old or too academic, and not up to speed with current developments in the media world. Some are unfamiliar with the local realities, linguistic or cultural, because they either come from the country’s urban centers or from abroad, or were at least academically socialized there. Others may come from a practical background and have neither the formal nor the substantive academic qualifications to prepare students for their future careers in a reflective and sustainable manner. Another problem in all these very diverse countries is where to draw the line between communication professions and PR. On the one hand, many journalism programs have emerged from state communications (not to say propaganda) departments or schools. On the other hand, the communications sector, especially in developing countries, offers numerous and appealing job opportunities for budding journalists and is thus a strong competition to journalistic job opportunities.

Finally, many training programs also lack the necessary infrastructural resources to prepare students for their future careers in a rapidly changing media world. This raises the question if journalism and media schools should focus on new technologies at all, or whether it isn’t far more important that journalistic training equip students with a basic understanding of journalism and a certain professional attitude – or as Wilson Ugangu demands for Kenya: »… it is important that journalism training is guided more by a resilient frame of thinking rather than the transient nature of the technologies (p. 213).« This is a theme that constantly occupies journalism educators in the Western world, as well.

This larger view provides readers with exciting insights into other media systems. The topic of technology versus attitude, in particular, shows how the contributions and reflections from all over the world can sharpen our view of the conditions in our own country. As we look at others, we learn more about ourselves. I therefore recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the field of journalism education, whether in distant developing countries or in their own country. The book does not provide any systematic comparisons, but instead picks up individual approaches to journalism education. Depending on the author, the contributions are more or less scientific, and of widely varying linguistic levels – to the point that the book could have used some thorough editing by a native speaker. But in its diversity of perspectives and subjects, it provides a trove of insights and food for thought on how journalists – in developing countries as well as our own – can and should be trained and prepared for their important social tasks.

About the reviewer

Prof. Dr. Guido Keel is head of the Institute for Applied Media Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences. His research interests include quality in journalism, change in journalism, and journalism in non-European contexts.

This review first appeared in rezensionen:kommunikation:medien, 2 September 2021, accessible at

Translation: Kerstin Trimble

About this book

Beatrice Dernbach, Beate Illg (eds.)(2020): Journalism and Journalism Education in Developing Countries. Manipal Universal Press, 256 pages.