first ever celebration of School of Journalism and Digital Media (SJDM)
Founders’ Day, three years after the establishment of the school, brought to
fore, once again, the importance of the institution.
The establishment of SJDM was just more than an expansion of the University of The Gambia. The importance was not just to say the university has nine schools now. No.
Before SJDM, The Gambia never had a formal structure for journalism education up to degree level. The highest level was advanced diploma offered by the Gambia Press Union Journalism School, which was also formally accredited in 2013, just a year before the coming of SJDM.
Because of the lack of a journalism school, most of the working journalists in the country were either without a formal education in journalism or professional training.
As a result, newcomers to the media have sporadic opportunities of mastering basic journalism as well as being updated on international developments in professional methods, standards, and digital technologies.
The upshot is that journalists in The Gambia were despised as join-the-lists, an appellation that suggests incompetence.
The few who had the requisite qualifications or training up to degree level had been educated abroad. And most of them never step into the newsroom or stay there for long because they do not want to be painted with the same brush as the rank and file journalists, or be given the same unprofessional treatment that is meted to untrained practicing journalists.
However, with the coming into being of the SJDM, Gambian journalism is now poised to redeem itself and entrench professionalism finally.
Based on the design of the curriculum, which is modeled to the standard of UNESCO harmonised professional journalism programme for West Africa, the SJDM journalism degree has depth and scope, coherence and system, and innovation and creativity.
The exponential growth of the school, from 10 to 111 students, as at September 2017, in just three years is enough proof of the positive relevance of the school.
Such growth is phenomenal for a school that turns out professionals whose profession is the least respected, value and lucrative and also the riskiest in The Gambia.
Off course, part of the reason for the growth of the school is that with university education in journalism, the profession and the media landscape in The Gambia will change; a change that will make journalism win back its rightful place among the professional disciplines.
But for this to happen, the transition from university to the newsroom has to be smooth and for that to happen, hands-on training is indispensable. And also the pressing challenges of lack of well equipped library, lack of emphasis of the digital media element of the school, lack of broadcast equipment, etc, needs to be tackle in earnest.
“Journalism is what maintains democracy. It’s the force for progressive social change”