Leading journalism. We spoke to Margaret Simons about the new Master of Journalism.

As the Centre for Advanced Journalism’s new Director and first co-ordinator of the University’s Master of Journalism, leading Australian media commentator Margaret Simons has a big expectation of journalism students – that they will reinvent the industry.

“I will be asking students to embrace change in the media industry, not because it’s a positive thing, because there will be negatives, but simply because it’s not optional,” she says.

Ms Simons first entered academia in 2009 to explore how new and social media will change the industry. She believes that the well-resourced Centre “within a faculty that has dissent and discussion as part of its core business” is an ideal place to continue this exploration.

Margaret Simons

“Social media will not only open up new opportunities to get information out there, but also for journalists to form different kinds of relationships with people who have decided to follow them. For our time, it’s similar to what the printing press did to Europe. It changes the way we can disseminate information,” she says.

Throughout her career Ms Simons has witnessed how the skills required of journalists have changed and believes they will change again before the first graduates of the program enter the industry.

“I used to call myself a print journalist, but now I say I am a text journalist. I can’t work a video camera or an audio recorder, but journalists are expected to do all of these things now. Dead is the notion of being a specialist print or broadcast journalist,” she says.

Traditional journalism skills will be taught in the program, including written and verbal communication skills, and methods of researching from primary sources, especially one-on-one interviews. Ethics will be taught throughout the program, including a subject called ‘Dilemmas in Journalism’ taught by leading ethicist Dr Dennis Muller.

The Master of Journalism, like all programs at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, will be internationally focused with particular attention to the Asia-Pacific region. Ms Simons hopes to learn from students from countries in our region with journalism practices and principles that contrast those in Australia.

“China, for example, is one place where many of the questions regarding the impact of social media will be answered. So while we will put students in touch with thinking from around the world, we will also be listening to students about some of the challenges they see.”

Many know Ms Simons as a leading commentator in journalism and its ethics, but this has only been a recent part of her 30-year career which started during her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature and Philosophy, at the University of Adelaide where she wrote for the student newspaper.

“I still use the skills I learned in my Bachelors degree every day, particularly those from Philosophy, which built habits of critical thinking and questioning.”

After graduation she applied successfully for a cadetship at The Age and started a career in journalism and freelance writing, covering issues from politics, to police inquiries, to gardening.

Her move to reporting on reporters was not planned.

“It started in 2005 when I began writing The Content Makers for Penguin and at the same time Eric Beecher approached me to write about journalism for Crikey,” she says.

She has authored seven books, the most recent being Malcolm Fraser – The Political Memoirs, (MUP 2010) which won Book of the Year in the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. She has completed a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Ms Simons started at the Centre for Advanced Journalism on 1 December. While co-ordinating the Master of Journalism, she will oversee the Centre’s research into contemporary media trends and practices. She replaces Michael Gawenda who established the Centre and remains a Senior Fellow.

Learn more about the Master of Journalism and the Centre for Advanced Journalism.

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