Journalism skills at the core of world-first content marketing degree

In Trends by Peter Gearin

The University of Canberra expects graduates will be better equipped for media and communication jobs of the future.

Dr Caroline Fisher, a former ABC reporter and producer, admits she’s a bit of an “old-school” journo. But the journalism lecturer at the University of Canberra is painfully aware of modern realities, where journalism graduates increasingly emerge with limited employment prospects in the news media.

That’s why she is firmly behind her university’s decision to create the world’s first journalism degree with a major in content marketing.

“Blind Freddy can see that jobs in the traditional news media are diminishing, however there’s a huge growth in jobs that require journalism skills,” Fisher says. “I don’t think we’re doing the right thing by our students if we don’t say to them ‘you’re going to improve your employment prospects if you add these marketing skills’. The growth is in these new, niche, information-based jobs that demand credible, reliable, journalism competence.”

The University of Canberra’s newest degree, which will be available from 2016, doesn’t include any specialist units in content marketing. With the help of industry experts such as David Pembroke from The Content Group, the university journalism faculty cherrypicked units from across a range of commercial disciplines – including advertising, marketing and public relations – and added them to the existing journalism course.

“This degree is a bachelor of journalism ‘plus’,” Fisher says. “Those who choose to enrol in the bachelor of journalism (content marketing) degree do the full journalism degree – there’s not a single unit less. They are fully embedded in ethics and the traditions of journalism. What they are getting are marketing skills on top. One is not being traded off for the other.”

Fisher argues that marketing is now fundamental to the business of journalism. She says this degree gives students a chance to broaden their skills and make themselves more employable.

“The students were ahead of us in many respects. They knew they needed these skills to get jobs.” Dr Caroline Fisher

“Whether you’re a freelancer or working for someone, you’re expected to market your work. Those skills, whether you work for the ABC or a start-up, are core business now. I don’t think journalists can be divorced from the business of journalism any more. Ultimately these skills are just as important to an independent freelancer or someone who wants to work for a niche journalism outfit, like the AFL newsroom.

“This is a flag – not just to them but to employers. We’re saying to employers that this graduate has this set of skills.”

Fisher says there hasn’t been much reaction from news industry players since the degree was announced, but she expects many traditional journalists will be suspicious. “I guess we have anticipated to some extent that some aspects of the journalism academic community would not view this development favourably,” she says. “They would see it as moving away from journalism’s traditional democratic role. But what I would like to say to that is that we’re not. Our straight journalism degree stays – you can still do a bachelor of journalism – there’s no compromise on that whatsoever.

“I guess the challenge here for us [in teaching journalism] is to separate journalism skills from the traditional professional identity of the ‘journalist’. It’s not news that journalism skills have been always useful in PR and is the bedrock of all these communications roles, and it’s always been an irritant for journalism professionals, but it’s the truth.”

What may raise some questions is the decision to attach the content marketing major to a degree in journalism rather than in communication in public relations. Fisher says that some public relations degrees have not tended to produce graduates who are content “makers”. “PR graduates are great at strategy and journalism graduates are great at content, storytelling and research. It seemed to me that bringing them together would improve our graduates’ employment opportunities.

“The students were ahead of us in many respects. They knew they needed these skills to get jobs. But a lot of them didn’t, so we’ve taken all the guesswork out of it. We’re the first university in the world to offer this degree and there’s no way we’ll be the last.”

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About the Author
Peter Gearin

Peter Gearin


A former senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald, Peter is managing editor of Brand Tales and director of Sydney-based content services business Top to Tale Media. He specialises in helping in-house content teams achieve better results.