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FLOWERING OF THOUGHT: The case for journalism as creative work

By: Jason A. Baguia March 27,2019 - 07:00 AM

JASON BAGUIA

Academia is one aspect of Philippine life in which United States influence remains strong. The rigid and as such tragic division the country’s universities have imposed between the arts and sciences is a legacy from American pedagogies.

In the United States, this unnecessary dichotomy has led to lopsided allocation of resources, in several academic communities, to knowledge fields such as science and technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Universities in Europe, in contrast, have not abandoned science’s historic inclusion of all fields of knowledge, a definition faithful to the etymological roots of “science” in the Latin “scientia” that means “knowledge.”

Euraxess, the European website dedicated to facilitating the mobility of scholars does not use terms like arts and humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and business in ways that tend to obscure the scientific status of the arts and humanities.

Knowledge, instead, is presented as a collection of research fields including “arts,” “communication sciences,” “religious sciences,” “information sciences,” “political sciences,” “juridical sciences,” “computer science,” “environmental science,” etc.

Academic Transfer, the Dutch website for scholarly mobility articulates knowledge as “Scientific field” that includes “Language and Culture,” “Food,” “Behavior and Society,” “Law,” “Economics,” “Health,” “Engineering,” “Natural Sciences,” and “Agriculture.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientic, and Cultural Organization or Unesco recognizes that science’s diversity embraces “Education,” “Culture,” “Natural Sciences,” “Social and Human Sciences,” and “Communication and Information.”

Philippine academics would benefit from such a holistic understanding of science. Such appreciation would cure the arrogance and disrespect bordering on ignorance that afflicts some and make them denigrate the scientific status of the work of their very own colleagues in arts and humanities, social sciences, philosophy, and theology.

Some academics, not content with crucifying, for instance, the arts and humanities for alleged lower estate than their blinkered picture of science, even cockily appoint themselves connoisseurs of the arts and summarily banish journalism into the wilderness of the non-creative.

Science, however, unequivocally refutes their attempt to rob journalism of status as creative work, a subject of growing scholarship.

In the academic journal “Journalism,” Prof. Nando Malmelin and Lotta Nivari-Lindström (2015) of Aalto University, Finland wrote:

“Journalistic creativity is understood as a practical and multidimensional concept that can be interpreted and applied in many different ways. The different conceptions of creativity reflect both the traditions of the journalistic profession and the challenges now faced by the media.”

In the academic journal “Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences,” Igor Nicolaevich Blokhin and Sergey Nicolaevich Ilchenko (2015) of Saint Petersburg State University, Russia wrote:

“The forms of hermeneutics research in the journalistic search, the author’s philosophical hermeneutics and creative hermeneutics from the point of view of the compositional structure of a work are suggested as fundamentals of journalism hermeneutics.”

In the academic journal “Journalism Practice”  associate professor Phillip McIntyre and senior lecturer Janet Fulton of University of Newcastle, Australia wrote:

“By investigating print journalism within a rationalist framework, print journalists of any genre can be seen to be producers of creative cultural texts. Analysis of the literature demonstrates that by marrying theories and definitions from creativity research with literature from the domain of print journalism, creativity can be identified within the print journalism domain.”

In the academic journal “EJournalist,” Dr. Fulton (2011) wrote:

“All genres of print journalism have structures and practitioners of all genres can be creative within their own structures. In the domain of journalism, the assertion that hard news writing can be a creative endeavour could provide a better understanding of work processes.”

Also in “Journalism Practice,” Prof. Tim Markham (2011) of Birbeck, University of London, United Kingdom engaged “the idea that by authorizing journalists (and audiences) to express themselves, creativity is democratizing.”

These and other scholarly articles resist attempts to torpedo journalism’s self-determination within the arts and creative industries.

Fortunately for creative workers who practice journalism even in the United States, universities have exemplified the openness of intellect that marks every genuine academic. They have transcended the sad, old debates and recognized journalism, in their guidelines for faculty promotion and tenure, not only as a legitimate field of scientific inquiry but also as a form of creative work.

According to the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, “Examples of potential creative activities and research are… publications in newspapers such as opinion pieces or commentaries….”

According to the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, “Specific indicators of research and creative accomplishment” include “artistic and creative work” that takes into account “the standing of the newspaper, publishing house, journal, magazine, press, etc. which publishes or presents a creative work of writing, essay, broadcast outlet, film or video festival….”

According to the Media, Journalism, and Film Department of the University of Missouri, scholarship or creative activity includes “published, juried or competitively recognized writing for film, radio, television, print, or multi-image media….”

In our national university, the University of the Philippines, unless scholars recognize journalism across all platforms and regardless of types as creative work, they will remain walking absurdities: Persons who grant students baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees—Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts—on the basis of several completed courses in journalism while denying the creativity in this major component of their arts degrees.

They will in effect tell graduates and postgraduates: We confer on you a bachelor or master of arts. But should you work as a journalist, the fruits of your labor shall not be deemed creative.

What rubs salt on this wound is that some scholars who have the audacity to make pronouncements on journalism and creativity are not even journalism experts, nay, do not even have baccaulaureate degrees in the arts or at least some journalism or arts training.

They may evaluate journalism as members of that part of the media ecosystem that we call the audience. But if they wish to fully substantiate their scholarship, they should have the humility to recognize when they are bereft of any credential to judge creativity in journalism especially if their un-studied pronouncements have consequences on policy.

Some scholars in the university say journalism should not be recognized as creative work in promotion guidelines because this has never been done before. I cringe at this fallacy, this argumentum ad antiquantem based on some fictional precedence. Which world or temporality do these scholars inhabit? Not only is journalism already accepted creative work in international academia, artistry is also a longstanding criterion of good journalism in newsrooms and among jurors who confer awards on journalists abroad and at home.

Take for instance the award for Best Community Newspaper from the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) that Cebu Daily News (CDN) has won five times.

The recognition goes to journalism that exemplifies “excellence in coverage, content, writing, and editing… a high level of consistency in its quality of writing and reporting.”

Take the example of PPI’s Best Editorial Page that CDN has won at least six times.

The citation recognizes “distinguished editorial writing—clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction.”

Clearly, journalism is not, as some would describe it, drivel or “suwat-suwat lang sa newspaper.”

Such a statement evinces gross ignorance of editorial policies, peer review processes, and canons of taste that a journalist should observe every single day, in every written piece.

These standards, in addition to disciplined talent, make journalism a rigorous creative practice, not the kind of work that one thinks anyone can do just because they can wield a pen or pound away at a computer keyboard.

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