Tampere University and VIKES pave together the way towards sustainable journalism
Over the past year, Tampere University's journalism education has been consistently recognized on international forums as a "trailblazer" and "the world's first trainer in sustainable journalism."
The concept of 'sustainable journalism' is relatively recent; it came into academic awareness in 2017 when the book "What Is Sustainable Journalism? Integrating the Environmental, Social, and Economic Challenges of Journalism" was published in Sweden (Berglez et al., 2017).
The question of the role of journalism in sustainable development and building a sustainable future has quickly gained interest and sparked various initiatives worldwide. The first recommendations for making journalism more sustainable were published in 2021 by the CHARM consortium. The inaugural Sustainable Journalism Conference took place in Nairobi last spring, and the Sustainable Journalism Partnership, which brings together hundreds of journalists, researchers, and other industry experts, recently held its first annual meeting.
– The success of the concept of sustainable journalism, in my opinion, is based on its timely articulation of many significant challenges currently facing the world. It reimagines the relationship between journalism and these challenges in a fresh way. What impact does journalism have, for example, on shaping the discourse around the environmental crisis? How can responsible journalism be conducted in a polarized society? On the other hand, sustainable journalism raises the question out loud that many have long wanted to hear: Is the media industry itself operating sustainably as an industry?, ponders Matleena Ylikoski, who works in the project as a teacher and researcher.
– Another factor that has contributed to its success is that the Swedish FOJO Institute has chosen sustainable journalism as the core concept of its activities. Lars Tallert, the tireless networker at FOJO and president of the Sustainable Journalism Partnership, travels around the world speaking about the need for change. Lars also visited us to inaugurate our lecture series. FOJO has been very active and eager to collaborate with us, Ylikoski smiles.
As a result, journalism institutions worldwide, such as in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Croatia, and Sweden, are currently considering how sustainable development and sustainability issues should be incorporated into journalism curricula—whether as individual courses or as overarching themes or questions.
University Lecturer Marko Ala-Fossi discusses the role of sustainable journalism in the upcoming curriculum period 2024-2027:
– The intention is that the English-language online course developed during the project will be included in the offerings of the open university within the journalism study track indefinitely. However, the themes of sustainable journalism will undoubtedly be reflected in various ways in the content of the Finnish-language degree education in journalism in the coming years.
Sustainable development is one of the cornerstones of Tampere University's current strategy extending to 2030. It is also an essential part of the educational offerings within the university community and has been integrated into degree programs," says Marko Ala-Fossi.
– Several degree programs at Tampere University have already been entirely built around the themes of sustainable development and the United Nations Agenda 2030. In this joint project between Vikes and the journalism education, the online course for sustainable journalism being developed can, after the project period, be incorporated not only into open journalism studies but also as part of a broader sustainable development study module (20–55 credits) and a planned internationalization study module in communication sciences (20–25 credits), says Ala-Fossi.
The fall course on sustainable journalism is currently underway
The teaching of sustainable journalism at Tampere University is currently being carried out as a three-year project in collaboration with Vikes, with funding from the Ministry of Education through Vikes. The project involves the implementation of four thematic courses. The first, "Introduction to Sustainable Journalism" lecture course recently concluded, and the second, "Towards Sustainable Journalism" workshop, has just begun. Next year, there will be a course included in the Sustainable Digital Life master's program, and in 2025, a corresponding online course will be completed for the DigiCampus platform.
This fall's lecture course brought together 36 journalism and communication students, approximately half of whom were exchange students.
– The course was conducted in English to make it accessible to international students. This has been widely requested, says Matleena Ylikoski.
– The English-language lectures also directly serve the construction of the upcoming Sustainable Journalism online course, which will be made as freely available as possible beyond the university. We know that the course is of interest to journalists and students around the world, and there is already anticipation for it. For some reason, training in sustainable journalism has been awaited until now, and we are indeed at the forefront of organizing it, says Ylikoski.
In the just-concluded course, we explored the three dimensions of sustainability from a journalistic perspective: how the media operates sustainably from environmental, economic, and social standpoints, and what should be done differently so that journalism can contribute to building a sustainable future. The lectures sparked a lot of discussion, and especially exchange students praised the teaching:
– I was particularly delighted by a student's comment that they had never heard of this kind of journalism education, and they have a lot to contemplate moving forward, says Matleena Ylikoski.
Aiming for Future Journalists and a Sustainable Media Industry
For several years, the Finnish Foundation for Media and Development (Vikes) has been organizing training sessions in Finland for journalism and media students, addressing the relationship between sustainable development and journalism. Vikes provides students with information on the subject, connections to experts, and tools for handling complex themes.
Executive Director Anu Karvinen and Specialist Sanna Jäppinen are pleased with the initiation of collaboration with Tampere University.
– We have collaborated with folk high schools and universities of applied sciences, and for some time, we have been considering what we could do together with Tampere University – as it is a key player in Finnish journalism education and journalism research. The transition of our funding from project-specific support to longer-term program support from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs starting from the beginning of 2022 provided a good opportunity for this," they state.
We met with journalism professionals in the fall of 2022, and we quickly found common ground regarding both the potential format and content of the training: we decided on a three-year collaboration with sustainable journalism as the overarching theme. The inspiration for this came from the recent international network, the Sustainable Journalism Partnership, which has introduced the concept of sustainable journalism."
– In our view, this long-term collaboration provides an excellent opportunity for a more detailed definition of the concept of sustainable journalism and, above all, for translating theory into practice. Vikes is particularly interested in the fact that future journalists have a better understanding of what sustainable development means, how the various dimensions of sustainability are interconnected, and how journalists can consider sustainability in their work. In the longer term, it is important to strive to influence the entire media industry, not just individual journalists or content, so that sustainability can truly progress, states Anu Karvinen.