Brazil tries to make journalism programs more practical, more digital and less theoretical, but adaptation is slow and difficult

In Brazil, journalism administrators still face a number of problems reformulating their curricula and adapting to the new guidelines approved for the degree in September 2013 by the National Education Council.

According to the resolution, universities had two years – by 2015 – to adapt to the guidelines. However, many have been delayed and others have not yet been able to implement the changes, which aim to make curricula more modern and closer to the contemporary needs of journalism.

Campus of Praia Vermelha at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (By Halley Pacheco de Oliveira (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the major changes with the new guidelines is that journalism is no longer a license within communication, but rather a specific baccalaureate. The text states that the journalist has a “unique and differentiated professional identity in relation to the larger field of social communication.” The change more deeply affects programs that had a basic cycle, shared between several licenses.

Additionally, the guidelines state that an internship is mandatory, and the student must be accompanied by professional journalists and supervised by teachers. Another novelty is that laboratories should start early in the first semester and advance in levels of learning and complexity until graduation.

Such laboratory activities allow the student to apply and develop knowledge and journalism skills. According to the resolution, the laboratories could be: “newspaper, magazine and book, newsletter, radio show, newscast, web journal, news agency, press office, among others.”

The guidelines also emphasized the importance of teaching linked to new technologies and raised the debate about the creation of new disciplines on entrepreneurship, data journalism, digital journalism, among others.

At the University of Brasilia (UnB) and the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), the new curriculum came into effect in 2016. At the University of São Paulo (USP), this occurred in the first half of 2017. The new curriculum of the journalism program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) is still being updated and should be implemented in 2018.

At private universities consulted by the Knight Center, like Cásper Líbero, the process of changing the curriculum is underway. At ESPM and PUC_RS, for example, the new curriculum has already been implemented.

Slow changes

“The change in the pedagogical project is slow. So many colleges have not yet changed the curriculum,” said Mirna Tonus, professor of journalism at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU), who was president of the National Forum of Journalism Professors (FNPJ) when the guidelines were approved in 2013. At UFU, the reform of the curriculum has already been completed, the professor told the Knight Center.

“We know that several programs are facing difficulties in making the adjustment. But the guidelines have to be followed. They are not ideal, but they will certainly advance the quality of journalism education,” Valci Zuculoto, director of the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) and professor of journalism at UFSC, told the Knight Center.

The obstacles for change range from the difficulty of hiring new professors and equipping laboratories, to the slowness of the bureaucratic processes and clashes between different ideological currents, according to coordinators and members of journalism organizations heard by the Knight Center.

Shortage of professors

According to Cristiane Costa, journalism coordinator at UFRJ, one of the greatest difficulties in implementing the new guidelines is the lack of professors with a digital or entrepreneurial profile.

“The UFRG curriculum is far behind schedule. The last reform is from 2001. It’s still focused on print, it does not have a mandatory digital media portion. We have made a tremendous boost in electives [to compensate for this]. But the great difficulty is to get a professor, because the professors are focused on print, few worked with digital and still less have created some company [to teach entrepreneurship],” she told the Knight Center.

Zuculoto, from FENAJ, agreed that resources are needed to invest in labs and new professors. “We knew that the new guidelines would mean more requirements for all parties involved: professors would have to upgrade and institutions would have to invest. But even without the new guidelines, journalism is changing and programs need to constantly evolve,” she said.

Costa also points out that the hiring of professors in a public university is more complicated than at private colleges, which do not require competition. “The Rectory has to authorize and it only authorizes to cover vacancies of a professor who retired, for example. When you change the curriculum, you will need new professors. I do do not have this professor of management in journalism [on the team],” she said,

The coordinator also considers that the guidelines, with laboratories starting at the beginning of the program, call into question the role of universities. “It’s a change of perspective, the professor stops giving only traditional classes to be a guide, in the lab. It’s project-oriented knowledge,” she said.

Theory and practice

For many coordinators, the new guidelines bring more balance between theoretical and practical content. “In the old curriculum, the student could spend two years without having any journalistic practice. Now this is no longer a possibility. It is also a way to adapt the program for the market, because when the student goes to an internship, he is already more prepared,” explained Maria Elisabete Antonioli, journalism coordinator at ESPM, to the Knight Center. Antonioli also researches the training of journalists and the implementation of the new curricular guidelines in the state of São Paulo.

For Tonus, the new guidelines focus on “applied training” and value the profession of journalist. “The term ‘practice’ ends up being pejorative, and we are stuck in this dichotomy between theory and practice. Really, journalism is an applied social science. The intention is not to train the student to adapt to the market, but to train professionals who can modify the market,” she said.

The questions about theory and practice, apart from journalism having become a specific baccalaureate, have generated many clashes between teachers and researchers from different ideological currents. Divergences make it difficult to create consensus within programs, which is necessary for reshaping curricula.


There is also new content that faces prejudice in the academy, like the case of disciplines related to entrepreneurship and innovation. The guidelines do not oblige faculty to adopt any specific subject matter, but serve as guidance for programs.

“Entrepreneurship is a subject that faces a lot of resistance, people think you cannot be a journalist and deal with it,” Professor Ana Cecília Nunes, who lectures on the subject at the PUC-RS journalism school, told the Knight Center.

“You have a prejudice against entrepreneurship, maybe it’s an ideological issue. You see the journalist as a professional who can not have his own business ,” Tonus said. Journalist Jorge Tarquini, professor at ESPM, Metodista and Cásper Líbero in the area of business, entrepreneurship and management, agrees that there is a resistance to these topics.

“Maybe it’s time to rethink that romantic view of the journalist who does not lay his hand on the money,” he told the Knight Center.

For Zuculoto, from FENAJ, the clashes of currents within faculties exists, but the difficulties of implementing the guidelines are more bureaucratic. She mentions the compulsory curriculum internship as a major challenge, especially for colleges in small towns, in the interior of the country.

“These programs may have more difficulty in getting the internships, but in some cities there is only one newspaper and one radio, so it’s complicated. So this will depend on the reality of each program,” the professor said. Although faculty are not required to offer an internship within the institution, it must enter into agreements with companies and supervise the students’ work.

The programs that do not make the necessary reforms to adapt to the new guidelines can be assessed poorly by the National Institute of Studies and Educational Research Anísio Teixeira (Inep), a federal authority linked to the Ministry of Education (MEC)

“According to what has been established, institutions should have made updates on the pedagogical projects of their journalism programs by 2015. The adequacy of the pedagogical projects to the new Curricular Guidelines is verified during the on-site evaluations, carried out by the commissions of evaluators under the coordinator of the INEP,” the MEC said in a statement.

According to the ministry, the INEP is expected to release a new evaluation of journalism programs next month.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.