Monday, February 11, 2013

Mastering Leadership: A Conversation with Laurice Taitz-Buntman

Preston hasn't only been at the forefront of UK journalism education and training for more than 50 years. It's also become the place where journalism leaders worldwide learn.  

Since the Journalism Leaders Programme was established by François Nel in 2006, we've engaged with hundreds of editors and senior journalists from many of the UK's leading media houses, including Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group and Cumbrian Newspapers, as well as others around the world through a wide variety of activities - from non-academic workshops, conferences, seminars and training courses, to postgraduate certificates and diplomas.

JLP graduate Laurice Taitz-Buntman
But last December five talented editors from South Africa, Bulgaria and the UK became the first to earn the Master of Arts in Journalism Leadership award from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, home the UK's oldest journalism programme. Alison Gow,  Dilyan Damyanov,   Laurice Taitz-Buntman (left) Paddi Clay, and Steve Matthewson were the first ones to have pressed through to the end.

We wanted to find out about just why they invested in the experience. Here are the views of Laurice Taitz-Buntman, the former managing editor of the Times Online (now TimesLive) in South Africa, who heads the iSchoolAfrica Youth Press Team programme that is working with 21 South African schools, corporate and government sponsors and broadcast partners to train secondary school students to create newsworthy video content for television.

 Traditionally, journalists have moved up the career ladder by learning all they can from the person on the rung above them. Why did you choose to participate in the Journalism Leaders Programme?

Journalism is changing, and more than at any other time journalists are being confronted with the impact of global and technological shifts, the dissolution of traditional boundaries between the work and the business of journalism, and the audience and our role as purveyors of news. When I entered the programme I was working as a senior manager at one of South Africa's largest newspapers, in an organization grappling with transforming the newsroom from a purely print-based organisation to one more able to cope with the demands of a digital age. The kinds of changes being experienced had little precedent and it was clear that a new skillset was demanded. I chose the Journalism Leaders Programme because it combined a management programme with a focus on digital journalism.

The Journalism Leaders Programme offers non-academic routes for those who just want to attend residential sessions, as well as an academic route with exit points at postgraduate certificate, post graduate diploma and Master of Arts levels. Why did you keep going to the end – including writing a research dissertation – even though you already have a MA degree?

At the time of enrolling in the programme I had worked as a journalist for more than 10 years but had never studied journalism. My MA was in African Literature and while it served me well as a journalist in terms of giving me a more nuanced understanding of African politics, society and writing I grew increasingly hungry for a more  in-depth perspective of my chosen field. Each residential session stirred greater interest and a desire to find answers to particular questions. Completing my MA degree allowed me to focus on an area of journalism culture in an in-depth way which I found highly satisfying. Journalists are expected to master many subject areas and to do so with a weekly or even daily deadline in place. Taking the time to do in-depth research felt like an enormous privilege but also an opportunity to add knowledge to a profession I feel so strongly about. 

How would you summarise your JLP experience?
Some of the words that come to mind are challenging, fulfilling, a little maddening but mostly incredibly exciting. The residential weeks fired up electrical circuits in my brain with fresh ideas, debate and provocative discussions. My fellow students, media professionals with wide-ranging experience internationally, and the outstanding faculty led by Francois Nel made each visit to Preston precious time in which to be inspired and intellectually refueled. The JLP provided not only the big ideas, but ways to think about practical implementation. In addition, the opportunity to step outside the newspaper's deadlines and speak to and hear from journalists with diverse skills and to gain a global perspective was an invaluable experience. 
Earlier we also posted conversations with  Alison Gow , editor of the Daily Post in Wales; Dilyan Damyanov,  Editorial Director of Information Services at AII Data Processing in Sofia; and Steve Matthewson, Managing Editor: News, BDlive and Business Day in South Africa. We plan to post conversations withthe other graduates over the coming weeks. 

The first and only programme of its kind in the UK, the Journalism Leaders Programme continues to work with innovating publishers from around the world, such as News International, to provide custom courses that help equip exceptional talent for leadership. For more information, contact François Nel at FPNel @ .

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