Universities and schools
There is a continuous debate about the (by and large low) quality of higher education and social sciences and humanities research in Slovakia, and about its badly needed reforms. The Slovak higher education is rather closed and by and large an internationally uncompetitive system. Bočák (2013) has noted that on the one hand, media studies in Slovakia have a generally negative public reputation (as a scientific field), but, on the hand, this field of study is quite popular among its prospective students. This can be seen in a recent example. The Faculty of Mass Media Communication in Trnava accepted 127 percent more students than it was planned. However, according to the Annual University Ranking (ARRA) 2015 Report, it achieved only five points for its scientific results (in contrast to top achievers with 76 points and 52 points respectively for scientific results). In other words, many students or their parents do not care about the reputation (quality) of their future alma mater. Moreover, Bočák argues that media studies are by and large strongly based on theoretical approaches. This is a correct observation but not complete – theoretical approaches only rarely follow the most recent (rapidly developing) technological and legal developments in this field. In part, this low innovativeness is visible among many not very innovative topics chosen for final theses among or for students of journalism. However, occasionally, and perhaps surprisingly, one can find rather innovative research topics among younger generations of PhDs at the Catholic University in Ružomberok.
The rather bizarre nature of some educational and scientific activities among journalism schools in Slovakia can be seen in an invitation issued by the largest public entity involved in education of students of journalism/media communication, in Trnava in April 2017. The UCM school invited for its international "scientific" conference Tibor E. Rostas, a well-known editor of a major conspiratory journal published in Slovakia. Rostas was invited to participate in a panel discussion with the heads of editors-in-chief of key news departmens in Slovakia as well as his paper was accepted for a separate lecture (entitled "Doubleworld"). While the first panel was transformed into "open discussion among all interested" - after the majority of editors-in-chief cancelled their participation in a protest, shortly before the conference (when the programme became publicly known and public uproar intensified), the lecture by the conspirator was still kept on the programme. The dean of the Faculty of Mass Media Communication bitterly defended her decision, arguing that the Faculty does not follow "mainstream" and that the conference is open to all who submit their application - without any "censorship".
The ARRA assessing the quality of university education suggests that the largest (and the only) public faculty (there also is a private faculty which was not included into this ranking) specialising in media studies in Trnava, has actually been put qualitatively constantly in the middle or at an average level in its category since 2012. However, in science and research it was among the worst performing faculties. Moreover, sometimes there is a problematic moral profile of some of its key academicians. As it is usually the case, low level of academic ethics in Slovakia is closely related to low quality of professionalism. Indeed, the Faculty of Mass Media Communication in Trnava was identified as the top Slovak contributor to dubious “scientific“ journals.
Research is closely linked to higher education research policy. It is simply impossible to finance de facto about 30 research universities in a country of 5.4 million inhabitants. This may explain why Slovakia was the second worst performing country among OECD countries with regard to dubious publishings of scientific houses and actually the worst in case of individual scientific so called predatory journals among OECD countries identified in Scopus database (although at a low level). Be that as it may, in the coming years a rapid decrease in the number of students is expected in Slovakia. This is actually already happening. Moreover, many students study abroad, especially in the Czech Republic. For these reasons, there are plans to specialise only some universities in research. The problem of universities is also partly related to the state’s educational policy - in general, there is easy and free access to higher education. Currently, almost half of high school graduates continues in higher education, usually for 4-5 years. In addition to state policy of mass higher education, there is an “anti-intellectualism“ of Slovak society, which also contributes to the by and large and comparatively low quality of education and research in social sciences and humanities. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and its affiliated teams of experts have produced some far-reaching reform plans in higher education. These reforms are not exclusively related to journalism studies, but may impact them heavily too. On the one hand, there may be plenty of graduates (with bachelor’s degrees) who will not understand the deeper legal and ethical issues behind their profession. Perhaps an older assessment - the November 2011 mini-survey of the SSJ among five leading professionals (senior editors and editors-in-chief) which revealed their almost unanimous dissatisfaction with respect to the quality of journalism studies in Slovakia measured by output- is still valid. These are the main complaints and at the same time expectations, with respect to journalism studies, graduates included: knowing how to write, how to talk, intertwining theory and practice, using independent and logical thinking, knowing how to identify the substance of an issue, checking and updating information and effective questioning skills. In the words of Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of newspaper Sme, there are two problems in journalism. First, there is no longer a system of tutors in editorial offices (there are some tutor systems in PSM). Therefore, schools must produce ready-to-use journalists. Second, younger generations (not only of students or journalists) are impatient, so news must be more tailored. In general, these trends have produced more tabloid journalism and supported herd instinct trends among the journalists/media. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that those who would study for a masters degree in journalism, would get much better education either. Be that as it may, it appears that there is a need for more vocational journalism education at first level (BA) and some specialisation (in economy, industry, political science, law, etc, including specialisations such as international journalism reporting) later on (MA studies). The governmental plans intend to allow a liberal studies approach at BA level of higher education. The fuzzy approach discussed above of leading editors to some ethical/professional issues (scandal on leaked wiretapped SMS and e-mails) shows that there is indeed a need for more serious study of ethics in journalism.
Universities/Schools of Journalism
The first path to journalism can be seen in annual competition of high school students and their magazines, organised in four categories: among print and (since 2016 also electronic/digital magazines) edited by high school and university students and in categories of individual journalism achievements of high school and university students respectively. This competition is being organised for over two decades as Štúr´s Pen Competion. Some respected journalists started their professional career here. So there is potentially a large pool of potential students interested in journalism/media.
The High School of Mass Media and Information Studies in Bratislava can be seen as a second and new step (maybe the final step, considering that there are no limitations on entering the journalism profession) on the path to journalism. This school has changed its curriculum and official name in 2014. It is the only such high school in Slovakia. However, there is a private Artistic High School of Animation in Bratislava that specialises mostly in animation programmes, graphic, photographic and clothing design, but also at image and sound production, camera and sound editing. Some other high schools run courses on media literacy and occasionally courses specialised in journalism too. It can be estimated that about half of high schools in Slovakia are involved in various media projects and activities (such as school magazine, radio/tv production or website).
The oldest Department of Journalism is at Comenius University in Bratislava. It was established in 1952. There are about 250 students. The Department of Journalism has undergone radical refresh of it staff in recent years, when majority of its members are pedagogical and scientific newcomers to the field. This may explain its relatively qualitatively low level of scientific output. For example, the top publication in the list of its publications for 2014 year stated contribution in a Slovak language published in the Czech journal “Current reflection of the language culture level in the main news programme of RTVS“, category ADE. Only just one another contribution was published abroad at a local conference. Moreover, the Department publishes annually edited volumes that are usually focused on a single issue. For example, the 2015 volume Žurnalistika, médiá, spoločnosť (Journalism, Media and Society) focused on minority and the media.
However, there is occasionally some criticism of its management which may have impact on quality of education. The Department of Journalism acknowledges that the editorial offices demand practically orientated graduates, and allegedly keeps in line with curriculum of Columbia University in the USA. However, there are some occasional voices that question reality of this claim. The management of Department of Journalism publicly denies the lack of practically orientated training and opportunities to work during studies and provided a list of professionals who participate in practically focused seminars.
Twice a year, the Department of Journalism publishes (via the Association Mass-Media-Sciene) the oldest professional journal Otázky žurnalistiky (Issues of Journalism, since 1958). Although the majority of its articles is usually in the Slovak language, some articles are published in the Czech, English, German, French and Russian languages. The Comenius University incorrectly claims that this the only such periodical in Slovakia. There are some famous graduates.
The public Faculty of Mass Media at University of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava has hundreds of students of journalism and marketing. It has been established in 1997. It has four study programmes: mass media communication, marketing communication, media relations and applied media studies. Since 2010 it publishes twice a year the open-access journal Communication Today in English language. Moreover, it organises annual conferences on media and marketing. However, the output from these conferences is of rather low quality. For example, it was impossible to find any academically relevant and trustworthy article published in its 2011 volume Media and Politics – Megatrends and Media (edited by Magál), which could be useful for purpose of this study.
There also is a private Faculty of Mass Media at Paneuropean University in Bratislava. The Faculty was established in 2007. It is also divided into four institutes. It does not report on the number of its students. Moreover, it employs only a limited number of lecturers on a full-time basis. The Faculty is more focused at practical training. Nevertheless, since 2002, it publishes once a year a Slovak version (but some articles are in English) of Global Media Journal. Certainly, scientific research is not a priority - for example, in late 2016 it still promoted its research plan for 2015 and its last research projects mentioned on its website were from year 2010. A problematic aspect of self-assessment of scientific production by Slovak universities can be seen in two top publications produced by this Faculty in 2014. On the one hand, there is an impressive list of 136 publications and activities. On the other hand, a more detailed look suggested that their scientific value may not be that high. For example, the first top publication (monograph) was “The value of a creator - portrait of a writer Milan Ferko“ (Hodnota tvorcu : portrét spisovateľa Milana Ferka), while the second (also a monograph) was a qualitatively controversial publication. Moreover, the second publication was actually a translation from Russian, written by a Russian author.
In addition, there is a private Academy of Media in Bratislava with up to 150 students. It is almost exclusively focused at practical training of journalists, but its educational focus is wider (includes marketing communication). This college faced serious financial problems since its establishment in 2006/2011 - actual opening of the first semester. In 2016, a new investor took over the management. There have been rather radical changes in its staff since its founding, sometimes with rather radical protest statements.
There is a Department of Journalism at the University of Constantine Philosopher in Nitra and a Department of Journalism at the Catholic University in Ružomberok, each with around 150-200 students. Be that as it may, the weekly Týždeň has established its own journalism course called "Media School" while providing justification for this move as "a step against too theoretical studies at universities".
The Department of Journalism at the Constantine Philosopher University was established as the second oldest department of journalism in Slovakia in 1995. Its research focus seems to be mostly on linguistic and content-related aspects of journalism and literary production. The department organised its first scientific conference in 2014. However, not everything produced by the Department seems to represent a science, although it claims to be so. The older volume (Antošová and Orban, 2012) seems to be more a collection of mostly essays than of scientific contributions (regardless of having two reviewers). On the one hand, collection of contributions from a more recent scientific conference (Bútorová and Veverková, 2015), although mostly representing the Department itself, is of much higher scientific quality. On the other hand, a publication by Chlebcová-Hečková (2015) produced at this Department shows some serious academic deficiencies (regardless of having two reviewers, including from Trnava´s UCM professor). First, Chlebcová-Hečková just named a few, but not logically structured related theories (pages 40-43). For example, the theory of lost politics (typical representative should be N. Postman) does not seem to be analytically different from the theory of colonisation of politics (Mayer) or even from the theory of political programme (Jarren, Dolgens and Arlt). It would be more logical to categorise these theories according to their real or potential influence, eg categories of powerful media, powerful politics, mixed model, zero or limited influence of the media. Moreover, the author does not differentiate between some basic facts. For example, at p. 70 Chlebcová-Hečková writes: “The European Union is well aware about this fact. In Recommendation of the Council of Europe (1999/2005) it is written....". These are totally different bodies. Quite often there are no sources mentioned. For example, at page 71 “The Slovak Television, however, discussed in its discussion programmes Topic for the Evening, Night under the Lamp and Face to Face almost exclusively with topics already medialised...." or at page 73 “The Government of Slovakia has attempted to influence PSM: through elections of supervising councils, the directors general elected by the council up to phone calls to journalists." This is true in some cases, but there are no sources mentioned (this is similar at page 77 with discussion on political background of members of supervising Council of ZDF). Sometimes there is wrong information provided (eg "the last act (on PSM) has abolished supervising council", p.73). This is not true - there is still a supervising council for PSM. Sometimes there is rather informal language used (“podpílila si vlastný konár", p.74). Sometimes there is uncritical acceptance of official approaches and decisions. For example, Chlebcová-Hečková mentions at page 74 sanctions issued by the RVR to PSM television during the Russian Army invasion of Crimea for not giving a voice to the Russian side. One can wonder whether this sanction was actually justified. On the positive side, Chlebcová-Hečková used many sources in English and German languages and provided interesting and innovative charts based on Pajek software (connections in online communication) in her final case study.
Be that as it may, a short list of up to 30 of its “successful graduates“ indeed suggests that even a relatively unknown department can produce some successful graduates – on average, two per year. However, a sceptic could argue that these famous graduates could become famous at any other university (and vice versa).
The Department of Journalism at the Catholic University in Ružomberok was established in 2000. By definition, education here should be specialised at the traditional Catholic media and Catholic or religious aspects of journalism. However, its scope of research is much wider. For example, a collection of essays and articles by Považan and Rončáková (2015) includes topics such as photography, emoticons, hypertext, investigative journalism as a journalistic type, or corporate blogosphere. Qualitatively, these contributions were of a higher level than both Nitra´UKF and Bratislava´ PEU schools of journalism, although most of them would have difficulty to get published in serious academic journals too. This is so since they rarely presented some new knowledge based on in-depth research, but rather seemed to resemble summaries of facts/knowledge. The Department of Journalism also was directly impacted by a major financial and moral scandal related to the internal management of the university and its faculties.
There also is a Department of Communication and Media Studies at Prešov University in Prešov with almost 150 students. Established in 1998, it specialises in semiotic/linguistic and discourse/literary aspects of journalism, pop culture, media representations, and more specifically, creative writing. This can be seen in a volume edited by Blaho (2015). Only a few articles dealt with journalism (eg Speed of speech in commercial and PSM radio, and perhaps one could include here another one - Electronic mass media as an environment of slipstream: thoughts about functioning of mid-stream and periphery in pop-culture). Moreover, the majority of articles were very short, with some 5-6 pages which can hardly be seen as sufficient for scientific analysis. However, there is also some focus on electronic media, especially television news, pornography and culinary magazines (in Laurinčíková, 2016).
There are some departments or sub-departments that have very little to do with journalism but mostly deal with some aspects of communication. There is a relatively new (2007) sub-department at the Department of Slovakistic, Slavonic Philology and Communication of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice with 167 students and there also is a Department of mediamatics and Cultural Heritage at the Faculty of Humanities at Žilina University in Žilina (founded in 2011) with 174 BA and 101 MA students.
However, the latter department seems to be specialised in library and information sciences rather than in journalism. Indeed, the focus of Department of mediamatics and cultural heritage department is to provide students of library and information sciences some degree of information on media education. This is also reflected in its research focus (eg rather blurred topic Need of multidimensional critical thinking in the media competence development 2015- 2017), although some students are clearly interested in specific issues related to media and communication. For example, among final theses in BA study in 2014/2015, there were following topics included: The Issue of Law Licences to Copyrighted Products in new media, Journalist in Regional Media, The Issue of Presentation of War in media, Media and Cultural Heritage, The Actual Issues of Copyright Law, Hoax as a means of Electronic Communication.
The Department of Mediamatics and Cultural Heritage has four streams: visual communication (PC layout, photo, web design, SEO and copywriting), new media, management of information and cultural heritage. The Department publishes its own online specialised journal Mediamatics and Cultural Heritage (established 2014). Occasionally, there topics that are of possible interest to journalism studies (eg From readers to digital literacy, Information spaces, Efficient and Creative Writing) are published, although so far their quality is more similar to chapters from textbooks or lectures than to scientific articles. It seems that there also was a problem with internal conflicts between the Department and the Faculty.
The University of Constantine Philosopher offers study at the Department of Mass Media Communication and Marketing. One of its bachelor’s multidisciplinary programmes is specialised on studies of mass media “with integrated study in French“.
Finally, there is a media research center at the School of Communication and Media in Bratislava. It was established in 2008 with the aim to become a centre of excellence in media and communication research in Slovakia.