Visiting faculty testimonial: Professor Steve Schifferes

Read Erasmus Mundus scholar Professor Steve Schifferes' report on his scholarship visit from City University London to the University of California Berkeley, in April and May 2015.

Professor Steve Schifferes, City University London 

We had lively discussions about the future of journalism, the role of j-schools, and what the appropriate curriculum for the next generation of journalists should be – something that we are all struggling with.

I was delighted to be able to visit the School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley and develop very valuable links with both students and staff.

Dean Wasserman was very generous with his time and we had two lively discussions, both at the beginning and the end of my stay about the future of journalism, the role of journalism schools, and what the appropriate curriculum for the next generation of journalists should be – something that we are all struggling with. The Dean was particularly interesting on the way that visual journalism was integrated throughout the curriculum and how courses in ethics and values, and the history and economics of journalism, could be incorporated in future course design.

Associate Dean Joan Bieder was also very generous with her time and allowed me to take part in her TV reporting class over several sessions, where I was able to observe the progress of her students and the outstanding films that several of them had produced, and also give some feedback based on my own experience as a television producer. We had an interesting discussion on teaching practical skills and how to encourage teamwork and student interaction, which was particularly lively in her class. 

I also enjoyed meeting Deirdre English, the director of the magazine programme, and discussing the future of print journalism in the digital age. Her insights from her earlier experiences at Mother Jones were particularly interesting to me.

And Hans-Henrik Holm, who was visiting from Aarhus, gave me a very useful introduction to the set-up at Berkeley and the role of the Erasmus Mundus progamme there, as well as a lively discussion on his current research on trying to define what constitutes a ‘global news event.’

There were three areas I was particularly interested in exploring:

Data Journalism

Data journalism is another part of the curriculum that is becoming increasingly important at City, and I was fortunate to be able to participate in Simon Roger’s class on this subject.  Simon has been working for both Twitter and now Google and gave an engaging presentation to the students on how to use data from these two sources.  He also has had a previous affiliation with City and so we were able to compare notes on the development of this subject in both centres. 

Entrepreneurial journalism

Entrepreneurial journalism is a very important subject which has also being given much thought at City as we all consider the changing economics of journalism.  I was privileged to be able to attend Alan Mutter’s seminar on this subject that gave a comprehensive overview of the demographics and usage patterns that are shifting views to new media sites.  Alan’s experience in the private sector and strong advocacy that all journalists needed to understand the economic challenges they would face in the future was convincing and strongly argued.  I was interested that in his class he made students do spreadsheets and financial forecasts as an essential part of their final projects.

I was also delighted to be able to speak to the visiting scholar seminar that Alan runs, and give a talk on the upcoming UK election and how it was being covered.  This was an impressive group of experienced journalists from around the world, which ensured a lively discussion that followed.

Business and economic journalism

Thirdly, I was lucky to be able to have a detailed discussion with Marilyn Chase on the teaching of business and economic journalism for which we both share a passion.  We talked about the challenge of attracting students to what is seen as a difficult topic, and the way it can be made more stimulating by addressing their broader concerns for fairness and equality. 

We are lucky at City in that we have scope for more than one course in business and economic journalism, but I was impressed by the way Marilyn was able to cover the subject in 14 weeks and draw in the students. Marilyn’s own experience in covering the biotech boom and the AIDS epidemic for the Wall St Journal on the West Coast was also a revelation; few reporters are able to be right on the doorstep of one of the biggest stories of our time.

Berkeley also offered many opportunities for other activities and research. During my stay, one of the visiting scholars showed his extraordinary film on Chinese municipal government, based on 18 months of fly-on-the-wall filming of a year in the life of a mayor of a small city in the Chinese hinterland. His struggle to transfer his city into a centre of arts and culture, which involved evicting many of the residents who lived near the historic monuments he wished to transform, was an extraordinarily frank look at a conflict going on all over China that is hard for Western journalists to tell.

I was also lucky to be able to go to a talk by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on the growing economic divide in America and what could be done about it, in conversation with Berkeley faculty member Robert Reich, the former US Secretary of Labor. I was also able to visit several other Berkeley faculty, including Margaret Weir and Paul Pierson, to discuss the difference in approaches to austerity in the US and Europe, as part of my EU HERA research proposal to study the role of the media in creating a consensus around the need for austerity in the Eurozone.  And I was able to use some of the resources of the Berkeley library and archives to look at some earlier US journalism coverage of recessions.

Berkeley was a delightful place to visit, from the leafy campus with a stream running through it (which my stay at the Faculty Club allowed to take full advantage of) to the plethora of restaurants and bookstores surrounding the campus.  I even made it to the famous Chez Pannise that claims to have invented ‘California’ cuisine, as well as a Golden State Warriors playoff basketball game and a folk concert by a former member of the Peter, Paul and Mary folk group at the legendary coffee house Freight and Salvage – not to leave out the obligatory visit to City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.



I can only thank the faculty at Berkeley for their extraordinary kindness and hospitality. I was very impressed with Berkeley’s approach and I think that anyone on an Erasmus faculty exchange would gain a lot of benefit from coming here.