AUT - Ruth Thomas


Ruth Thomas

Supervisors: Ruth-thomas-small-3Professor Allan Bell, ICDC Director and Dr Richard Smith, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.

Ruth has a long interest in learning and educational methods, particularly as they apply to the teaching of journalism.

For her doctoral research, she constructed a model based on the discourse analysis methods of van Dyjk, Bell and Fairclough, in order to closely examine the methods used to teach students to become professional journalists.

Her thesis explores the writing of 20 students throughout a year-long training programme, aimed at producing professional journalists.

She also considered the students themselves and the cognitive aspects of their learning through retrospective protocol analysis, where the students tape recorded their thoughts on their own writing.

It was found that the methods used for teaching journalism have become outmoded, particularly with the pressures on modern tertiary institutions and that the students, using the present methods, failed to develop independence and initiative and become self-regulated learners.  


Ruth came to AUT after a 20-year career managing and editing community newspapers both in Wellington and Auckland.

She completed a Masters in Education with honours in adult and tertiary studies at the University of Auckland in 2000, while working at AUT as the programme leader for the Graduate Diploma in Journalism. She commenced her PhD in 2001 while continuing to teach journalism. 

Her research activities and outputs have been directly linked to improving journalism education. The New Zealand curriculum is set by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation and AUT is one of 11 tertiary institutions accredited to teach unit standards.

News reporting is taught by a method of one-to-one correction of student copy with the emphasis on skills-based training. This method, known as “subbing” replicates the method used to standardise copy in the media industry.

It is both time-consuming and costly as journalism tutors spend considerable time with individual students. It also leads to the perpetuation of industry practices which may or may not be in the best interests of the students and the development of the media.

Her M.A. research, which linked journalism studies and a study of adult education and self-regulated learning, was the basis for the design of a successful journalism introductory course for more than 200 students at AUT.

Research publications

  • Thomas, R.E. and Goc, N. (2004) Cooperative education in journalism studies. International Handbook of Cooperative Education. Coll, R.K. and Eames, C. World Association for Cooperative Education: Hamilton, New Zealand : Waikato Print, University of Waikato.
  • Thomas, R.E. (2001) Moving from the traditional: Introducing self-regulated learning into the teaching of news writing. Australian Journalism Review, 23 (1), 153-170.
  • Thomas, R. E.(2000). Industry training standards threatened?  Noted, publication of the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation, February, 2000.
  • Thomas, R. E. ( 1999). Local government. Intro: A beginners guide to professional news journalism. Tucker, J. (ed). Wellington: New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation; 225-236.
  • Thomas, R.E. (1997) The cost of news. Community issues in New Zealand. Bell, C.(ed ). Palmerston North, New Zealand : Dunmore Press; 203-220. 

Conference presentations

  • Thomas, R.E. ( December, 2003)  The role of unit standards in journalism education. Journalism Educators Association of New Zealand, Western Institute of Technology, New Plymouth, New Zealand, 5-6 December, 2003.
  • Thomas, R.E. ( December, 2002) Resisting the tyranny of genre: the role of learning-by-doing in students’ production of the news. The 5th Biennial Tertiary Writing Colloquam at Auckland University of Technology, 5-6 December, 2002.
  • Thomas, R.E. ( December, 2001) The role of cooperative education in journalism students’ production of the news : Resisting the “tyranny of genre. Justice and Journalism: Journalism Education Association of Australia. Perth, Australia.
  • Thomas, R.E.( March, 2001) Learning news writing: The workshop approach. Best Practices in Journalism Education. Pennsylvania State University.
  • Thomas, R.E.( December, 2000) The benefits of learning news writing through new methods. Journalism Education Futures: Journalism Education Association of Australia. Moolooba, Queensland, Australia.
  • Thomas, R.E. (November, 2000) Industry influences on journalism training: Thoughts for the future. Journalism Educators Association of New Zealand, Christchurch, New Zealand.


  • Thomas, R.E. (2008) The Making of a Journalist: The New Zealand Way. A thesis submitted to the Auckland University of Technology in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Institute of Culture, Discourse and Communication.
  • Thomas, R.E.(1999) Learning news writing: A process intervention in a product setting: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education, The University of Auckland, December, 15, 1999.

PhD abstract - The Making of a Journalist: The New Zealand Way

In a first of its kind study I followed 20 students at two different schools throughout a year-long training programme.

It used two methods to gain a deeper understanding: a discourse analysis of their news stories written at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the year, and retrospective protocol analysis, to provide insight into their thinking processes, through their taped reflections.

The research found that journalism education controlled by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation still resembles that of 20 years ago, despite increasing numbers of students learning journalism as part of degree programmes.

Students are trained for the media industry through learning by doing. They receive basic instruction and then are expected to perfect their skills by practising their writing and to learn the conventions and routines of the media industry through socialisation and work experience.

In the first half of the year, the students developed some skills in writing the traditional inverted-pyramid news stories. However, by the end of the year, their news writing showed technical signs of regression.

  1. They were not writing in a succinct, clear fashion, emphasising news values.
  2. They had been inadequately trained to write outside of the inverted-pyramid news story or to use popular “soft” lead sentences, so that their writing tended towards being promotional.
  3. Journalism institutions strongly favour subediting by tutors and this detracted from the students gaining understanding of their own writing and being able to self-monitor and evaluate it. 
  4. Lastly, they failed to show the critical thinking skills and independence necessary for a professional journalist so that they could research thoroughly, reflect deeply and write entertaining, informative and important news stories with flair.

Their reflections confirmed these findings, suggesting some stress and disillusionment. The students could “declare” what they knew about writing a news story but could not put it into practice.

They blamed their failure to write high quality news stories on the pressures of the course, the deadlines and high volumes of stories. The gaps in their journalism education were also revealed through what was not mentioned in their taped reflections: in particular, they failed to mention the importance of news values in making their stories more appealing.

The major influence at first was the students’ tutors, followed by work experience and the “real world” of the media industry.

The concentration on job skills and gaining a job coupled with a lack of knowledge and discussion provided the students with an incomplete understanding of the pressures of the media industry they were entering.

The study recommends more debate about journalism education and more research, as well as a change away from “learning by doing” to a more critical, reflective approach.

Last updated: 14-Feb-2014 5.01pm

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