Why Journalists today must reconstruct their skills to survive online
Journalism has always been reflective of society. Once, journalists were defined by where they worked; today their definition is changing, and the role of journalists is constantly evolving. The internet promises everyone, everywhere can be a publisher. Traditional media is having to compete directly with new internet platforms as traditional journalists work harder than ever with fewer secure jobs available to them. So what does this mean for journalists of today?
First, we must understand what is happening to journalist jobs. 2012, 2013 and 2014 were tumultuous years for journalism graduates and longstanding professionals. In 2012, Fairfax alone cut 1900 media jobs, in 2013 News Corp cut 937 making 1 in 8 jobs redundant. 2014 saw redundancies again through both Fairfax and News Corp, with additional job losses at Network Ten, ABC and smaller news organisations. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union which represents journalists, says the exact number of industry redundancies is unknown but is estimated around 1,200 journalist’s left mainstream media in 2014 just within Australia.
Secondly, we need to be aware of enrolment trends. There were 4750 journalism graduates in 2010, even though the media employs only an estimated 9000 journalists. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance says that the total number of entry-level jobs in journalism each year would be in the low hundreds. The industry is tougher than ever to break into, with only 26.6% of journalism graduates gaining employment as a journalist. The number of journalism jobs seems to be diminishing, yet enrolments increasing. A large number of graduates will struggle finding full-time work in the industry.
It is no longer a journalist’s job to be a reporter – they need to be skilled enough to be the whole news team.
Are Universities over-enrolling journalism degrees for profit? Many professionals seem to think so. Where do the thousands of new graduates each year look for work? Christopher Warren, the MEAA secretary said these statistics actually highlight that “there are less traditional news jobs available, but other sections are expanding”. While it looks grim today, there is hope. The media is a constantly expanding industry, and jobs exist today that didn’t 5 years ago.
As John Henningham, founder of Brisbane’s Jschool, points out, “the terrible consequence of having too many graduates studying journalism is that we see the skills of journalism used against journalism” and the journalistic code of ethics may be at risk with the rise of clickbait media, advertorials and PR types. It is yet another problem to add to the seemingly endless list that journalist’s face in an online world.
For younger generations though, journalism as a whole is changing. The need for newspapers as a guide is disappearing. Media as a source has already changed. People today define news differently to the traditional newspaper reader, a part of a social and intellectual movement that is bigger than journalism alone. Advertorials employing journalistic skills to create something more engaging is not necessarily automatically bad in this new social paradigm. It is essential to understand that new technology has changed everyone’s lives, but in particular it has changed journalist’s lives for better employing methods to engage a new generation of consumers.
Increasingly journalist’s will work on their own story from start to finish alone. Crews are no longer needed as quality news is able to be produced from a new generation of tech-savvy reporters.
Margaret Simons, director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, believes that while multitudes of journalists are losing their jobs, and the argument that higher educational institutions are churning out more degrees than there are jobs available, all is not lost. “It depends where you look and who you are. If you are a broadsheet newspaper journalist in the States, the UK or Australia it is probably the worst of times, in living memory, but there are many areas of journalism where it is good times – if not the best of times.”
These strong areas of journalism come in the form of online new sources that are rapidly growing in a consumer world. Think Kotaku, Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, Crikey and Mamamia. While all are infants in comparison to their hundred year old newspaper counterparts, these babies understand what is needed of their reporters to survive in a multi-media platform.
Companies are starting to look at outsourcing a lot of media and digital work to other companies who have the skills needed to ensure accurate and reliable delivery of media content. Tim Tilbrook, who was one of over 100 that went through redundancies at Network Ten in the middle of 2014 today works for one of these companies, and explains that the comparison in operations is somewhat alarming.
We mustn’t forget the required skills that come with this change in news and media production. Tim Tilbrook recalls the final days working for Network Ten before being made redundant out of what seemed like thin air. “It is actually somewhat shocking to hear the most basic technical questions come from the mouths of experienced journalists,” says Mr Tilbrook. He believes it is critical to be able to edit, manage and create content in a wider world of digital content. If you are unable to edit your package successfully, no one is going to see it. He believes while the process of education may be harder, he firmly feels the people entering the fields are more well equipped and skilled than those without. “It’s no longer enough to be just the sound guy, the lighting guy or the camera guy”.
The role of traditional journalists are all but gone, and multimedia skills are now arguably as important as news production skills. Nikki O’Donnell, BBC Editor, sees the transition to a multimedia world in which skills are paramount enhances journalism as a whole. “When you talk about journalists, they used to go out there with a camera man, a soundman, sometimes a director, they needed an editor when they came back to base to turn it into a piece of television. Now they can do it all themselves. So, that’s very liberating for an individual,” she says.
“Journalists who are starting in the industry are more multi-skilled than they’ve ever been. I think there is a danger … because they’re learning so much about the technology … what we mustn’t forget is that they also need to learn about the craft of journalism itself,” she continues. As also showcased by Mr Tilbrook’s experience, those resistant to change often find themselves falling behind.
Good writing is not confined to long-form journalism, but now includes creating a message within 140 characters that resonates. Analysing data includes understanding your own website analytics. News production skills must be multi-platform. Technical production skills include the knowledge to source, shoot, edit, publish and everything in between. Core Skills for the Future of Journalism report released on April 9th 2014, actually highlights that new graduates today have a greater understanding of what is required of them than their professional counterparts. There is a skill gap between older and younger reporters, which is something that works in graduates favour in finding new work. The skills gained open up a world of new digital media possibilities reporters 20 years ago couldn’t have imagined.
Australia’s primary news content providers have all had to restructure to address multi-platform modern journalism. In doing so they have begun operating with 24/7 schedules, creating multiplatform news and acting as verifiers, curators and authorisers of information. To work for these companies, future journalists must be multi skilled ensuring they can not only report well, but be able to produce audio, video, cut and create packages, engage in online audiences and produce ongoing content. Gone is the single skilled writer, and welcomed is the fluid news media creator.
NB: Article written and interview with Tim Tilbrook conducted as part of a university assessment for unit JRN112 at Charles Sturt University, due 23/01/2014. All work is my own, and all relevant and referenced primary and secondary sources are cited below.
 Christensen, Nic. (2012) “Total number of entry-level jobs in journalism each year is in the low hundreds”. The Australian. Available at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/total-number-of-entry-level-jobs-in-journalism-each-year-is-in-the-low-hundreds/story-fnd7xvub-1226330750398
 Robin, Myriam. (2014) “News Corp cut one in eight newspaper jobs in 2012-13” Crikey. Available at: http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/08/20/news-corp-cut-one-in-eight-newspaper-jobs-in-2012-13/
 Shorten, Kristen. (2014) “Dark day for TV news as Network Ten finalises voluntary redundancies and Seven lets jobs go” News.com.au. Available at: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/dark-day-for-tv-news-as-network-ten-finalises-voluntary-redundancies-and-seven-lets-jobs-go/story-e6frfmyi-1226949364965
 Christensen, Nic. (2013) “Is this the worst time to be a journalist?” mUmBRELLA. Available at: http://mumbrella.com.au/is-this-the-worst-time-to-be-a-journalist-155470
 Lamble, S. (2014). The History of Journalism. In News As It Happens (2nd ed., pp. 3-21). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://lib.oup.com.au/he/media_journalism/samples/lamble2e_newsasithappens_sample.pdf
 Finberg, Howard. (2014). Journalism needs the right skills to survive. Poynter. Available at: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/journalism-education/246563/journalism-needs-the-right-skills-to-survive/
 Knight, Alan. (2013). Challenge & Change: REASSESSING JOURNALISM’S GLOBAL FUTURE. UTS ePress.