Just three weeks ago, Fairfax was all over the news for the wrong reasons when, in response to cost-cutting measure that would see 115 newsroom staff being sacked, workers went on a seven-day strike in the lead up to the release of the Federal Budget. In April, NewsCorp announced they would be culling dozens of photographers in favour of a hybrid combination of freelance and inhouse specialists.
Understandably, the future of journalism in Australia is constantly debated and this doesn’t just include the workforce. There are thousands of aspiring journalists at university and TAFE, with domestic enrolments in communication and media studies experiencing a massive increase of more than 230 per cent between 2004 and 2015. The number of people with journalism qualifications has swelled by 30 per cent compared with an eight per cent rise in the number of employed journalists in the same period.
Basically, there are too any journos and not enough jobs. So, what does this mean for journalists and the institutions offering these degrees?
The nature of what it means to be a journalist has changed
Long gone are the days of traditional newsrooms filled with sub-editors, fact checkers and specialist reporters. Modern journalism requires staff to be all that and more, capturing their own photographs, uploading content, covering various topics and often, being entirely accountable for the work they produce.
Not only have these roles been condensed into the responsibility of a single journalist but a host of new skills have become necessary rather than a bonus. Graphic design, video editing, social media savviness and SEO expertise are more common than ever, and generally prerequisites for other roles that journalists take on, such as those in communications, marketing and publishing.
Just because you study journalism, that doesn’t mean you will be employed as a journalist
There is an abundance of roles that journalists have, do and will continue to fill in the future that aren’t merely as members of a newsroom. The skills students acquire in the process of studying journalism, such as thorough researching, clean writing, dealing with sources and meeting strict deadlines hold them in good stead to build careers in public relations and media advising.
Strong digital literacy will further increase a journalism-qualified job seeker’s prospects, with recent professions like social media managers and digital marketing specialists requiring a healthy mix of tech proficiency and excellent writing skills. Then of course, there are content writers and internal communications officers that perform journalistic functions for a single organisation.
Universities need to adjust to the requirements of the modern workforce
A decade ago, subjects like reporting digital news and online journalism were extremely scarce, if not non-existent in most communications degrees. Nowadays, they are among the most important for a journalism student. The most useful information procured at university are the technical skills required at a professional level – from basics like how to write a good lead, layout a front page and structure a hard news story to designing infographics, editing video footage and publishing via a Content Management System (CMS).
Meta-theory subjects, often analysing journalism and the fourth estate from a historical perspective, can be interesting and informative to a certain point. However, it is not as applicable to a student’s career prospects as the subjects mentioned above, and certainly shouldn’t be given precedence at the expense of practical knowledge that employers will expect media graduates to be well-versed in.