Emerging journalists say their future depends upon them not only staying abreast of technology but society seeing the media as a vital public service.
“The functioning of democracy needs journalism. There’s a need for public investment,” argued Bec Zajac, who was part of a New News panel that discussed future careers in journalism.
“We should stop seeing it as a business but more as a public good just like schools and hospitals.
“Australia has an amazing tradition of publicly-funded media such as the ABC and SBS, and we should expand on that by creating new start-ups, institutions, training centres for emerging journalists.”
Liam Mannix, a trainee journalist with The Age and two-time winner of the Walkley Young Journalist of the Year award, said being tech-savvy was the key to his future success.
“With the shrinking newspaper industry, I can only hope to survive in this fast-changing phase of journalism by being close to the edge,” he said. “I could see that data journalism was the call of the day and that was what got me into The Age.”
As the writer, front-end web designer, researcher and creative director of digital studio Kith.co, Connor Tomas O’Brien, was also keenly aware of the challenges facing journalism online.
He said he was worried that the attention span of readers was declining and as a result some traditional forms of journalism, such as long form or narrative writing, was dying.
Beyond this, he said he was concerned about the manipulation of readers by large corporations.
“Facebook and other social media are a huge part of the problem,” O’Brien said. “People are consuming algorithms that act as editors accountable to no-one. The readers are trapped in a filter bubble of listicles and clickbaits.
“We need to figure out a way to get rid of this addiction of audiences. The audiences are deeply informed about things they have a bias for, but are not broadly informed.”
Mannix agreed and said one approach being experimented with by The Age was to upload copies of the newspaper and making past articles available to readers online. He said this was called content resurfacing and had been done successfully by The New Yorker.
Although the panellists agreed that they were excited about the possibilities new technology offered for telling stories, they remained nervous about the uncertain job market.
In June last year, Fairfax Media axed around 300 journalists among 1900 axed jobs across the group and introduced pay walls for online content.
Freelance journalist Zajac, who is also a Master of Journalism student, said that during her five years with a US publishing company she had witnessed closures of dozens of newspapers and was now witnessing the decline of print in Australia.
“Five years from now I would like to be producing multimedia packages which involve stories, audio, video, data . . . using all the new tools in innovative ways,” she said.
“But career trajectory is very unpredictable now. Everyone should be concerned about the shrinking of traditional journalism, even
Margaret Simons, the director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Advancing Journalism agreed, adding that she did not know whether job security for a journalist was possible during a time of momentous change. Flexibility was essential to surviving life in the media.
Dr Simons said that technology would make new forms of journalistic practice possible, including working with citizens.
“Student journalists should not only listen to the gloom and doom from older journalists, but also be alert to the many opportunities to evolve journalism, including smaller start-ups and new methods of journalism.”
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