Why are we still insisting journalism is dying?

words by Sarah Noonan

Different doesn’t mean dead.

For anyone who has ever worked in media communications, the continuous rise of digital technologies has spawned a generally ominous perception of the journalism industry.

Just last week I was serving a university professor at the bar where I work, swapping friendly chit-chat. Usually, I enjoy the conversation that follows when customers ask about my studies. But this gentleman muttered an unexpected reply that I really should be used to by now, given my industry of study.

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“I study journalism and communications.”

“Journalism, now that’s not an industry I regard highly. Media is fraught, my dear.”

My eyes rolled as I collected his empty glass, turned on my heels and walked away without asking him if he’d like a refill. 

I’ve been studying the broad scope of media for four years now, and this is a response I have received too often. For years, there has been a consistent assumption of job insecurity in the journalism industry, and it’s still very much present. But journalism is a crucial industry, and maybe people have simply neglected its influence and relevance. 

Journalism informs our everyday. It educates and connects us as a global population and keeps our government, corporations and influential parties accountable. While this accountability may have faltered during the recent evolution of media structures and the onset of new media, that doesn’t diminish the value of reportage in our day-to-day.

A quick glimpse at the past 12 months is enough to support the need for universal communication. Without journalism to report the effects of the pandemic, our entire approach to combatting the virus may have been starkly insufficient.  

Journalism is adaptive

Journalism doesn’t exist in the same way it did decades ago. We now have bite-sized Twitter headlines, podcast mini-series and Instagram posts disseminating the news, rather than daily newspapers. Newsstands have become irrelevant as a paperless future is fast approaching. But is this actually cause for concern, or is the industry simply evolving?

In our current age, digital evolution has changed the way we distribute and consume media. The creation of Google, for example, changed the industry of journalism forever. News is now accessible far and wide, giving readers a world of choice when it comes to information. But as a consequence, this increased accessibility undervalues the work of journalists by adapting content to the demands of new media.

Digital youth publication Zee Feed is an independent digital platform aiming to guide young Australian audiences in understanding news topics by providing context that is often neglected within mainstream journalism. In light of Zee Feed’s rapid growth as a digital publisher, founder and editor Crystal Andrews proposes that perhaps the issue with modern journalism is how digital platforms have manipulated the power of media companies. 

“Digital platforms have changed our expectations of media companies… When the public complains about the state of journalism, it’s the way media companies treat information that they’re mad about – not the concept of journalism itself.”

Crystal suggests that the underlying priority of large media companies is to abuse topical journalism as a way to gain greater digital foot traffic. The goal of digital platforms no longer rests in valuing esteemed journalism, but rather in ensuring growth for the company at large. “Digital platforms [haven’t] devalued the work, it’s devalued [the readers]!” she exclaims.

Now, in 2021, the current Australian media battle with Google and Facebook has threatened our access to journalistic material. The proposed legislation will force these tech companies to pay for journalism, in an ongoing battle that aims to support the traditional news media ecosystem. 

While the movement is a step forward in addressing the bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media and major digital platforms, the repercussions have affected the public’s access to news publishing. Just last month, Facebook blocked all news content from its platform in Australia, effectively taking away one prominent source of journalism in the country.

While the ban has now been overturned, the effects of this move by Facebook didn’t limit our access to journalism entirely, but rather forced a change of practice for a majority of news consumers. The ban meant that people who relied on Facebook for news needed to turn to the news publishing sites directly. But Facebook’s initial response to this debate further confirms the notion that these tech conglomerates don’t value the work of journalists.

How true is the assumption of job insecurity within journalism?

Alongside the rise of digital publishing, there lies a small truth in the decreased scope of work for journalists and writers alike. Journalism lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Liam Cochrane, notes that while jobs in the industry are diminishing, the evolving nature of the field ultimately creates greater opportunity.

“The reality is that a small number of journalism students will actually become journalists. However, the skillset is easily transferable. Beyond journalism, the opportunities within the broad spectrum of media and comms are so much more varied than in the past,” he explains.

Zoë Stinson, a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne, acknowledges that there are areas of concern within modern journalism, but that this alone doesn’t mean the death of the industry.

“I think there is a portion of the Australian media that stands against the fundamental journalistic principles of truth, objectivity and fairness. [Journalists] have a responsibility to raise the standard of the news that is being produced,” she tells me.

These principles reflect an obvious relationship between politics and the news, where publications that present a political bias ultimately encounter huge consequences. 

A glance at the state of the media in America points to the influence of right-wing news forums in appointing Donald Trump into power. More locally, we can attribute the longstanding denial of climate change to a sense of conservatism among Australians. With the majority of Australian media titles owned under one corporation, the objectivity of information is easily skewed.

Zoë also notes that audiences have a responsibility to choose what they read more wisely. Publications and creatives alike are constantly looking for and finding new interactive ways to communicate the news. 

In the past, journalism was never considered a particularly creative career, but developments within the industry have proven that creativity is a necessary adoption. While the majority of broadcast news has remained much the same, programs such The Project, news podcasts (including The Full Story and The Daily) and Instagram news sources like Shit You Should Care About, are examples of how our consumption practices have altered dramatically.

However, when journalists and publishers thrive based on readership and foot traffic, the relevance of these platforms lies in the behaviour of consumers. Giving in to the temptation of trash news has its own detrimental effects on the news industry. Clicking into Daily Mail articles on celebrity drivel or deliberately inflammatory ‘hot take’ columns does have an impact.

Clicks equal value, and value equals advertising dollars. So, we as readers need to hold some form of responsibility as to where we delegate this kind of power.

What does the future of journalism look like?

Crystal believes the future of journalism hinges on this relationship between media outlets and their audiences, and that there needs to be a kind of mutual respect between the two.

“For Zee Feed, that means opting out of the race to be ‘first’ to publish a story in favour of waiting to see what questions our audience has and explaining those specific points for them… It means distributing on the platforms they love, but not being a slave to those platforms.”

From a student’s perspective in 2021, the industry of journalism is far from dying, and if anything, there’s a lot more within the realm of media to look forward to.

“In the wake of a global pandemic, honestly, I don’t have any premonitions about entering the industry… I will graduate in six months and I have no idea what I’ll do. But already, I feel this degree has given me a lot of opportunities, opened a lot of doors, and connected me to a lot of great and inspiring people. So, I feel optimistic about the start of my career, even without having any idea what it will look like”, says Zoë.

There is great cause for optimism in the media industry. As our digital technologies continue to evolve, the innovative prospects of journalism are only increasing. And regardless of the cynical opinions and predictions of the industry’s demise, there are still jobs out there for aspiring journos.

There are all kinds of ways into journalism, but probably the most common path is to pitch great story ideas to small outlets, get by-lines, develop a portfolio and (somehow) get an internship or an interview at a media organisation,” says Liam.

As a population, we will always require the important work of journalists to report on the news and global happenings. While media forms will adapt and evolve, changing the way we consume journalism, the work will remain. Maybe we play the biggest role as audiences in recognising and encouraging the value of prominent journalism.

Looking for work in journalism? Check out our list of creative career opportunities here.

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