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What’s your journalism degree worth?

Fiona Ren

Mon Jul 16 2012


WHERE are the jobs? Fiona Ren explores the future of journalism, new media, and how universities are preparing students for an industry in flux. 

In Kevin Hawkins’ media lectures at the University of Melbourne, the focus is on change.

They are lessons on the reality that the media industry is in flux, and in the third year media and communication student’s own words, it’s “about to blow up.”

“These changes make a lot of prospective young journalists worry about their chances of finding a job,” Kevin says.

If media students were ever in doubt before that the industry they have been preparing to enter into is in crisis, the writing is now on the wall.

Fairfax recently announced it would be undergoing a major restructure – with 1,900 staff too be laid off over three years, and the introduction of paywalls whereby readers would be charged a fee to access The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald online.

Its rival News Limited has not been exempt from the force of the digital age either. Days after Fairfax delivered its devastating news, News Limited chief executive Kim Williams announced the Australian subsidiary company of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was also on the verge of an organisational overhaul.

It’s an unsettling time for journalism students in particular as the future of print hangs in the balance and audiences increasingly turn to new media platforms such as online, tablets and mobiles for their consumption of news.

With low barriers to entry, aided by social media, consumers of news are also now empowered to become producers and disseminators of news themselves through new media technology.

Change is inevitable, and the decline in traditional media in Australia has long been foreshadowed by the reconstruction of journalism in the US.

But changes also brings new opportunities.

At the University of Melbourne, “journalism entrepreneurship” is the new buzzword.

Margaret Simons, director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and coordinator of the Masters in Journalism program at the University of Melbourne, says journalism entrepreneurship is a skill students should have in these times.

The focus is on getting students to “think about niche audiences rather than mass media,” she says.

Dr Simons’ courses also cover lessons on video, audio, text, as well as social media for journalistic purposes.

She is optimistic about the future of journalism. In fact, she predicts within five years there will be more jobs for people with journalism skills than ever before in human history.

She sees potential for growth in the field of journalism, and expects to see a lot more new media start-up enterprises in Australia.

There will also be opportunities for journalism graduates in adjacent industries, and careers in marketing and public relations for example, have always been alternatives, since they require similar skill sets, Dr Simons says.

RMIT journalism lecturer Alex Wake says newspapers have not been big employers of young people in a long time, and journalism students are aware of the changing media landscape.

“They understand that newspapers are a legacy media,” she says.

The changes are reflected in the university’s journalism courses, with less emphasis placed on training students in print, and more on developing online skills, in addition to broadcast journalism.

Social media skills are included within the curriculum – for example, the ways in which Twitter can be utilised to broadcast stories, and how Facebook can be used to reach audiences.

Kevin knows he needs to have “skills in all kinds of different media” as he prepares to enter the workforce. But the full implications of what the media industry will look like and how it translates into jobs is something he is still coming to grips with.

What would success look like? Will students be content working in small start-ups and regional newspapers when the “big” jobs are becoming increasingly limited?

Maybe not.

“I think not many people aspire to just be a small-time journo,” he says,

“Everyone has to aim high.”

Are you a journalism student? What are your views about the changes facing the industry and how you fit in? Are you worried about your job prospects? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below, or email your insights to Meld’s news editor