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Jun 18, 2013

As journalism jobs go, how will graduates find work?

With the mainstream media shedding jobs, but universities bumping up their numbers of journalism students, where will these fresh-faced wannabe Lois Lanes find work? Freelance writer Kylar Loussikian looks at the numbers.

When Luis Charalambous enrolled in a media degree at the University of New South Wales, he dreamt of being a television reporter. But a year ago, just as he was completing his studies, news of savage job cuts at Fairfax and News Limited broke. Already in short supply in a difficult industry, job opportunities were about to get scarcer.

Charalambous is not alone. As job prospects in the mainstream media decline, the number of journalism degrees offered by universities continue to climb. The number of students enrolled in journalism courses has increased rapidly since 2007, but where will these young hopefuls work?

To find out the number of students enrolling in journalism degrees who intended to become journalists after graduating, Crikey asked universities for enrolment statistics from 2007 to 2012. The programs had to be specific to journalism — arts degrees did not count unless there was a specific journalism major, and only communications degrees with journalism streams were included.

The number of students enrolled in journalism courses at these universities has increased from roughly 1150 in 2007 to 1750 in 2012, with the greatest increases in 2009 and 2010. While some universities, like the University of Sydney, enrol roughly the same number of students per year to keep entry requirements high, others like the University of Technology, Sydney and Griffith University have sharply increased their intake. Some universities, including the University of NSW and Swinburne, have only begun to offer journalism degrees in the last three years.

The number of journalists working in Australia varies widely on account of differing definitions, but estimates range from between 7000 to 14,000. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011 showed a 13% decrease in the number of print journalists since 2006 to around 5510 — and that was before several large-scale redundancies at mastheads around the country. Those redundancies have created a bigger pool of potential employees, making it more difficult for graduates to find employment.

News Ltd, Fairfax and the ABC, which used to employ large numbers of students, now take very few. Peter Fray, a former editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and now a media lecturer at the University of Sydney, says although graduates with journalism skills are still in demand, they are more likely to work creating content for health funds or banks. As the media is broken down into smaller organisations over the coming decade, traditional cadetships (already now uncommon) are likely to disappear.

Some journalism academics say the number of jobs in the industry is irrelevant to the value of teaching journalism. Dr Kayt Davies at Edith Cowan University (who did not provide figures) told Crikey the pursuit of enrolment numbers is “most likely going to be used to bash the practice of teaching journalism in universities based on the frankly quite insulting notion that we are doing [vocational education]”. She says if similar logic were applied to history students, it wouldn’t be taught because there are few ads for historians.

“Those aspiring to journalism would be better off undertaking a degree which will give them an actual body of knowledge and set them apart from other applicants …”

But media/journalism degrees are often seen as vocational qualifications. The Edith Cowan University handbook suggests a student with a degree in history might become a teacher, researcher, politician or public servant, the journalism major, accredited by the Journalism Education Association of Australia, has related careers of journalist, copywriter and online reporter. And the handbook goes on to say students “regularly win national journalism awards and work in major news organisations”. Most journalism degrees have several vocational components, specialising in broadcast journalism or news reporting and come with an internship requirement.

The marketing blurb seems to be working. A survey published last year in the Australian Journalism Review found 82% of first-year journalism students “identified news or entertainment journalism as their preferred area of work for the rest of their career”. By their final year, this number was down slightly to 75%.

Universities have a financial interest in enrolling students in media and communication programs rather than in arts. By some quirk of governmental bureaucracy, humanities courses like history, English and philosophy are classified under a separate funding cluster to communication and media studies. The cap on student contributions for both clusters are the same, but the federal government contributions per student enrolled in a media degree ($11,681) is more than double that of one enrolled in a humanities course ($5369).

“[Journalism schools] have a financial interest in recruiting students,” said Lisa Pryor, a former Sydney Morning Herald journalist and editor. “Those aspiring to journalism would be better off undertaking a degree which will give them an actual body of knowledge and set them apart from other applicants — science, an arts degree where they learn a second language, economics.”

But higher education analyst Andrew Norton says even if journalism students don’t end up in the media, they are more likely than others to end up working in managerial or professional jobs, with 72% of journalism graduates in these positions, far above the average for more general arts degree holders.

As for Charalambous? A year after graduating, he works as an online content editor and admits the job opportunities don’t quite resemble the specific roles he had imagined at the beginning of his studies. But yes, if he had to do it all again, he’d still pick media.

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8 thoughts on “As journalism jobs go, how will graduates find work?

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Only about half of law graduates ever qualify to practice and perhaps a third practice for more than a few years. Yet law is still a valued program, partly because it develops skills valuable in several contexts.

    Likewise, I imagine that journalism programs could or possible do develop skills valuable in a variety of contexts. The few journalists I have interacted with certainly have skills which would be valuable in many contexts.

  2. Elliot Blue

    There are plenty of good stories out there which the MSM isn’t covering. MSM blindly follow whatever narrative the pollies set for them (‘oooh! blue ties! hold the front page’) and the rest looks like they nicked it off New Idea. Suggest aspiring journos put these dinoasaurs out of their misery and start their own papers with an innovative plan: give us real news – the interesting stuff the MSM is too gutless to print. Wilbur F. Storey: “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”

  3. tonyfunnywalker

    Jounalism has been under threat from PR and Communication for some time. its value as a profession has been debased in current times with questionable ethics and where the “old hags” have tended to debase Journalism School and Journalism academics. I have cautioned for some time that the profession was in trouble so expect enrolements to fall and students will change courses to areas where reputation and careers are better precieved and valued.
    I Have pointed this out on a number of occasions is that the profession is looking an long term obselesence.
    Which Global Newspapers coming the vogus (eg the Guardian) the syndication will become more widespread and the News services such as AAP will become the norm.
    Fairfax has already syndicated the SMH and Age in the paywall version so you choose which by the sport you follow. Apps such as Pepublic means that you do not need to buy any individual newspaper ever again. You can choose what you read and in what ever topic area you choose.
    Why do you think Murdoch split his business – he will divest soon.

  4. klewso

    No job or a job with Murdoch – what’s the difference?
    Those qualifications go to waste either way?

  5. mook schanker

    Had a friend complete her journalism degree 20 years ago and the market then was extremely tough, miles more graduates than actual jobs. Nothing much has changed, well probably got worse really…

  6. kayt davies

    Hi – just to clarify – the pull quote in the middle is Lisa Pryor not me speaking.
    Also I wasn’t being awkward in declining to give Kylar figures – and in fact I did give him some. This is what I wrote to him:
    How do you want to define the word course? Do you mean the Bachelor of Communications Degree? (24 units of study at ECU)or the Journalism major within the communications degree? (a set of 8 units, 6 for a minor)?
    Or the units called things like Introduction to Journalism, Newsroom Journalism etc (students do 4 units per semester)

    Some of the students in our units are enrolled in other degrees (such as Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Business) and are just taking our units as electives.

    One way to count would be “journalism major graduates per year” and I think we have about 50 and are fairly stable at that, but as I said that misses the people who do less than 8 units in journalism. And it would count the PR/Journalism double majors who intend to go straight into the PR industry.

    So short of asking every graduate if they are actually seeking jobs as journos I am not sure how you would make a real count of people doing journalism courses who intend to become journalists.

    Also this isn’t about vocational training only – we are not a TAFE and so there are university-wide graduate attributes that we need to teach to in addition to industry specific needs. For us these are:
    and they need to be embedded into our courses in an assessible way.

    He then asked me twice more for numbers, and mentioned the survey he cited in the article. My final response was: I also think that young people often change their minds about what want, between what they say on a survey at the start of a degree and what they actually want at the end. Three years is a long time in a young life and there is a lot of pressure at the outset of a degree to articulate a career plan, regardless of a lack of heartfelt commitment to it.

    How many people who study first year engineering, “intending” to become engineers actually do so? (look at first to third year ratios in engineering – they’re brutal).

    I also use and like the concept I heard a while ago at work – that we should not be training people only to work in current professions but also for professional roles that will exist in the future, thus I think our focus on accuracy, perspective, civic processes and resources, and communication means and technologies are valuable skills in a rapidly changing world.

    Also re the history major – many journalism students at our and other universities take history units. Because history majors (where they still exist) have falling enrollments – does this mean we should stop teaching history ? – Hell no! – it means that it needs some sassy marketing, like packaging with things that sound exciting like journalism …

    The worst offender in terms of this strategy is not journalism, it is science – how many courses in “forensic science” will you find if you look ? (loads), how many kids enroll because they want to be like the guy on CSI ? – What is a forensic science degree ? Mostly chemistry – How many jobs are there out there for forensic scientists? About three in every state of Australia with very low turnover.

    So a marketing line in a handbook is no reason to select our program for special criticism.

    best regards,


  7. cheryl

    Maybe they will close journalism schools and people will get a real education.

  8. seano79

    Advertising and journalism budgets are in decline, the latter due to the former. We are entering an age, if we are not already there, in which advertising and journalism will be seamlessly integrated as self-published content. Journalists will find work (when there are no journalism jobs) producing content for companies which is then published online and spread through social media. It will be informative, well written and have strong narrative, yet it will be self-promotion. Accountability and independence will be hard to find.