When Fairfax advertised for 20 trainee journalists this week, a chorus of indignation erupted from those who had most recently been shown the door.
Sure, most newsrooms across Australia (and in the western world) have been decimated as publishers battle to to fix a business model that linked public interest journalism and advertising.
But frankly, just because a lot of mostly mature journalists have been told their skill set doesn’t fit the new way of delivering news, does not mean we should be discouraging young people from joining the ranks.
I, for one, am delighted Fairfax is looking to pay young people to train to be journalists, particularly at a time when many outlets prey on the desire of young people to make a difference by getting them to work for free.
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In fact, there has probably never been a more important time for Australians to be encouraging our best young people to do a paid job that is crucial to the democratic fabric of our country.
Great journalism isn’t about reporting stories that happen right in front of our eyes, or media releases emailed from people in power: a citizen with a smart phone, or even a well-trained robot, can package up that kind information for the interested public.
Great journalism comes from well-trained journalists who can put information through a reality filter, run the data, uncover the hidden documents, and find the right expert to provide deeper analysis of the situation and to do the face-to-face and in-depth reporting.
These result in the real stories from journalists such as Adele Ferguson, Nick McKenzie and Louise Milligan who create journalism which results in royal commissions, changes in laws, and special commissions of inquiry.
For those who complain that trainee journalists need more experienced journalists to guide them, I couldn’t agree more. But those more experienced journalists actually need to be wiser and more skilled, not just older. Journalists can do a lot to help themselves here — by continuing to upgrade their skills — and by reaching out to others when they find they lack the skills. For example, academics will happily play a role, providing expertise and guidance to journalists who want it.
It would also be valuable for news organisations to rehire some subeditors to ensure the quality of the final product. With more and more words and pictures online, making sure that they are the correct words, and the facts are checked, has never been more important in ensuring trust with readers.
For those who say that journalism is no longer a lifetime career, I would argue that it hasn’t been a lifetime career for most people for a very long time. Many of my former journalism colleagues left newsrooms for other communications careers long before the rivers of gold stopped flowing.
For those who say that studying or training to be a journalist is a waste of effort, I say that these communication skills are never going to be fully automated.
So, if you know a clever young person who really wants to make a difference in the world, please tell them to study to become a journalist – it’s not just the best job in the world, it’s an incredibly important vocation from which every Australian benefits.
Alexandra Wake is a journalism academic at RMIT University. She oversees the journalism internship program for the Graduate Diploma of Journalism and the Bachelor of Communication (Journalism). She’s been a print journalist, broadcaster, media advisor and is now an academic.