The future of work: journalism

What will the future of work look like? It’s a question we’ve been asking of many different industries – from agriculture and education to criminal justice and social work. Now it’s time to look at the future of journalism.

Expert academics at Charles Sturt University have been analysing the trends and trajectories that their industries are experiencing.

Want to know how to position yourself for a fulfilling career in a dynamic industry? Our academics have got your back – whichever direction you want to go in.

Journalism is going through rapid, disruptive change. So we sat down with highly experienced journalist and Charles Sturt academic Jock Cheetham to unpack where the industry is heading.

What are the current challenges facing journalism?

“Journalism still has a very important role in society but it is under certain pressures. The current pressures on journalism as an industry are primarily related to business models. It’s about the changing nature of revenues coming into media companies and what that means for the resources they put into journalism.

“And it’s about the fragmentation of the media sector as well. Often driven by technology, it means things like greater competition for audiences and user-generated content. The competition of people’s eyes and ears has never been greater, particularly as the audience demands more news, faster.

“If you want alternatives to right-wing populism, you need an informed and educated population, and good journalism is one of the means that provides that information.”

Is demand for instantaneous news undermining journalism?

“While there is a certain inevitability in the immediacy of what audiences demand given the power of the web, it is not simply a modern phenomenon. Look at radio; it was considered a threat to newspapers back in the 1930s, and newspapers have done all right since then.

“So while in some ways it’s not new, it has, however, certainly reached some kind of peak with the web. There are two manifestations of it for the industry:

  • the pressure to produce work at speed
  • the pressure to deliver lots of new content all the time.

“These pressures change how journalists – or journalism more widely – operate. There is more of what’s called ‘churnalism’ – repurposing content quickly and cheaply rather than undertaking original research to produce unique copy. I mean, [these pieces] can get as many hits as a piece of investigative journalism that might take several months to put together, so you can see why editors commission it. However, because deadlines are so tight, these pieces can have problems with accuracy and fact checking.

“There’s the need to constantly feed the 24-hour news cycle. People are constantly looking on their phones, which is kind of working against quality journalism.”

Is there hope for quality journalism in the future?

“There is significant evidence that there is an appetite – and market – for quality journalism. One is the rise of long-form journalism as a particular niche within digital journalism. Even 10 years ago, digital media wasn’t talking about long form. But now people will read longer investigative pieces, even on their phones.

“The second piece of evidence is around what people are willing to pay for online. When businesses like News Corp set up paywalls, people were willing to pay to access the content. The Australian has something like 100,000 paid digital subscribers.

“The fake news discussion around the 2016 US election also gave rise to significant bumps in paid subscriptions to The New York Times and other news outlets that have a good reputation for quality journalism and professional ethics. Or you can look at the donations model, which The Guardian has had a lot of success with.

“This is all evidence that people are willing to give their time and/or money in ways that are new to journalism in the digital age. In the past, if you wanted news from a newspaper you had to buy one. Now, you can get a lot of news from newspapers for free. However, people are willing to pay for access to others that they trust, and it is a substantial demand.”

How can future journalists secure a rewarding career?

“I think future journalists need to be multiskilled and multidisciplinary. It’s hard to do as they still need to do everything else they did in the past, but also add in new skills. So, for example, if you want to be a print journalist, you still need to be well across current affairs, be able to fact check, have writing skills, network for contacts, know about legal requirements in your craft, apply ethics to your work, and so on. All these things are fundamental to journalism.

“But increasingly you can’t really just be a text writer. You probably need to be able to add some photographs to your stories if required (even if just on your smartphone). Plus, be able to shoot video, in a lot of cases edit video. You also need – whatever platform you’re on – to work with social media in a skilful way, and have an awareness of the digital environment to increase the reach of your work. Data visualisation is also a pretty fundamental skill for journalists today.“

What skills does a future journalist need?

“As important as the technical skills are, it’s crucial to be able to adapt to journalism in a digital world. One of the key things around this is that the audience is a lot more dominant in the digital environment than in traditional media. Editors have always been trying to second-guess what the audience wanted. However, they didn’t have the detailed information we have now. In the past, that was intuition as well as factors like whether the newsroom thought a story was in the public interest. There is always a balance like that, it’s just that the audience’s desire today is more immediate and more explicit; that is, the audience has a greater influence.

“Being aware of where the audience is, what they are responding to and how to measure that – and change in response if required – affects how you produce journalism for certain audiences in certain markets.

“That’s the sort of soft skill and critical thinking – such as deciding whether this particular story for this audience is best served by a video, or needs data infographics with photographs or similar – that backs up the hard skills of producing the journalism that is required.

How can future journalists thrive in the industry?

“Another soft skill that is useful is entrepreneurship. Traditional newsrooms are significantly smaller than in the past, and there is an increased casualisation and freelance nature to them. And this is more so in new digital enterprises. But there are a lot of start-ups that provide opportunities. Plus, freelancing and casualisation has always been part of the journalistic field. So it’s important to think entrepreneurially, rather than think ‘casually’. Entrepreneurial skills and flexibility in work are key. Future journalists need to embrace the opportunities to create joint ventures and collaborate across organisations.

“In fact, some of the skills that are part of entrepreneurialism are actually the same skills that help you be a better journalist. It’s about being able to do things for yourself, to find the story and produce it; to understand the world. Your journalism qualification is just the start; you need to be passionate about it, be curious and keep learning as you gain experience. These are important for a successful career, and even a successful life.”

Secure your future in journalism with Charles Sturt

Whether you’re looking to get your first journalism degree or advance your learning, we have the course to get you where you want to be in the journalism field.

We also offer single subject study in news reporting, radio journalism and, as highlighted by Jock Cheetham as an essential skill, entrepreneurialism in journalism. These online subjects are a great way to upskill to enhance your career prospects.

Contact us to find out more.

Contributor

Jock CheethamJock Cheetham has been a journalist since 1991. His writing has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Times Higher Education Supplement (UK) and The Independent (UK), among many others. His video and radio work has been broadcast on the ABC. At Charles Sturt University Jock has taught video production, online journalism, long-form/feature writing, and major project subjects. His research interests include the role of morality in news values.