Why study journalism? Are there jobs? And more
August 25, 2020
- Why study journalism ?
Journalism is an exciting, continually evolving and intellectually demanding program of study that gives communication professionals privileged access to those who shape our political, economic, social and cultural worlds. Journalism skills are also in demand across the communications and media industries, and in politics, business and research settings.
Journalism covers a wide range of stories (from cats up trees to alleged war crimes by SAS soldiers), across a wide range of media, at local, national and international levels. At its best, journalism performs a watchdog role. As the federal government recently recognised: “Public interest journalism is important to Australia’s democracy, and local and regional journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities. A sustainable and adaptable media sector is necessary to support the provision of such journalism.”
- Are there any jobs in journalism?
Journalism has long been a hard industry to break into if you don’t have skills, knowledge and connections. The difference in the 2020s is that are fewer people employed in mainstream news media organisations than two decades ago. There are, however, many more jobs in society that require journalistic and/or communication skills. Employment demand for journalism major graduates is high because many communications and media jobs rely on the specialised skills (researching, interviewing, writing, podcasting, data visualisation, social media editing), and core, transferable skills (communication, time management, teamwork, and digital literacy) that are embedded in journalism degrees. If you have those skills or attributes and like to communicate, there are good job opportunities. The Federal Government’s Job Outlook website, which provides details about ‘journalists and other writers’ says the outlook for future growth is stable.
One of the main drivers of new media jobs is the spread of news and content-sharing methods and consumer habits. Established broadcasters and print publishers are consolidating their online operations, and many smaller content publishing agencies are seeking reporters and editors who have up-to-the-minute digital literacies, and who can create content for all media platforms.
Jobs today and looking ahead require critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, problem-solving, project management, and teamwork skills of the kind that underpins good job prospects in many occupations. By taking a journalism major, students develop such skills. They learn about one-to-one, small group and mass communication. They learn how to report accurately, to listen well during interviews, to ask difficult questions, and to source hard-to-find information. They learn how to write hard news and feature stories. They learn how to analyse information and prepare stories, for a range of media, either individually or in teams. Working on publications and programs, they learn about the needs and tastes of different audiences; they learn to work to strict deadlines.
- How do students know the industry they are being taught to enter will be there when they graduate?
The media and journalism are changing dramatically, as are many industries. Some print publications have been closing, but some niche and local publishers are starting up. New forms of journalism, undreamt of a decade ago, are being created. Healthy growth in new digital communications platforms is also spurring demand for people who can communicate effectively with clients and other stakeholders. We see such companies seeking out communications graduates with journalism skills—people who can identify, research and present new ideas; who can creatively communicate company goals, products and strategies; who can build and manage online communities; or who can mobilise audiences to take action. These may not be traditional journalism jobs, but they all involve research, critical analysis, and storytelling skills that are central to journalism work.
Journalism itself is undergoing a shift to more diversified business models that include subscription, events, philanthropy and public funding, ensuring that the work of reporting will be more closely tied to audience research and expectations, and demonstrable social and community benefits. Universities are at the forefront of studying changes to the industry, and are teaching their graduates how to understand audience needs and to innovate to build the journalism publications and products of the future.
- Aren’t there more journalism graduates than jobs?
Thousands of communications students graduate every year in Australia, but not all are journalism graduates. Even among those journalism graduates, not all are seeking journalism jobs, as many want to work in organisations that can use their communications skills.
There is strong demand for students who do seek traditional journalism jobs, such as reporting, editing, or reading the news, but there is also strong demand from businesses for students who have majored in journalism for general communications roles, public relations and strategic communications. They want the skills that a journalist brings to the job, particularly excellent written and verbal communication, strong research and analysis skills, with a good dose of scepticism, excellent people management skills, sound ethics, and what media people call “a nose for a story” – which is a sense of what is new and significant about any event or issue.
- What skills are taught in a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) degree?
There is a broad range of journalism programs around the country. Some journalism programs are aimed squarely at preparing people for the news media industry, while others instead prepare students for work in the broad communications industries and fields that seek the sophisticated research, analytical and communication skills taught in journalism programs.
Universities that offer a major in Journalism teach students to research, analyse, write about and report on issues and events. They record, edit and produce audio and video (including podcasts, short features and mobile journalism), operate content management systems, produce social media content, use fact checking and verification tools, undertake data extraction, analysis and visualisations, and learn basic coding for web and interactives. They study media law and ethics, people, time and project management and much, much more. They don’t just learn industry-ready skills, but also develop critical thinking, innovation and entrepreneurial skills. A typical graduate will also take elective subjects from across the liberal arts spectrum – from political science, history and economics, to sociology, philosophy, languages, popular culture, Asian studies and race relations. Students are also exposed to up-to-the minute research conducted by academics and industry fellows who are carefully monitoring industry and societal trends.
- Can you become a successful journalist without a degree?
There are always journalists, particularly in years gone by, who come to the craft without a journalism degree. However, a Bachelor degree is now generally considered a basic requirement for any job in the media industry. The great majority of people who are employed either as a trainee or as base grade journalist have a degree, and the great majority of them have a communications/journalism degree.
- Can you just learn professional skills on the job?
There is far less training in media organisations than there used to be and only a few that offer a traineeship or cadetship. With the loss of many senior journalists in recent years in newsrooms, there are fewer mentors, which reduces the ability to provide either standard on-the-job training or the future-proof technological, entrepreneurial, innovation and social equity skills that the industry needs. Even journalists who plan to be freelancers have a greater chance of successfully pitching their stories if they have developed a solid understanding of the craft of journalism and industry’s expectations beforehand. Universities prepare students to be life-long learners who adapt to different workplaces and changing professional environments, challenges and opportunities.
- Are journalism degrees mostly theoretical or practical?
Journalism programs at Australian universities focus strongly on practical skills. Universities simulate conditions or activities that occur in media organisations, and students engage in workplace learning through internships, projects with media and community organisations, field trips, campus media and the like. Universities also encourage students to explore theory, but not in the way many people think. First, the sign of a good theory is how practical it is. Second, because journalists routinely come into contact with powerful people and institutions, they require more than a set of trade skills; theory helps students to develop judgement, critical thinking, resourcefulness, persistence, and an understanding of how society operates, journalism’s role in society and how they deal with common professional challenges. To equip journalism students with a set of mechanical skills but no knowledge of these issues is like sending them into battle with one arm missing. Third, a good time to study these issues is at university where students have the time and resources to do so. There is relatively little time or support for journalists to reflect on such issues once they start work in a busy newsroom.
- Who teaches journalism at universities?
Teachers in journalism programs generally have worked for 10 to 20 years as a journalist in organisations ranging from small local and regional outlets to large national and international media services. Numerous journalism educators have won state, national and international awards for their journalism.
Many journalism teachers have chosen to move into university life as a way of supporting an emerging generation of journalists and reflecting on their profession and the ways in which journalism work can be improved. Many teach and work in journalism at the same time, or write about their research in publications like The Conversation and Inside Story, while still guiding their students to produce publishable work on major news platforms and beyond.
- How do journalism schools maintain their industry relevance?
Journalism programs generally have an industry advisory committee or industry review process, which provides advice to ensure that programs are designed to meet workplace needs and prepare students for a constantly changing future. Universities also offer work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities such as internships or fellowships. These ensure a constant exchange of knowledge between students, journalists and supervisors in the workplace, and the academics who teach journalism programs. Most major news organisations are involved in these industry review and WIL programs, so they regularly contribute to supporting individual journalism students and shaping journalism education. Sometimes academics are seconded to media companies as practitioners or researchers, and editors or journalists regularly work with universities on a short-term or permanent basis. A steady stream of industry guest lecturers and tutors bring their current experiences and knowledge into classrooms. The notion of the ivory tower academic pre-dates contemporary journalism education, and has no basis in fact.
- Do people work as journalists for a long time?
Journalism is seen as a young persons’ profession. In Australia, most people work as a journalist for 12 to 14.5 years. After this, many use their skills and experience to move into other communications fields, to teaching or research. This means that there is a continual need for new journalism graduates in media workplaces. Experience as a journalist is excellent preparation for many other high-level jobs because you must explore different places and meet many people from all walks of life. The need in journalism to learn how to make contacts, work accurately and quickly, deal with knockbacks, handle criticism, and manage all sorts of people and situations builds rich experience that translates well into other industries and professions.
- How much do journalists earn?
There are a few journalists earning extremely high wages, but most earn above the average wage. Journalists have actually experienced +3.9% salary growth, while the labour category of Journalism and Other Writing jobs had the 2nd highest salary growth in the Advertising, Arts and Media industry in Australia in 2019.
- What role do journalism schools play in improving the quality and quantity of journalism?
Journalism academics and students play a role in publishing excellent journalism. Most journalism programs have their own internal publication or media outlet where their students learn journalistic skills in near-real world conditions. Universities also collaborate to produce a national online student publication, The Junction. Academic research and expertise is called on to create content for The Conversation and a wide range of newspapers, broadcasters and new media. Universities are increasingly working with news organisations to bring academic expertise to journalism in ventures such as the RMIT ABC Fact Check Unit.
- What’s the value of research into journalism?
Research about journalism and the media is as necessary as it is into any other field; can you imagine someone questioning the value of research into Australian politics? There has already been a good deal of research done about journalism and the media in Australia. The 543-page Companion to Australian Media, published in 2015, provides an entry into media research and simply could not have been produced without the work of many Australian journalism and communications academics. Right now, research into journalism’s sustainability, quality and innovation is more important than ever. It helps journalists and prospective journalists adjust to industry restructuring and to improve its connection with audiences and responsiveness to community needs. It is also crucial to help journalists combat political and criminal attacks on the profession, to model effective forms of entrepreneurship and to ensure the competitiveness of journalism start-ups. Around the world, governments are studying how to support and subsidise public interest journalism during the current period of industry restructuring. Academic research is core to analysing the problems caused to communities by the loss of news publications, the challenges the news media face in developing new business models, and ways to address those.
- I’m from a non-English speaking background. Is journalism for me?
Absolutely. We need journalists from all backgrounds. The industry is specifically looking for (and needs) people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or who can bring another perspective to the role. Journalism needs to reflect the complex societies we live in, and your skills and experience will play a vital part in making sure we accurately and comprehensively report the news.
 Australian Government. 2019. Regulating in the Digital Age: Government Response and Implementation Roadmap for the Digital Platforms Inquiry. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
 World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/the-skills-needed-to-survive-the-robot-invasion-of-the-workplace
 Tanner S, O’Donnell M, Green KP, et al. (2014) Graduate qualities and journalism curriculum renewal: balancing tertiary expectations and industry needs in a changing environment. In: Office for Learning and Teaching (ed). Sydney, 152.
 Josephi B and Oller Alonso M (2018) Re-examining age: Journalism’s reliance on the young. Journalism. DOI: 10.1177/1464884918800077.
 SEEK Employment Trends (Annual full-time salary averages, Feb 2019-Jan 2020 vs Feb 2018-Jan 2019)
Main image by TJ Thomson