The Pep Talk - Part 1

Posted by JSYL on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 in ,
I met him outside a train station on a Friday night. Almost a year had passed since our last run-in, outside uni production suites, in between ABC and SBS cadetship applications. A brief hug and an exchange of knowing smiles proved that the bonds of Journalism school remained intact.

"Where to, coffee or a[n alcoholic] drink?" he asked.
"Up to you," I said, instinctively accommodating.
He cocked his head to the side, treading the waters of my unusually courteous behaviour with some trepidation: "Coffee then?" he suggested.
He was right to hesitate. It's Friday.The sudden realisation somersaulted it's way through my oesophagus, landing in my stomach with a dull thud.
"We're journalists now. We need to drink," I said, firmly steering his elbow around the shiny puddles that littered the busy road before us, and into the comfort of the nearest pub.

Over a few G+Ts we exchanged war stories of our first 'journalism' gigs, both now fully fledged members of the Business-to-Business industry, both trying to justify our roles at our respective companies by referring to ourselves and each other as if we belonged to some strange breed of that elusive creature we call 'journalism'.

Y'see, we both graduated under the flawed if not false impression that unless we were employed at a prominent media organisation (which, given the small size of the Australian media industry reduces the pool of potential employers to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the ABC and SBS), or were at the very least reporting news every day, we could not consider ourselves real journalists, regardless of how much we'd like to.

As the night wore on, the conversation gave way to bitching and moaning about how hard it all was. We had known it would be 'hard' but not 'this hard' to find our dream jobs. (This, just shy of three months out of university.) At one point, my friend drew his line in the sand, "I'm applying for ABC and SBS again this year. And if it doesn't work out, I'll start thinking about jobs in DFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)."

It could just have been the two G+Ts, or perhaps the Cadillac Cosmopolitan- which, by the way, you should ALL try. It has a raw egg in it and EVERYTHING...very fancy - but I was truly stunned at this revelation. He may as well have told me that yes, he, Darth Vader, was indeed my father after all.

For, to me, to go from Journalist to Politician Spin Doctor would be crossing over to the Dark Side. It's not that journalists and politicians are necessarily opposed to one another (although that is debatable, feel free to challenge this in the comments below) but I would've thought at least part of the appeal of the former profession was the ability to "keep the bastards honest" (ironically) in blunt terms, or rather to be the Fourth Estate.

And more than that, to study a particular discipline for years, and presumably, to follow the careers of journalists you aspire to become more like for many more years, seems like too big a commitment to throw away after one year in the school of not-so-hard knocks.

He assured me that DFAT was his last resort but reasoned that there was only so much one could take in this quasi-journalistic environment. One example he gave was this: one of his stories had, though later nominated for an award, been removed from its website a day after he had posted it because it conflicted with a number of key advertising sponsors. Despite the fact that anything that takes up Internet space for a day can potentially reach millions more than news printed in a trade magazine ever could, It begs the zen-like question:

If a groundbreaking news story has no audience, is it still news?

Over to you, dear readers.

Tune in for the actual pep talk next post.



This question turns the overused (and kind of absurd) argument - 'kids these days' have it easy when it comes to the media industry because we can 'publish ourselves' on the Internet in one fell click - on its head. Zillions of hits do not maketh Perez Hilton a 'celebrity journalist'. But the blogger vs. citizen journalist debate would not even exist without the huge readership that website attracts on a daily basis. Does a journalist's value therefore turn on the size of its audience?

[Photo: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/]



lover, online is where it's at. And the fact that it reaches millions of viewers does not deter writers and bloggers and make-shift journos to pop up and offer an opinion. Perhaps we were educated too much on traditional media to the point where we believed that if we didn't cling, then we wouldn't survive. What's important is that move bloody forward whilst still acknowledging (not practicing) the impact traditional media has had.

As for advertising vs. editorial - that debate's been going on for years across all mediums throughout history, and will continue to do so with online. The onus is on the financial means to remain available and sustainable IN ORDER to reach 'x' amount of people. And economic crisis hello - money makes the world go 'round.

And yeah, fmd it's hard (and although this is an assumption - HI DAVID!!!)

Shiznix, this is a long comment xx

Anonymous says:

I have no idea who you're speaking of, Ms. T...(>.>)

I was rather fearing this post! In my defence, I'm no longer in the old and crappy job. I'm now in a much better job that I quite enjoy, so plans may well change.

My primary argument wasn't that 'life is hard'. It was that if my role was drifting so quickly towards PR-esque work, (advertising our online media release service to PR agencies in every single email, being severely reprimanded for interviewing people when writing stories because "that's not what we do", being forced to write a certain number of churnalistic product stories from nothing but media releases and being the only person in the office that didn't take "gifts" from PR), then why was I getting paid up to 15K less than the base-level PR I was dealing with?

Like I said to Jane, if the ABC offered me a cadetship for no pay, I'd happily jump on board because it offers a path. But to continue down a road of low-paid sell-out churnalism without an end in sight is not a desirable or sustainable outcome.

On top of that, as a self-supporter, I struggle to make ends meet without a certain level of employment. Needless to say, I can only afford to be a "starving aspiring journalist" for so long before starvation becomes less of a joke.

For the truly dedicated, a career in journalism should entail working freelance, doing internships, schmoozing contacts and riding the social media wave to source new jobs.

To do all that and pay the Gas, Mobile, internet, food and rent bills becomes a challenge.

Having already done three to four years of it whilst at Uni, I'm disinclined to do another indefinite stretch.

Finally, DFAT mainly interests me because of the oppurtunities to work abroad for years at a time.

As for the question, I think that Journalism leans itself towards communicating information efficiently. From the reverse pyramid to knowing what our audience wants and writing succinctly to maintain interest.

By definition any news without an audience remains news. The question should be whether or not this news serves its purpose - and to that the answer is no.

If you draft the best story on a dramatic issue but nobody reads it, it serves no purpose because it has not communicated any information to anyone but the author.

But that's the funny thing about news, especially in the digital age. If you write news and it truly is newsworthy, in most cases it will eventually get a run and gain traction somewhere because nobody ever pays someone to write for noone.

That said, you might not get paid or even get a byline by the time it hits an audience, but that's beside the point right??

Maggie: I'm not in fear of the so-called 'online revolution', I don't think I could afford to be if I want to survive in the media industry for the rest of my working life!

I was just wondering what implications it has for the role of 'journalists', because the fact that the Internet gives us access to a wider reader/viewership raises the bar for the online producer: whether or not the content they're flogging is news, and this fiercely more competitive ballgame is something traditional media organisations are struggling with (i.e. how to compete online whilst maintaining the quality of their original product) the world over.

Anonymous: I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you for clarifying. :)

Thank you for clearing that up Anon - I think I reacted personally to the admission that it was hard, hence the online touting. It is hard, and will continue to be, particularly with the stigma (?) of journalists being aligned with the 'creative' field (and historically, creative fields being financially difficult to maintain from a food, mobile, internet, living costs perspective).

'News' and 'newsworthy' are two different terms. One is static, the other dynamic. As for it reaching an audience, byline or not is beside the point - at least so far, and in the near future. Traditional copyright and intellectual property laws and caution are thrown to the wind because it's the internet and the way in which information is decimated as a result is impossible to handle.

By the way Anon - I really like your term 'churnalism'. It fits the way online journalism is currently going.

Jane, I didn't mean you were in fear, just that many traditional, established media companies have a tendency to be. It's the comfort in the familiarity of a format that's been in practice for years, then having to break out of it as the new technological wave is occurring and having no idea where to start with it - it's all very difficult to adjust.

Anonymous says:

I wish I could claim "churnalism" but it actually belongs to Nick Davies, Guardian journo and author.

As for online news, I'm uncharacteristically optimistic. As the sheer amount of information begins to grow to unreadable amounts, I reckon online audiences will seek out brands they know and trust.

Mastheads like the SMH have a head start, but a reputable online agency can always make a name for itself with strong, honest and reliable content.

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