By Kylie Davis
“FOR a bunch of highly intelligent people, I’ve always wondered why journalists are so stupid as to let themselves be paid so little and have their careers managed so chaotically…”
When the media executive – whose identity I shall protect – made this comment to me over several wines, I snorted with laughter so hard that pinot came out of my nose.
Now, research from US careers website Careercast.com has emphasised his point. In its annual analysis of the top 200 jobs, Careercast.com rated newspaper journalists at 196.
Parking meter attendants, dish washers, waiters, taxi drivers and even postmen have better hiring prospects, less stress and often better pay. Television news broadcasting is not much better at 191.
The four jobs with worse prospects than we newsroom-heads are oil rig worker, enlisted US soldier, dairy farmer and lumberjack.
Lumberjacks are not OK . . . who’d have thought? And it’s true, I would have thought, that active service in Afghanistan; freezing on a platform in the middle of giant seas, or getting up at 4am to be kicked and stand in cow pats is worse than the average newsroom day.
What drags down newspaper journalism is hiring prospects.
Admittedly, the situation is far worse in America than in this part of the world.
Yet, all local newspaper companies are streamlining operations and journalists will face the burden of this change as much, and perhaps more, than other departments in the next two years.
“You have to take your personal skill set in your own hands, decide where you want your career to go” – Kylie Davis
The lamentably few cadetships that are given now, compared with two decades ago, further emphasises the point, as well as denying our industry its next generation of young thinkers and writers.
Careercast.com says that it expects the ranks of newspaper journalists to contract in America, and those jobs that are offered will be for reporters only.
It sheds some interesting insight into where the jobs are going. The top job for 2011 was software engineer. Hardly a surprise. Digital advertising manager was in like a bullet at 8 while web developers rated at 15.
All of these jobs boasted positive hiring outlooks and salary levels at least double and sometimes nearly three times higher than that of a print journalist.
The survey’s numbers are a bit rubbery when compared with local conditions, but they are interesting.
It says the average journalist starting salary is US$35,275 while ad reps knocking out banners can pull US$87,255.
So, who would be a journalist… well, a ridiculous number of young people.
In Australia, journalism is one of the most hotly contested university courses. In 2012, the University of Melbourne, RMIT Journalism both required Australian Tertiary Admission Rankings scores of higher than 95 out of 100 to get into journalism.
Similar rankings could get you into Law, Medicine or Commerce and Accounting, and trust me – they all rated much higher than No.196 on the survey.
The question then is what are we doing as journalists to reinvent ourselves? If we want to be part of the future, not the dole queue, we need dramatically different skills – and a radically different approach.
It seems we are doing very little that is systematic or fundamental to improving journalism skills.
Most companies offer video training to a lucky few. The resources to shoot and edit are even more scant. The sad fact is that most of us use better technology at home than we do at work.
Some companies still limit access to online, or prevent access to websites such as Facebook and Twitter, on the basis that their usage is “time wasting”.
The truth about journalism training at the moment is that you have to take your personal skill set in your own hands, decide where you want your career to go, and invest a proportion of your “US$35,275” each year into ensuring you are job ready for the future.
We are not too clever to face the reality of change in our business and our lives.
Kylie Davis is a senior editor at News Limited, based in Sydney. Follow her on Twitter @kyliecdavis