Media industry shrinks as graduate numbers grow

Redundancies in major media outlets have again started discussion on the state of media entities in Australia, and the future of the next generation of media graduates.

As the media and communications industry continues to shrink, the number of media and communications graduates continues to grow.

A 24-hour staff strike protesting the cuts to 80 full-time positions at The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald ended yesterday.

The most significant redundancies are to the photography sector, with 30 photojournalism positions to be dismissed. Editorial and newsroom positions are also in in jeopardy.

Most of the work done by Fairfax’s photographers, picture editors and layout and production staff is to be outsourced to Getty Images.

Journalism courses have exploded in popularity since 2007: the number of journalism students enrolled at major universities has increased from 1150 to 1750 in the last six years.

But it’s not just journalism courses that have proven popular avenues into the communications sector. Universities like RMIT also offer degrees in Professional Communication, Media and Professional Writing and Editing.

Today, Catalyst spoke with New Matilda’s National Affairs Correspondent Ben Eltham on the state of the media in Australia, and the next generation of media students.

“I don’t think anyone can delude themselves that the industry is healthy,” he said. “[But] I don’t think the industry will shrink much more, it’s pretty much hit rock bottom already.”

However, Eltham cited the decline in paying for news as a problem that is detrimental to both mainstream and independent news sources.

“[The mainstream outlets] are going to have to keep shrinking, because they’re not making money,” he said. “Ultimately, though, it’s not a problem of demand for journalism. The demand from the product is still there, but there’s a business model issue. So no one knows now how to make money out of people’s desire for news.”

Ten of the 40 photographers under scrutiny will retain their jobs. The Herald Sun has reported that it will not follow suit and outsource its photography sector.

Nevertheless, with regards to the Herald Sun’s decision to retain their photography team, Eltham was supportive.

“Photojournalism is a craft, not something that can be outsourced without a loss of quality. It’s critical to the editorial values of any publication,” he said. “On Twitter yesterday there was a link to a story in The Age of a footballer––Nicky Winmar––pulling up his jersey and pointing to his skin. That was taken by an Age photographer at a suburban football game, and not something that would have been covered by an outsourced company like Getty Images…It led to a sea of change in the way that the AFL and other Australian sports tackled racism.”

The recent resignation of New Matilda’s editor, Marni Cordell, indicates that independent media in Australia is not flourishing either. In an online open letter to readers, Cordell explained that the continued viability of New Matilda as a news source could not afford to support its employees for another year.

Despite the changing media environment however, Cordell remains optimistic on the role of independent media in Australia.

“New Matilda is certainly not a failed venture,” Cordell stated online. “If anything, it’s a victim of its own success.”

“In the past four years our readership has doubled and our subscriber base is stronger than it’s ever been.”

However, competition with mainstream media has kept independent publications like New Matilda from turning the profit required to remain competitive.

“[We] can’t afford to compete with our larger competitors for staff and writers,” Cordell admitted.

Similarly, Eltham concedes, “Independent media is never going to be huge. But there is always going to be a place for it. It continues to be very vibrant on the margins. And I think it will continue to be.”

If you’re a student in the media and communications department, tell us what you think. Are you worried about job prospects? Do you see yourself working for an independent media outlet?

By Melissa Di Giacomo

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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