Hard News by Russell Brown


Rough times in the trade

My last talk to students at the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch -- usually every August, but in may this year thanks to earthquake disruption -- did not end on a cheery note.

We live, I warned the students, in an age of oversupply. A huge mass of text and image that answers to the description of journalism is produced every day -- much of it by the unpaid. One form of journalism -- the writing of opinion -- is produced in such quantity that it's tempting to wonder why anyone would pay for it.

But that's not actually where the problem of oversupply -- and attendant loss of value -- is most acute. The real problem is that there is far, far more advertising inventory than can be feasibly sold.

Every blog, every Facebook status update, every YouTube video is an opportunity to place advertising, most of it of relatively low value. And the advertising industry has still not really worked out how to harness high-value content. When I go to The Guardian website -- the home of one of the great global news brands of the internet age -- and all I see is non-earning house ads it's hard not to wonder if they'll ever work it out.

Meanwhile, about 280 young people complete journalism courses in New Zealand every year -- and only about half of them get jobs in the trade they've trained for. The overall number of those jobs, now just under 4300 (roughly shared between reporting and editing), may be shrinking. It's a tough market.

There's also the question of whether the various courses are actually training people for the jobs that are there. Yesterday, as on every big, harsh day of Christchurch's earthquake ordeal, the ability to research and report via social media and the internet was crucial for journalists. Media companies such as Fairfax and Mediaworks are actively encouraging young journalists to be present themselves on Twitter. The role taken by Toby Manhire on The Listener's website -- the problogger tasked with interpreting, slicing and serving up the Zeitgeist -- is a new reality.

All those roles demand their own skills; they all raise ethical questions that barely featured in journalism 20 years ago.

So: are we training more people in journalism and media than there are new jobs? And are we teaching them the right things? Does the whole thing need a rethink?

That's what I'll be discussing with the Broadcasting School's Ruth Zanker and Media7 audience regular Ed Mason, who recently retired from his role at Unitec.

If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's recording, we'll need you to present yourself at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ some time between 5.15 and 5.40. As ever, do try and drop me a line to let me know you're coming.

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