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Can journalism survive the digital revolution?

It began as a whisper and ended as an avalanche.

The first advertisement placed on a website made little impact, yet it set off a digital revolution that has transformed the modern media landscape, shrinking print newspapers and magazines and emptying newsrooms around the world. In Australia, more than 3000 journalists have been made redundant in the past six years alone.

Yet as media leaders struggle to find a business model to support journalism, new opportunities have emerged for those with strong communication skills, according to Deakin University’s Professor of Communication, Matthew Ricketson.

Is public interest in news surviving the digital shift?

‘There is no doubt there’s been a seismic shift in Australia’s media landscape,’ Prof. Ricketson explains. ‘The commercial model that supported and sustained our mainstream media has collapsed because old media no longer has a monopoly on pricing advertising – income that once constituted the bulk of revenue in media organisations and which was used to pay journalists.’

The media industry continues to explore new business models to support and sustain journalism. Meanwhile, according to Prof. Ricketson, the public interest in news and current affairs remains strong across generational cohorts, even though consumption patterns have radically changed.

‘The good news is that there’s no sign that the general population is less interested in news and current affairs than it was 10 years ago,’ Prof. Ricketson says.

‘The challenge is to create a new business model that will support journalism and meet the demand for news across all areas from politics to sport to crime and everything in between. While that’s happening, several non-media organisations have moved to fill the void, with many now providing journalism in one way or another – something that was unheard of just a few years ago.’

Where are journalism jobs going as traditional media shrinks?

While fewer journalists are employed in traditional media – particularly newspapers and magazines – Prof. Ricketson says more businesses and organisations are stepping into the breach to create their own content, creating jobs for journalists in the process.

‘From the AFL to not-for profits like Greenpeace to major banks, there are now numerous enterprises that have set up their own newsrooms to create and disseminate content to connect with supporters and clients,’ he says.

Prof. Ricketson says the AFL now has a newsroom of almost 100 reporters who create sports stories across all platforms. Universities, corporations, charities, hospitals and government agencies are also creating content designed to connect with their audiences.

Can journalists apply the same skills to new settings?

Prof. Ricketson says the skills and knowledge required of journalists in traditional media, as well as in public relations, are just as crucial in the digital economy. Plus a new pressure for journalists is needing to deal with the pressures of rapid reporting in the 24-hour news cycle.

Journalism skills that are transferable across industries include the ability to:

  • gather accurate information
  • write or present that information quickly for public dissemination
  • work across all platforms including audio and visual news presentation
  • present news in an interesting and compelling manner
  • develop trusted contacts
  • understand the complex ethical and legal issues that affect the role of journalists in the broader public sphere
  • quickly comprehend competing agendas
  • know how to find the information required, how to vet it for accuracy and how best to use it to engage the audience.
'The challenge is to create a new business model that will support journalism and meet the demand for news across all areas from politics to sport to crime and everything in between.'

Prof. Matthew Ricketson,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

‘A lot of people who have completed a journalism degree are now being employed by a broader pool of organisations across a variety of sectors and digital platforms,’ Prof. Ricketson says.

‘Yet, despite the change in the media industry, the need for the skills that have always been central to journalism remain.’

In the context of an ever-changing media landscape, Prof. Ricketson says promising young journalists also needed to know how best to use social media as both a news gathering source and as a driver of audience engagement.

Adaptability the key to a career in modern journalism. According to Prof. Ricketson, the keys to navigating the new media landscape include having an adaptable frame of mind and a desire to embrace change.

‘It is challenging for the new generation of journalists to have to learn so many skills as well as understand the ethos that underpins the profession, but it’s also an incredibly exciting time,’ he says, adding that while the profession remains in a state of flux, the importance of, and appetite for, unbiased and investigative journalism remains.

But who will pay for investigative journalism?

‘Any work that seeks to investigate and challenge powerful institutions or disseminate information about private individuals, necessarily involves complex and nuanced thinking and a deep understanding of the ethics of journalism and the legal issues that surround the profession,’ Prof. Ricketson asserts.

‘Major media outlets continue to put a premium on investigative journalism because the public puts a premium on it,’ he adds, but that doesn’t solve the complex conundrum of how to pay for it.

‘Investigative journalism is important, demanding and sometimes dangerous work, but the problem remains that it takes a lot of time and money to produce and we currently lack the business model to support and sustain it.

‘At the same time, it would be fair to say that investigative journalism has sparked recent, momentous enquiries. If the creation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse isn’t an exemplar of the importance of investigative journalism, I don’t know what is.’

Considering a career in journalism? Learn from those with their finger firmly on the pulse of this dynamic sector at Deakin. Find out more about studying journalism at Deakin.

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Prof. Matthew Ricketson
Prof. Matthew Ricketson

Professor of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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