student life

Exactly what does tomorrow’s journalist look like?

W.B. Yeats once commented: “I hate journalists.  There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness…the shallowest people on the ridge of the earth”.

W.B. Yeats once commented: “I hate journalists.  There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness…the shallowest people on the ridge of the earth”. Martha Gellhorn described her own moral struggle with working in the industry. Though a noted war correspondent, she was uncomfortable with the implications of her role, describing herself as a “profiteer”, earning a living from war. In light of the Leveson Inquiry and discussions on press ethics, today’s journalists are certainly questioning and struggling to define the ethical boundaries of the job.

But in an increasingly competitive industry, with a dwindling market, future journalists must add to this the difficulty of making money at all, as well as the moral implications of how they gain their earnings. In a recent interview with Lyn Gardner, the Guardian theatre critic told me that as far back as ten years ago, she already felt “like a dodo on the verge of extinction”.

The media market may be thriving, and the Internet certainly provides a great platform for journalism, but paradoxically as journalism progresses, journalists diminish. Social media and blogs provide a platform for anyone and everyone to write – allowing an increasing engagement with the media but also providing no filter on who writes, the views they express, and the standard of quality.

However, this does have its perk for the journalist who is fortunate enough to secure a job. As Lyn Gardner told me, she now feels like she’s more of a community. Gardner explained that in the past, if a reader wanted to communicate with her it would most probably have to be via written correspondence.

This stifles debate and interaction. Now, however, Gardner and other journalists thrive on the online hubs their writing generates. “My experience has been that many of the readers are as, and in some cases more informed and authoritative on particular aspects or issues, than I might be. That can only be good for journalism”, said Gardner.

This does sound like an exciting time for journalists, to be able to engage with the public in a way that has only recently become possible. A time for the ‘citizen journalist’, as Gardner called it. According to Clay Shirky, of New York University’s Journalism Institute, the last ten years of good journalism in the US has been based on the data now available to journalists. Shirky believes that for tomorrow’s journalist, data journalism will be a key element to their work, and I have to say I agree. Our obsession for image driven media and our desire for statistics will make numerical literacy a must for future journalists.

However, there is one crucial problem to this new age of journalism: little promise of a pay cheque at the end of the month. As I said, journalism may be thriving and progressing in an impressive way that allows us to interact with each other as never before, but it also has harrowing implications for print forms and journalists across the spectrum.

A recent article by Alex Pareene highlighted the plight of local papers, and the crucial, unique role they play in the community and local politics. Local papers hold local government to account, and if people are unaware of what is going on in their local community, politicians can take advantage of this ignorance to do as they wish with little public scrutiny. As Pareene commented, many Americans now have a “better sense of what’s going on in Syria than in their state capital” and the same seems to hold true for communities in Britain.

Of course the fall in newspaper sales is worrying, but what I find most worrying is that fact that the prioritising of free digital media over purchased print is equally prevalent amongst aspiring journalists. At a recent career event for wannabe journos at my University, one guest journalist asked the audience how many of us had bought a newspaper that week, either in print or tablet form. Tragically, from an audience of over 100 supposedly aspiring journalists, just ten raised their hands.

How can we complain about a lack of jobs when we ourselves are helping to remove the industry that we aspire to join?