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Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom
HR Apprentice. Ex Media Studies student at Swansea University. This blog is a collection of links, articles, academic reference and random thoughts.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Why on earth would anyone contemplate a career in Journalism in the 21st Century?

To contemplate a career in journalism in the 21st Century there are many factors to take into account. As in any career, there are positive and negative influences and these need careful exploration before an informed decision can be made. These pros and cons need to be carefully balanced before one can even begin to think about a career in this field. Research into what the job entails and what would be expected from a prospective trainee is vital to get a full perspective of all aspects.

The word journalism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "a person who writes for newspapers or magazines, or, prepares news and features for radio or television." A survey for Journalist Forum (2002, Hold the Front Page) shows the number of journalists in the UK in 2002 as 70 000, predicted to rise to an estimated 90 000 by 2010. These statistics prove that journalism is certainly attracting new employees as the figure is increasing at a substantial rate. The job is so diverse; it is difficult to attach an actual job description because the nature of reporting news changes on a daily basis.

The 24 hour news network that we have in the UK means that the working environment has an unpredictable unstructured chaotic schedule. The hours are long and irregular for a career which demands a fast–moving turnover of stories which need constant updating. This in turn may affect your social life and family commitment s as more time is devoted into investigating and following up news events. Reporter Paul Jones for The Citizen newspaper describes his average day as “juggling 3 stories [...] making routine calls, driving 10 miles to knock on someone’s door to be told to go away - every day.” (www.bbc.co.uk)This would certainly demand a high level of patience.

According to the National Council for the Training of Journalists (2005) the salary for a top level reporter or editor can be as high as £100 000 per year although it is takes determination, persistence and an extremely thick skin to achieve this financial reward. An average trainee starts out, on, between eight and twelve thousand pounds per year rising to fifteen thousand with experience. As there are many freelance journalists, this may not be a fixed wage or regular salary so it could mean that mortgage and pension prospects are dramatically reduced due to the competition from others. Job security may not be guaranteed for many freelance journalists. This along with tight deadlines and an ever growing demand for next exclusive story, all add up to immense pressure facing the modern journalists in the UK today.

In addition to the intense pressure and competition, journalists face challenges in many aspects of their work. They may have to encounter high levels of traumatic or potentially explosive situations as was in the case of the Tsunami disaster in Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004. The personal tales of tragedy in that event had been unprecedented although the remarkable stories of survival and courage gave a balance to the terrible scene that journalists may have encountered. These situations may impact scars on reporters which could lead to future mental health problems. Journalists need to be mentally and physically fit to deal with the situation in an objective way. If a reporter becomes personally affected, judgement becomes clouded and a story may become one-sided and biased. The need to be able to separate the facts in that situation becomes harder, and the truth can sometimes become distorted.

In our current political climate there requires a diplomatic attitude to ensure that our news is fair and politically correct. The UK constitution is based on Freedom of Speech but in the case of government censorship, misrepresentations and moralities which have to be considered. As the government use the media to put their views across careful thought needs to go into the story, to present a balanced uptake.It has not been unheard of for the government distort the truth through the media for their own political gain. The use of the media as a propaganda weapon since before the First World War has been widely documented. Information broadcasted at times of conflict does not always reflect the truth as the intention is to make the enemy aware of the facts that the war cabinet wants them to believe.

The dangerous situations in which the bravery of journalists is tested to the limit can often be life-threatening. Statistics on the internet (International Federation of Journalists, 2005) state that since the commencement of the conflict in Iraq in 2003, 99 journalists and media workers have been killed.. Another 112 journalists are imprisoned across the world as a result of the nature of their job include 31 in China, 6 in Burma and even 1 – Judith Miller of the New York Times - in the United States of America for failing to reveal the identity of a CIA informant. In Afghanistan, where 9 journalists were killed in 2001, the Taliban began expelling foreign journalists and some showed extreme courage as they were being smuggled into the country dressed as women in order to report the situation.

The impact of news on our society can have dramatic effect on society and is one of the reasons why the career can be so appealing. When Michael Buerke and cameraman Mohammed Amin brought the plight of millions of starving Ethiopians in a famine of biblical proportions to British screens in 1984, the action taken by people who were inspired to change the situation was unprecedented. The news report was watched by millions and the horror of what was happening in Addis Ababa reached into people’s living rooms. Bob Geldof was also watching the report and was so moved by what he saw; he set up what became the biggest fund raising event of our time – Live Aid. Twenty years later the news report still touched lives as the Make Poverty History (2005) campaign was introduced.

The ability to highlight crises such as these and place them in the heart of society’s consciousness, is remarkable, and can surely one of the most rewarding aspects of a journalistic career. The chance to bring change, offer hope and make a difference to people’s lives is certainly an attractive incentive to any would be reporter. Journalists can connect to society and communities, and encourage debate, in order to bring reform or resistance in a socially responsible way. this can make up for the less rewarding down sides of the job, which according to a survey carried out by BBC Gloucester are the hours, traumatic situations and animosity from the public who see journalists as interfering or intruding on their privacy. The words such as “huge, horrendous hectic and intensive” were used to describe the negative aspects of their jobs. However the plus side was described as “fast-moving, exciting stimulating and diverse.” Highlights of the job were reported as “unique experiences, meeting interesting people and making a difference to people’s lives.”
In conclusion, although the job has many downfalls the chance to make people s awareness of social injustices and offering the hope of change, makes this career stand out over others. If you work hard, have determination and persistence your success in journalism will bring a personal sense of pride and achievement. The chance of seeing your name in print next to the story which you researched and wrote yourself may be the most attractive reason for contemplating a career in journalism.

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