Graduating during Australia’s ‘journalism doomsday’

How do graduate journalists wade the waters of an Australian mediascape falling apart at the seams?

On May 15, in a rushed panic to send off a passable essay and crack open a bottle of bubbles, I submitted my final assignment. A simple click at seven-something o’clock marked the anticlimactic end of a four-and-a-half year Arts and Media Communications degree at the University of Sydney. The next day I woke up feeling mildly hungover, and majorly lost. I had no plans, we’re in the midst of a pandemic (and now officially a recession), and in this brave new world I was considering pursuing a career in journalism.

My original 2020 plan was to finish my degree on exchange in Edinburgh, followed by a post-degree backpacking galivant in Europe until September. I hoped, after getting the possibly misplaced eagerness for crummy, expensive hostels out of my system, and all my savings spent, I would return home ready to get a job and graduate to true adulthood. Alas, after two months in Scotland, I boarded an early flight home with a backpack of antibacterial wipes and hand sanny. As I sat on the plane while my neighbour coughed into her elbow, I began to comprehend the reality of global lockdown.

the general population, from the police to the government, seem to hold journalists in absolute contempt

I hoped maybe my time away would be something like a twenty-three-year-old backpacker’s naïve version of ‘eat-pray-love’, as pathetic as that sounds. I wanted time and space to make decisions about my future. Did I really want to be thrown into the fiery pits of the Australian media? Pre-pandemic, there were already so many reasons not to pursue journalism.

From year one of my degree my lecturers did a great job of explaining to us everything wrong with journalism today: the increasingly precarious and exploitable work conditions, the high stakes and low pay, the extremely competitive and network-driven work environment, and the integrity of the field being steadily undermined by the monetary dictatorship of clicks and ideological media conglomerates.

And let’s not forget, (this one I learned just by observation) that the general population, from the police to the government, seem to hold journalists in absolute contempt.

Why put myself in a position under the public eye where, if I were to succeed or put out anything of substance, I’d likely be abusively trolled online?

(This is just an exemplar – this is not me assuming I will be the future Leigh Sales).

By making even the tiniest of mistakes, or alternatively digging too deeply into classified information, journalists risk being sued, harassed, fired from their jobs, publicly shamed, and even imprisoned. The Australian Federal Police’s raids on the ABC and Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst in 2019, followed by the media campaign “Your Right to Know”, indicates an underlying intolerance for press freedom and investigative journalism in this country.

Then, there’s the terrifying reality of journalism’s disintegration propelled into overdrive as a result of Covid-19.

During university I grew a deep appreciation for journalism’s essential role: holding the powerful to account and serving the public interest with the all-mighty weapon of truth-telling

Pre-Covid, a struggling press was evident in Fairfax job cuts and its eventual merge with Nine, along with the ongoing government cuts to ABC funding. Then in March this year the closure of the Australian Associate Press newswire service was announced, its Chief Executive Bruce Davidson blaming our growing appetite for free online content. This was followed by announced closures of Buzzfeed Australia, 10 Daily and more than a hundred Newscorp community and regional newspapers.

More than 150 newsrooms have closed in Australia in the last 18 months.

A high school friend on the weekend, who is now a sports journalist, admitted to me that many of his colleagues were telling each other, “Don’t let your kids become journalists.”

To be fair, good journalism probably won’t disappear. It will just be small and available enough for the tiny minority that are willing to pay for it. And for everyone else, maybe they will just have to settle for AI generated headlines.

With these dismal prospects it’s easy to forget why I value journalism in the first place, as I instead ponder a master’s degree or a corporate grad program. However, amidst the Black Lives Matter protests occurring in the United States and globally, and the proliferation of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic, I’m also reminded of why I came to the conclusion that journalism was, perhaps, the coolest job ever.

During university I grew a deep appreciation for journalism’s essential role: holding the powerful to account and serving the public interest with the all-mighty weapon of truth-telling. Observing my teachers and the journalists at my internships, I came to admire the intelligence, determination and the sheer amount of responsibility these people carry in delivering us the news.

When almost every day feels like another doomsday, good journalism seems to matter quite substantially.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you have any job leads, hit me up.

Nell Cohen is completing her degree in Arts (Media and Communications) at the University of Sydney, and is now looking for a job.

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