Support Independent Journalism


University students interested in pursuing journalism for a living are entering a media industry that is incapable of supporting them with suitable employment to maintain a basic standard of living.

There has been a fundamental structural change in the way in which the information needs of society are served. News media for most of the last century appeared to be one relatively simple business – the gathering of an audience by providing content, including news, and sell the attention of the audience to advertisers. The internet and its applications have dismantled the traditional business model. 

As any householder can attest, the audience no longer assembles in the same concentrations. The family no longer gathers around the television news. Most homes have multiple screens and news is absorbed as it happens. “Appointment television” is nearly dead, at least for those under 50. At the same time, the technology has torn apart the two businesses – advertising and news that used to be bound together by the physical artefact of the newspaper. Once, those who wanted to find a house, a job or a car had to buy a newspaper to read the classifieds. Now, it is cheaper and more efficient to advertise and search online, with not a single journalist’s salary to be paid (The Guardian, 2017).

The public interest roles of journalism are not only performed by people who identify primarily as journalists. Engaged citizens and professionals from diverse fields can contribute to many of these roles, and increased public interest journalism is performed in collaboration with communities and networks.

It is clear that the digital revolution has resulted in a significant change in the business model of the media economy. Digital publishing has evolved into a growth industry, with the ease of access to mobile screens, blogs, online pages and podcasts. The huge shift to mobile, the resurrection of podcasts and an explosion of blogs has morphed a whole new industry. Media companies have had to realise that their existing content and revenue models require radical change to become more diverse.

As a result, as many as 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in Australia in the past decade, the vast majority of which have come from newspaper newsrooms (New Beats Research Team, 2018).

Diana Bossio (2012) mentions that traditional cadetships are no longer an entry point for most graduate journalists.

Fairfax Media suspended traineeships in 2008, but now offer approximately 20 positions across five publications.

There is simply not enough digital or print revenue to pay for public interest journalism.

An analysis of the 2017 graduate outcomes survey, revealed concerns that universities are enrolling too many young people and failing to adequately prepare them for any available opportunities post-graduation. Of the 512 journalism graduates surveyed, just 26.1% were subsequently employed in the industry. Despite the number of jobs in the industry seemingly decreasing, the number of young people signing up for pricey courses has remained stable (Thorne, 2018). 

As journalism transitions to new business models, sustainable funding streams require a combination of government, market and private funding. Many entrepreneurs are now experimenting in the hope of filling the void. Digital sites, public access channels and regional television stations are reaching new audiences on new platforms.

There are two critical elements of subsidy schemes that are protected from government interference and corporate abuse. The first element is that subsidies are disbursed by an independent statutory commission, where the responsibility is delegated to a nominated industry organisation. The second element is that subsidies are allocated according to explicit and objective criteria (Greenwell, 2017).

The 2017 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index presented five overseas countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands – where their respective governments provide direct subsidies to news media organisations. Subsidy regimes are approximately half a century old and have endured the democratic process of elected governments (Greenwell, 2017). 

Johan Lidberg (2017) highlighted that in mature liberal democracies, government funding for public interest journalism does not stipulate government influence in media reporting.

The priority for Government is to continually and appropriately finance, both public and independent media organisations to a level that enables them to consistently produce public interest journalism. An ongoing independent repository is needed to support the creation of content until market-financed journalism has adapted and transitioned to evolved and sustaining business models.

Sustainable funding models will be a combination of government, market and private altruistic funding. As Lidberg (2017) points out, there are a number of already functioning international models: 

  • The most obvious indirect funding model is to exempt public interest journalism companies from GST and payroll taxes.
  • A second requirement is to make donations to such journalistic organisations tax-deductible to encourage private altruism.
  • Another requirement is to introduce a version of the low-profit, limited liability corporations (L3Cs) that exist in the US and the UK. L3Cs are businesses that produce a social good. Investments in such companies receive various tax breaks/offsets.
  • A fourth requirement is to introduce a government-funded operational fund/subsidy that is available to public interest journalism ventures. This could include a special grant for start-up companies.

It is important to point out that for over a century, journalism has been supported via printing and distribution subsidies (Lidberg, 2017). A Government supported production fund for public interest journalism is required to encourage innovation and experimentation in digital journalism, especially in regional and rural Australia and other under-served communities or areas and for coverage of under-represented topics.

Government-funded subsidies tend to work in much the same way as the election funding provided through Electoral Commissions. As with election funding, there is no complacency about the possibility that public assistance to the news industry could be abused. But like election funding, there is every reason to be confident that the risk can be managed satisfactorily (Greenwell, 2017). Additionally, Universities that offer a Journalism School Degree will need to be cautious about the standard of practical teaching and the advertisements of Course Profiles to prospective students regarding employment outcomes in the field.


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