Hi, I'm Ben Hazell. I used to blog here about the media, but now I work there I don't write here anymore.
I'm the Web Publishing Editor at - I find better ways to tell stories, developing tools, training and practice for journalists.

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The Blog

Rarely updated now, used during Journalism MA at the University of Sheffield.

Fax Operators

Monday, 19 November 2007
The BBC recently celebrated ten years of it's News website.
As part of a series of features about online news, they asked some 'leading lights' for comments about the future of news. This was my favourite, from Toby Young.

"If I were a young person embarking on a career today, there's no way I'd go into journalism. You might as well train as a professional fax machine operator."

Which is a lovely thing to read as a trainee journalist. I particularly enjoyed the way the unnamed BBC writer undermined Toby's comments, introducing him as being uncertain and disorientated by technology. It's a cheap shot at a man volunteering himself as a target, but Young's provocative warning seems to have touched a nerve. I know he stamped on mine.
When I look at media news I see sweeping job cuts, dropping audience figures and the growth of a medium that nobody can reliably make a profit from. Even as an online news trainee, future prospects can seem a little bleak. News organisations aren’t investing in journalism, but in technology that enables the audience to share information between themselves.

In some respects, a lot of middle-men are being cut out as the news goes straight from witness to audience. But everyone knows that the rise of citizen journalism can't completely remove the need for real journalists. Audience participation can't kill the news media, but we're waiting to see how badly it can hurt it. In the end there are many things that can only be done by professionals, and these roles will continue. But we know there will be losses along the way. In the UK, the early dominance of the BBC online over the newspaper websites is creating a difficult market for competition and diversity. In many media organisations the wasteful division of newsgathering for different platforms is ending as fewer journalists are increasingly expected to adopt multiple roles.


As a young person embarking on a career today I'm well aware of this, and honestly, this is what excites me about it. The competition for roles might be tougher, but I don't think it's radical to suggest that passionate young people with an inate grasp of the possibilities might have an edge to compete with seasoned reporters. Experience is discounted as the rules of the game change. The unions might be struggling, but the trainees are rolling in to fill the gaps.

This might not be the best far-future outlook for our bright-eyed young trainees, but given the speed of progress, worrying about the future seems a useless task. Right now, the media is alive with possibility. Traditional roles might change and mutate, but it's the young trainees who can take advantage, survive and prosper. Training as a journalist now involves core skills and forward thinking.

As for Toby Young, we only have to look at his own example. In the 90's he went right ahead and did his own thing with the Modern Review, outside the conventions of ordinary journalism. There has to be self-belief in anyone entering a new and changing field. I could be wrong about everything, but the beauty of youth is that your dreams are yet to be crushed.

So thanks for the warning Toby, but I honestly think we've got it covered.

(That said, in a previous job I was the first person to coax the busy office fax machine out of it's incessant, attention seeking beeping. So maybe that's a good career path too.)


George X.J. Sun said...

As to the our web journalistic courses, I think it is very embarrassing for every one of us to define his identity as a journalist.
For one thing,Internet journalism, in a sense, is not so professional as the traditional ones. Providing one possesses of computer skills and some widgets, he can instantly turn to be a web journalist effortlessly. The boundary between profession and amateur is not so crystal clear as before.
On the other hand, we are not professional computer technicians either. Our computer skills are merely confined within some web softwares but the master of the operation of them can be easily got by oneself.
I'm not a pessimist, but I still want to say the de facto prospects are, so at least it seems to me,somewhat grey and bleak.
Nonetheless, the flexibility and mutuality in the field of journalism will also provide us more opportunities. Moreover, to be a journalistic student doesn't mean that one must choose it as his lifelong career. Confucius said, life is changing all of the time, just as the torrents in the river.

Ben said...

George, I don't agree that we are limited to tech skills - we learn the same core reporting skills as any other form of journalist.
I think any blurring of the boundry is down to the increased profesionalism of amateurs, not any lapse in journalistic practice.
That said, perhaps what our courses provide is recognition, not simply key skills. Sure we could learn many things on our own, but when they are tested and confirmed by a recognised body, then those skills become much more useful.

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