Active Policy Measures Needed to Stop Decline of Journalism

The media and information industries have lost some 60,000 jobs in Australia over the last 15 years. With almost half of those jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows active policy supports are urgently needed to stabilise and protect the ‘public good’ function of journalism.

A new report by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, The Future of Work in Journalism, catalogues the employment and economic damage wrought in media and information industries by the combination of technological change, new business models, and globalisation. The report was commissioned by the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), who are urging the Federal Government to step up its support for Australian domestic journalism.

Key findings:

  • The broader information, media, and telecommunications industry lost over 30,000 jobs between 2007 (its peak employment) and 2019.
  • Publishing was the worst-affected sub-sector, losing over half of its jobs as newspapers and other print media grappled with new technologies and major losses. Almost 30,000 more jobs have also been lost in this sector since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • New jobs in digital activities (such as internet publishing) are not offsetting the loss of work in conventional media.
  • Jobs remaining in the media industry have become more insecure: with almost one-third of positions part-time, and a growing share of casual and contractor positions.
  • Real wages are falling in the media industry, despite a dramatic increase in labour productivity.
  • Real value-added per employee in media industries has been growing at 4% per year since 2012, but real labour compensation has been falling.

“It is ironic that we supposedly live in an ‘information economy’ yet Australia’s capacity to contribute fully and successfully to that information era is crumbling due to financial losses and massive job destruction,” said Dr Jim Stanford, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

“Workers in industries like journalism are producing more than ever despite the turmoil of technological change, job losses and restructuring. But the extraordinary effort by workers is not translating into more secure or better paid jobs—quite the contrary.

“Quality journalism is a public good, with the distribution of reliable information to citizens the key to a well-functioning modern democracy—particularly in times of crisis, like the pandemic. The failure of private markets to sustainably supply this service necessitates public policy action to stabilise the industry and support continued quality journalism,” Dr Stanford said.

Marcus Strom, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s (MEAA) Media Federal President, urged the Commonwealth Government to step-up its support for domestic journalism.

“The report makes clear that years’ of disruption, undermining and neglect have left Australian journalism and journalists in a fragile state,” said Marcus Strom, Media Federal President at the MEAA.

“Public interest journalism is a public good. It informs and entertains Australians, ensures the public’s right to know, and holds the powerful to account. If Australians want that to continue, then there is no time to waste to address the many challenges facing journalism,” Mr Strom said.

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