The Future of Work in Journalism

by Jim Stanford

Information industries have lost some 60,000 jobs in Australia in the last 15 years, almost half during the COVID-19 pandemic. And a new research report highlights the need for active policy supports to stabilise the media industry, and protect the public good function of quality journalism.

The new report, The Future of Work in Journalism, was written by Dr. Jim Stanford with the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute. It catalogues the employment and economic damage wrought in media and information industries by the combination of technological change, new business models, and globalisation.

“It is ironic that we supposedly live in an ‘information economy,’ but Australia’s capacity to contribute fully and successfully to that information era is crumbling due to financial losses and massive job destruction,” Stanford said.

Major findings of the report include:

  • 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.
  • 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 part-time, and a growing share 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.

“Workers in these industries are producing more with less, despite the turmoil of technological change, job losses, and restructuring,” Stanford said. “But that extraordinary effort is not translating into more secure or better paid jobs – quite the contrary.”

The report argues that quality journalism is a ‘public good’ in a modern democracy, because of its importance in distributing reliable information (including on emergencies, like the pandemic) to citizens. The failure of private markets to sustainably supply this service (due to corporate concentration, unrestrained ‘free riding’ on content produced by other, and globalisation) necessitates public policy action to stabilise the industry and support continued journalism.

The report makes several suggestions for policy measures to sustain journalism despite those market failures, including publicly-funded journalism, stronger property rights for content-creators, tax reforms, stronger anti-trust regulations (on major digital monopolies like Google and Facebook), and stronger support for training and vocational education in the sector.

The report was commissioned by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union representing journalists and other media workers. Marcus Strom, the MEAA’s Media Federal President, said: “The report makes it clear that years of disruption, undermining and neglect have left Australian journalism and journalists in a fragile state.”

Strom urged the Commonwealth government to step up its support for domestic journalism. ““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 we want that to continue, then there is no time to waste to address the many challenges facing those working in journalism and the entire media industry.”

Full report