News

Title

Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay

John Conyngham writes

In a challenging address on a provocative topic, Dr Robert Picard, Hamrin Professor of Media Economics at the Jonkoping International Business School in Sweden, showed how trends in contemporary communication are setting up a range of problems for news and information media, at the heart of which is the de-skilling and de-professionalizing of journalism.

To fully understand the implications of this trend, Picard explained the need to consider the value of moral and economics philosophy. Moral philosophy presupposes that things and activities have an intrinsic or instrumental value, and that, in terms of this, journalism has no value in itself but only in as much as it can help enlighten others. Economic philosophy, on the other hand, is concerned with how economic value is created and exchanged, and how the finished product must be of more value than its parts.

Journalism should therefore help individuals to understand their place in the world, give them a sense of belonging, and help them express their own ideas .In the past, such services produced significant economic value but today this is diminishing rapidly because there is a far wider range of sources of news and information. Consequently, all that journalists nowadays can claim to contribute is the underlying value of their labour, which is almost worthless.

Picard then asked how journalism can produce economic value. For a start, it should be acknowledged that journalists are not knowledge workers, like professionals with a unique base of knowledge, but are instead the gatherers and purveyors of knowledge. Specifically, these functions and skills are accessing sources, determining the significance of information, and conveying it effectively.

Today, these functions and skills are being severely challenged because advances in technology are allowing consumers to bypass the role traditionally played by journalists and to access news for themselves. Examples of these accessible sources are 24-hour news and information channels, talk shows and the Internet. Software, like spelling, grammar and translation aids, is also providing individuals with the means to go it alone.

So with journalism now commoditized, asked Picard, what's to become of its practitioners? Because average journalists share interchangeable skills, they are easily replaceable, but specialists like cartoonists and certain columnists remain more marketable. However, because journalists have traditionally considered what they do to be of value in itself, and because they have always sought to separate business and editorial functions, they now find themselves in the difficult position of having to understand value creation at a time when their jobs are under threat.

So what must be done? If journalism is to survive, journalists must find a way to create new means of gathering, processing and distributing information. Picard emphasised that this is not just a matter of embracing new technologies but that journalists and managers must somehow work together to find a solution. Journalists will also need to acquire entrepreneurial and innovation skills that will enable them to lead change rather than merely respond to it. Picard's conclusion was sombre: if journalists don’t find a way to provide more value, their careers will become ever more limited as the organisations that employ them wither and die.

Download the full address here

Read Robert Picard's opinion piece on why journalists deserve low pay in the The Christian Science Monitor

Read an interview with Robert Picard on the Telegraph website