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New media presents opportunity for journalism students

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5 April 2011

Bill Birnbauer
Bill Birnbauer

By Bill Birnbauer.

The way we learn of news events has changed dramatically in the past 10 years due to the extraordinary growth of the internet and the ability of people to select their preferred news providers from multiple sources as well as contribute their own material online.

We know this has seriously, and most likely, irreversibly impacted the circulation of mainstream newspapers and the audiences of the 6pm television news bulletins.  It’s a novelty to see a young person reading a newspaper on the train these days.

The  editorial budgets of mainstream media organisations have been squeezed  by the ‘free’ availability of news on the internet and the consequent declines in revenue as advertisers book elsewhere. In the United States particularly, and to a lesser extent here, mainstream media have cut reporting staff and resources as well as the space devoted to news.

How to fill the resultant void in quality journalism? In the US, philanthropists concerned about the accountability of government institutions have enthusiastically supported non-profit investigative reporting centres, several of which are located in universities.

Journalism students are well placed to undertake serious quality reporting under staff supervision. Universities are free of corporate and government pressure that can be applied to publishers dependent on advertising or government licences. Students also have the increasingly-rare luxury of time to undertake research to produce journalism rather than what The Guardian’s Nick Davies has called ‘churnalism’: my investigative students have 12 weeks to research one story. Furthermore, students have access to experts across many disciplines. 

It is a sign of the times, that following the recent launch of ‘Dangerous Ground’, a website produced by Monash University’s investigative journalism students, that editors from content-hungry mainstream and online media groups expressed interest in collaborating in future productions. For the students, the prospect of being published transforms the tasks of interviewing, locating documents, developing sources and meeting deadlines from one of popping blanks to working with live ammunition. 

Bill Birnbauer is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University and an award-winning journalist, with more than 30 years experience at The Age, The Sunday Age and The Herald.