Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Newsflash: you get the staff you pay

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BBC leaders are handling the latest scandal quite well so far (and Lord knows, them Britons like their scandals). They’re straightforward with the public, taking a page out of Roy Peter Clark’s “tell the truth about your news organization” philosophy. Notably, there was a segment on Newsnight which drew interesting connections between the evolution of the media job market and the company’s breaches of ethical standards. In short, if you keep hiring cheap, inexperienced people and squeezing them like lemons, it’s bound to come back and bite you in the arse.

Insert context here: The BBC, one of the rare few – let me correct that, the only TV broadcasting institution I still regarded quite highly, news-wise, is taking a hit. Several BBC competitions were found to be faked, with staffers phoning in on their shows instead of the audience and even acting as winners on Comic Relief, Sports Relief, Blue Peter and other shows. More disturbing than pretend entertainment, if you ask me, is the editing magic trick that messed up the chronology of several news clips and ended up showing the queen supposedly walking out on a photo op (she didn’t).

First things first, being young is not an excuse. Of course, staffers should be trained in ethical practices, but it doesn’t take four years of J-school to grow a moral sense. We all know from quite young the kind of honesty we expect as a public, and we don’t forget it just because we switch sides. BBC viewers sure know why they were shocked, and most mustn’t have read Kovach and Rosenstiel.

The second point was much more convincing. People are hired in broadcasting on very short contracts, often working at several places at once, especially early on in their careers. All that for a pittance, of course. Sure, most young journalists are passionate and dedicated, but you’d be surprised how much more dedication they can show on a full stomach and with a little pocket money to go to the pub. If they must line up several part-time jobs and freelance here and there, in a constant state of competition, if they are constantly reminded that they are dispensable, they’re gonna be stretched thin, take shortcuts and make mistakes.

A recruiter once made the point to me that journalists are bound to be poorly paid, compared to their training and the job they do, because most – if not all – are truly passionate about it and would still do it if they were paid in chocolate coins. But they’ll do it tons better if they get the real deal. There’s also a lot to be said for contracts of a decent length, not externalized, that make people truly part of the company they work for and care about the work they do. Every industry knows it must buy the loyalty of its employees. Why should media be any different? Dear Mr. media big boss, you get the staff you deserve, the staff equivalent to its pay and the respect it is shown.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 27 July, 2007 at 09:49

Posted in Ethics, Media business, Television

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