As part of my studies at the University of Melbourne, I got the chance to tour The Age’s Offices in Docklands.
As an aspiring young journalist, I couldn’t have been more excited to see what working for a major news outlet is really like.
But the tour was not what I expected.
We were shown around the office by Data Journalism guru Craig Butt, who brought us to the editorial training room first.
He said that he received much of his writing training in this humble little room and after I spent a few minutes absorbing my surroundings, the Weekday Print Editor, Mark Fuller, entered the room.
Fighting the urge to drop to my knees and beg him to hire me on the spot, I listened intently to his summary of the paper’s daily operations.
Image Credit: Ciaran O’Mahony
It turns out that being the Editor of Melbourne’s biggest newspaper is pretty demanding. Shocking, I know!
But what Fuller said about the current state of the paper really got my attention.
He said that the deadline for story submissions at The Age has been shortened over the last decade due to decreasing print circulation.
These days, staff generally submit their stories by 5 pm, although hard news stories can sometimes be submitted by 6:30-7:00 pm.
Submission deadlines have changed because The Age’s print works in Tullamarine was shut down a decade ago and the paper has done it’s printing off-site ever since.
The demand for news print has been declining for some time, according to Fuller, who said that printing at the old plant was no longer viable due to rapidly decreasing sales.
Australian circulation figures for 2016 confirm this, showing that The Age’s circulation dropped by 9.6%, or over 90,000 papers.
It’s not just an Australian problem either. In the US, print newspaper circulation has decreased for 28 consecutive years, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Why are Newspaper Sales on the Slide?
I felt a brief sense of outrage about this, before I realised that I am part of the problem.
That very morning, I consumed half a dozen news articles on my phone. I had even popped in to a 7/11, brushing past the newspaper stall without giving it a second glance.
Why bother when I have everything I need at the touch of a button?
SOURCE: PICTURE YOUTH. AVAILABLE UNDER CC BY 2.0. FIND HERE.
The paper is struggling for that very reason and it’s little wonder that many experts have argued that the death of the newspaper is imminent.
Although The Age has gradually adapted to the digital era, this has come at the expense of many staff.
Last year Fairfax Media cut 125 of its editors, a whopping 25% of its total editorial staff.
In 2011, the company had 1,000 editorial staff on the books. By the end of 2017, it had 375.
Butt estimated that there are around 50% less staff at The Age now than there were when he started working there a few years ago.
He also pointed out that in 2009, The Age owned 6 floors of the building we were in. It now owns just one- Floor 7.
Fewer staff is a significant problem when you consider that there are now far fewer eyeballs on story drafts.
The Reduction of staff has definitely created more blind spots, according to Butt, as the paper no longer has reporters who specialise in key areas such as legal affairs or the environment.
Specialist reporters are a luxury at this point. The reporters who remain work across both digital and print.
Fuller and Butt say that this has caused a lot of stress around the office as they battle to maintain the accuracy of stories.
After that thoroughly unsettling discussion, we were introduced to Henrietta Cook, the Education Editor.
Despite being the Editor of the entire Education section, she is not currently overseeing any staff- Another example of extensive cutbacks.
Cook writes four or five stories a week herself and says that she writes for The Age’s website first and foremost, rather than the print edition.
It’s clear that the paper is stretched and it cannot cover certain areas as widely as it used to.
That’s a big problem when you consider that news and information is travelling faster than ever thanks to social media.
Indeed, we can access information so quickly and easily now that there is increasing pressure on news outlets to report events and facts as soon as they occur.
There is an even greater expectation that they will report and provide us with a deeper understanding of events in real-time.
On the positive side, the paper has made solid progress towards digitisation. Its website is one of the most popular news sites in the state.
Given that our oldest and most trusted news sources are now moving online, and now charging online subscriptions fees, they may eventually be able to bounce back.
However, it remains to be seen whether they will ever be what they once were.
So are my hopes of becoming a journalist with stable, full-time work, now a pipe dream?
Stay tuned for my upcoming podcast, where I speak to experts from RMIT’s Department of Media and Communications, to interrogate this issue further.
Is Journalism a dying profession? Or is it still a viable option for passionate graduates?
Check out my next blog to find out!