Journalism leaders must help newcomers get their foot in the door

With opportunities drying up, the importance of philanthropic support for journalism is more essential than ever before, writes Anita Jacoby.

I’ve always believed the strength of our democracy is principally founded on the quality of our journalism and the pursuit of truth. Great journalism gives a voice to the voiceless and is the watchdog of society. It’s been a mantra since I started as a rookie news reporter at NBN3 in Newcastle in the early 1980s and throughout a career as a producer for many current affairs programs, including 60 Minutes, Sunday and Witness with Jana Wendt.

Fortunately, I grew up in a household where we discussed the state of the world: apartheid, Nixon and Watergate, the ethics of test tube babies. My father was like a wise old owl. ‘Why do you think they are doing that?’ Then, ‘If in doubt, follow the money,’ he’d advise, trying to get me to understand people’s deeper motivations. ‘What is the rationale behind you saying that?’ was another question he would regularly ask, to help me learn to think critically about the world. It was these many conversations with my father which led me on the path to journalism.

He was the first in a number of influential role models who backed me in the early days. The doyen of current affairs Peter Meakin was another. I had been supervising producer at Today and Meakin knew my skills through this role. Meakin and the legendary journalist Ian Frykberg ensured I got the proverbial ‘foot in the door’ as a producer at 60 Minutes when it was the highest rating and most coveted show on air.

I’ve always been keenly aware how incestuous the media industry is. It’s all about networking and who you know. If you don’t have the right contacts it’s almost impossible to get a look in, no matter how talented or skilled you might be.

Making opportunities possible for fledgling journalists is something that is part of my DNA. So, in 2012 I approached Louisa Graham – then general manager of the Walkley Foundation and now its chief executive. We discussed establishing an annual scholarship for young broadcast journalists, in memory of my father Phillip Jacoby, who pioneered the advent of the electronics industry and was at the forefront of the introduction of television technology. At the time the fourth estate was starting to comprehend the corrosive effects of digital disruption, with pockets of journalists losing their jobs. Today the best estimates show around 3000 journalism jobs across platforms have been lost in the past five years.

With opportunities drying up – particularly for those at the beginning of their careers – both Louisa and I recognised the importance of philanthropic support for journalism. In 2013 the first Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship was offered to journalism students keen to get a foothold in the broadcast industry. We partnered with the Nine Network to offer the scholarship winner a unique opportunity: eight weeks working across the newsroom, Today, A Current Affair and a month at my ‘alma mater’, 60 Minutes. I know just how tough it is to get a gig there, so to get a month on such a high-profile show learning about long-form storytelling is an unbelievably good opportunity.

The winner would also receive an industry training course at the Australian Film TV & Radio School, as well as working with the Walkley Foundation for a month, getting an insider’s view of the Awards judging, alongside a panel of senior journalists. And we made sure from day one scholarship winners would be paid a weekly stipend for the duration of the 12-week scholarship. None of this working for months on end as free ‘work experience’ labour with nothing to show for it.

Now in its seventh year, the scholarship has given tangible career growth for the eight winners and many of the finalists. Budding journos who would likely have struggled to get a look in otherwise. Part of its value is that it is judged by esteemed and experienced journalists, building connections for the applicants’ career development down the track. The 2017 winner, Lydia Bilton, spent a year working at 60 Minutes driving social media before taking up a role as an associate news producer at Nine. Last year’s joint winners, Amber Schultz and Ben Ansell, both also now work at Nine – Amber as an assistant producer for 9 News and Ben as a financial reporter at 9 Digital.

In the US, Harvard University’s NeimanLab reported in June ‘the state of the journalism industry might be much more tattered right now if not for philanthropic dollars helping to sustain national and local news outlets.’ News outlets like ProPublica and the Centre for Investigative Reporting are thriving thanks largely to an injection of not-for-profit dollars. There’s a changing attitude in Australia towards philanthropic support thanks in part to the announcement by Judith Neilson to fund a $100m institute in Sydney to support evidence-based journalism. Slowly in this confusing world of ‘fake news’, we’re seeing wider recognition that traditional forms of journalism need champions, not just critics.

I’m one of them. I’m committed to championing the fourth estate and putting my dollars where my mouth is. This industry has been incredibly good to me – both professionally and financially – and I feel compelled to put something tangible back. I challenge others who have been fortunate in their careers to do the same.
Applications for the 2019 Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship open today.

Anita Jacoby is an award-winning producer, associate member of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and company director.


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