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The making of a journalist

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Today’s journalists have to have a wider skill set because of the number of platforms on which news appears. It used to be the pen and notepad but now, video and audio training is vital.

In the concluding part of his investigation, Fabian Pierre reports on training and standards in the media.

Two weeks ago, Dr Amery Browne spoke up for journalists in Parliament, while debating the Libel and Defamation (Amendment) Bill.

Media workers risk life and limb for stories and yet are paid poorly, said Browne, the Diego Martin Central MP. “They are paid very, very small salaries. And that encourages them to moonlight, lots of other things.” 



Standards and education


T&T Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond said local media houses are unwilling to pay the salaries that are commensurate with the education of university graduates who are necessary in the media industry. The industry also faces the challenge, Raymond said, of graduates never considering a career in mainstream news media.


“The fact the bar isn’t set high enough in terms of entry level is one reason why standards are not what they should be,” Raymond said. The former Matt VP added that T&T is in need of journalists who possess experience, understanding and confidence to put to public officials and others the kind of questions the media need to ask on behalf on the public.


“We need more journalists with the ability to produce analysis and commentary, not simply to write down what public officials say,” Raymond said.


Offering an alternative view is assignments editor at CCN TV6 Marlan Hopkinson. He told the Guardian that while he agrees that education is important, he believes that a degree in journalism plays a small component in the realities of the day to day operations of a newsroom. “You may have a degree from a university, okay, but that does not mean you have the necessary skills to identify a story, or skills for presenting or announcing,” Hopkinson said. 


He adds that greater collaboration is needed between educational institutions and media houses in order to increase the practical component of their journalism programmes.




Earlier preparation lacking


A recent survey among schools across the country found that most had no school newspaper which would aid in developing the skills needed for journalism. The review of that survey was recently completed by acting undergraduate co-ordinator and lecturer in human communication studies at the UWI, Dr Tia Cooper.


She told the Guardian that a programme in journalism is being developed at the UWI and holds that both the views of Judy Raymond and Marlan Hopkinson are correct. Most of what is needed, she says, is a convergence of theory and practice to encourage a more holistic approach to journalism, adding that critical thinking is key to identifying a story as well as attitude, and the critical thinking component comes from English literature. 


“Traditional models of journalism do not take into account individuals having the ability to think critically, write with high levels of proficiency and present news in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking,” Cooper said, which she believes opens the door to new ways of learning and understanding for multiple audiences. For this to occur, Cooper said, English literature must be implemented at a wider level than it is at present at an earlier stage of education.


There’s a very high turnover of staff at media houses. While some who have moved into other fields name salary as the catalyst, other issues also influence their decisions.


Maurisa Findlay, now corporate communications manager at the Housing Development Corporation, said a lack of mobility spurred her decision to leave the Trinidad Express.


Findlay worked in several positions there and says advancement was her largest problem.


“I found that after a while you would find an editor is an editor for life, and there came a point for me when there was no reasonable expectation that there would be advancement to a particular post of seniority, even with achievement. Only if a vacancy presented itself would there be an opening,” Findlay said. As for the hours involved, she said she never worked with hours in mind, rather with the thought that “It must be done.” The hours that journalists work, Findlay said, are always a shock to the public.



Chairman of the Department of Journalism and Media at the College of Science, Technology, and Applied Arts (Costaatt) Joel Nanton agrees that media workers are paid low wages, but says those who are entering the field now are better paid than they would have been some years ago.


“I agree that a student with a degree in journalism should be paid a decent wage on entry, but definitely not highly paid. They should first gain some experience, and then things can be looked at.” 


Nanton says Costaatt’s programmes at the Ken Gordon School of Journalism and Communication Studies have been tailored to include a heavy component of practical work, via internships at media houses at a minimum of 120 hours. 


“In this way, they are better prepared to enter into the field, having had a taste of what it is really like in a newsroom, as opposed to the heavily theoretical side,” Nanton concluded.


Vaneisha Baksh worked in print media in T&T for years before becoming editor of the UWI Today magazine. She told the Guardian she believes the need for training and development is necessary, but more critically the training must be structured to suit the facets of each division in a newsroom.


“For example, television is an evolving thing. I see a lot of news programmes using gimmicks that mimic what is seen in a North American model, and that may be fine, but what happens is that the depth is lacking in the locally copied model. 


“Investing in keeping a certain standard is critical,” she said.



The future


Managers respond:


Former chairman of CCN Ken Gordon spoke with the Guardian and said while he is not up to date on media salaries, he acknowledged that at one point there was a fairly wide gap between journalists and other professionals’ salaries. 


“But great effort has been made to reduce that gap, but there are special cases whereby those who are specially skilled or specially trained may be treated uniquely,” Gordon said. 


Managing director at Guardian Media Ltd Gabriel Faria said he doesn’t believe that journalists at the Guardian are poorly paid, and every industry has its individual scale of measure.
“If someone were a corporate communications manager for a large company, for example, by nature that job would pay better than a reporter at a newspaper. But if someone were to become corporate communications manager in a bank, it doesn’t mean they would make more.” 
Several calls to the Express’s editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder and head of news at CCN TV6 Dominic Kalipersad were not returned, nor were calls to the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association.



However, Gordon has echoed the statements of Costaatt’s Joel Nanton that stronger relationships are needed between educational institutions and media houses. But Gordon says Costaatt has “made great strides in doing so.” Educators from both Costaatt and the UWI hope that as their programmes evolve, they will produce a holistically-trained journalist who embodies the qualities outlined by media workers, managers, unions and associations that moves the industry forward both professionally and in compensation.


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