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Media faces drought of talent

Published on Thursday, 26 May 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

Journalism, as a profession, is facing dreadful times as a significant number of media professionals prepare to jump ship amid career uncertainties.

A recent survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association shows that as many as 30 per cent of media workers are ready to quit within two years because of low salary. About 12 per cent of respondents earn HK$10,000 or less per month while 41 per cent earn HK$15,000 or less.

About 96 per cent of former journalists who have successfully switched careers since 2009 now enjoy a higher pay.

"Generally speaking, the economy has been doing well over the past few years but there's little improvement in the media industry, particularly newspapers, due to fierce competition and the impact of new technology," says Clement So, school director and professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's School of Journalism and Communication.

"The entry-level salary for journalists could even be lower than before," he adds.

Profits from advertising, the bread and butter of print media, are spread thin due to the rise of free newspapers.

Lau Chi-kuen, principal lecturer in journalism at the Baptist University, says that media organisations, except a few big ones, do not make a lot of profit because of the tough competition in the sector.

There's another factor at work. In theory, fierce rivalry should lead to higher salaries as media organisations try to keep their top talent, but in Hong Kong the exact opposite is happening.

"In Hong Kong, some media organisations, particularly newspapers, do not operate totally by market principles," So says.

Some newspapers do not close down even when they fail to make a profit. Because of their feeble financial resources, they offer relatively low salaries.

In contrast, profitable media organisations wouldn't raise salaries when they see that people can be hired at a low rate, So adds.

It is not all gloom and doom, however.

The high turnover rate can lead to more job opportunities for newcomers who can use their work experience in the media as a springboard to a wide variety of careers.

Knowledge of social, economic and political trends, and strong writing skills are needed in many fields, from public relations to business. The ability to adapt, analyse and work under tight deadlines is an invaluable asset. "Working several years as a reporter is a good value-added experience," So says.

Take Henry (not his real name), a former reporter who now works as an information officer in the government.

"I used to be shy, afraid of talking to people. But as a reporter, I had to approach and elicit information from a wide variety of people, even if they were strangers," he says.

He had to work independently in unfamiliar places. That trained him to become plucky. He says he has developed his analytical skills because as a reporter he could not just write what he was told to do.

"It was a great experience. I tried out so many things in the media and learned so much that has indirectly benefited my current career," he adds.

How to maket professional skills and expand reach in the communications world

  • Personal branding Use all available means to market your skills, expertise and interests. Attracting an audience is as important as creating content.
  • Versatility Develop a wide range of skills, such as designing layouts, running a website, writing blogs, devising business strategies or editing.
  • Network-building Make yourself visible and talk to people who can open up opportunities for you.

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