NZ journalists: Mostly happy and proud of their work, despite new pressures.

New Zealand journalists have contributed their experiences and opinions to a global survey of journalists. Researchers in more than 80 countries have questioned journalists for the  Worlds of Journalism study.

First results from the New Zealand phase of the research show that New Zealand journalists are generally happy in their work, and believe the NZ media does a good job, despite tougher work conditions in recent years.

The typical full-time (earning more than half their income from journalism) journalist is likely to be female, slightly left-of-centre, and have a university degree specialising in journalism.

They have a strongly ethical stance, and don’t want to see more regulation of the news media, as has been proposed in other countries.

Researchers at Massey and Waikato Universities asked full-time journalists by online survey in 2012/ 2013 on their work practices, ethical and political stance, and other views.

The findings in detail:

Four fifths (82 percent) are moderately or very happy in their work, with 10 percent moderately or very unhappy, and 8 percent undecided.

The most common reasons given for enjoyment are the variety and challenge of journalism, and the sense that it is worthwhile and useful to society. The most common reasons for unhappiness are  pay, concerns about the future of the industry (also mentioned by many who described themselves as ‘moderately happy’), poor management, and lack of opportunities for promotion.

Just less than half (44 percent) rate the quality of NZ media above average or excellent, 41 percent rate it average, and 15 percent rate it below average or poor.

Aspects of journalistic practice that respondents perceive as having strengthened the most over the last five years include: journalists’ use of social media, user-generated content such as blogs, profit-making pressures, and audience feedback and involvement in news production. Aspects of practice that have weakened include ethical standards and journalism education.

Aspects of journalists’ work that have increased in importance or relevance over the last five years include the use of search engines, the importance of technical skills, and average working hours. Aspects that have diminished or decreased include time for researching stories, credibility of journalism, and journalists’ freedom to make editorial decisions.

Most (97 percent) agree  that journalists should always adhere to codes of professional ethics regardless of situation or context, although 62 percent also say what is ethical depends on the situation.

Practices most frowned upon include accepting money from sources (96 percent said this was never justified), altering or fabricating quotes (93 percent), unauthorised use of cell phone data or messages (86 percent), altering photographs (82 percent), misrepresenting yourself (65 percent), and publishing without verifying content (63 percent).

There was strong disagreement with the view that there is a requirement for changes to the regulation of the news media in New Zealand (74 percent said ‘No’).

In terms of political allegiance, 62 percent were left of centre. Only 16 percent categorised themselves as right of centre, and 22 percent described themselves as centrists (middle-of-the-road).

Most respondents (57 percent) were women. Women tend to be rank-and-file employees, with only 9 percent of women in top positions, compared to 20 percent of men. About 91 percent were NZ European, 5 percent Maori, 3 percent Pasifika, and 1 percent Asian.

Most (91 percent) have completed a university degree, and 82 percent have specialised in journalism, or journalism and another communications field. About 16 percent had some proficiency in Te Reo Māori, while only 2 percent had the same level of Samoan, 2 percent had some Tongan, and 1percent some Mandarin.

The approximate median income was $52,298. This was up slightly from the $51,450 recorded in a similar survey in 2007. However, when adjusted for inflation, to match buying power in $2007  journalists’ approximate median income should have risen by 2013  to $59,873. Overall, this suggests a drop in real income of 13 percent in six years. By comparison Statistics New Zealand average income figures for the general population  have dropped about 5 percent over the same period. While not exactly comparable, this does suggest a worrying trend.

A comparison of the two surveys shows the approximate median age of journalists stayed the same, at 38.5-38.8 years (a difference within the margin of error), and approximate median experience was also virtually the same, at 9.9 years. The male/ female split was also identical, at 57 percent female/ 43 percent male.

The survey had 320 valid respondents, out of an estimated total full-time population of journalists of between 1500 and 1900, giving a margin of error of plus/minus 5 percent (at the 95 percent confidence level).

The survey is part of the Worlds of Journalism Study, the first-ever survey of journalists around the world, which is scheduled to produce data in late 2014/ early 2015.

Other findings from the New Zealand survey are still being analysed and will be published this  year.

For more information:
Dr James Hollings

Senior Lecturer in Journalism

School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing,

Massey University,

Wellington

Phone: 021 526377

Email: J.H.Hollings@masseyac.nz

 

Associate Professor Geoff Lealand,

University of Waikato

Phone:  (07 854 8054)

 email lealand@waikato.ac.nz

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