News National Nasya Bahfen: TV news hasn’t changed, but Australian habits have

Nasya Bahfen: TV news hasn’t changed, but Australian habits have

The study raised concerns about a lack of diversity in newsrooms. Photo: TND
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For a decade and a half, I worked as a journalist with a hijab in English-language newsrooms – now I’m one of a handful of journalism educators who happen to be non-white and female.

Higher education in journalism is pretty damn monocultural – like the television news industry, as underscored by a report by non-profit group Media Diversity Australia.

The findings that the majority of faces on Australian TV news coming from an Anglo-Celtic background is not surprising.

Australian journalist Dr Nasya Bahfen. Photo: Nasya Bahfen

And it squares with my own research conducted after the Christchurch terror attacks about another segment of our media (film and screen) not reflecting Australia’s cultural diversity.

Since starting in journalism education in 2006, I’ve taught hundreds of journalists who work in newsrooms or in communication roles across Australia and the world.

For a while, I juggled teaching and reporting – and in that time the diversity among my students and fellow journalists slowly started to increase.

From personal experience, I knew why this process was slow as a first-generation migrant with a working-class background.

A career in the media is not an attractive proposition to young people who come from backgrounds like mine, and for whom education (normally in a STEM field) is the key to upward mobility and financial security.

Apart from uncertainty over career prospects, some people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds understandably have a distrust of media based on the way their communities have been reported on in the past.

Even so, the hand-wringing that greeted the report misses the mark by not acknowledging how journalism, and journalism jobs, have changed since I finished journalism at RMIT in the late 1990s (and yes, I was the only non-white graduate of that degree).

The report looked at a specific industry (television news) which is no longer the be all and end all for Australia’s news-consuming public.

Sunrise stars 2019 Logies
Sunrise stars David Koch, Sam Armytage, Natalie Barr and Mark Beretta at the 2019 Logies.

We’re living in a time when audiences can pull up a Facebook live stream of a state premier delivering the latest figures during a global pandemic.

The bottom line is that the industry has changed.

For example, my current employer is the only j-school in Victoria that offers sports journalism – so my students are overwhelmingly white and male, for now.

This is neither a good nor a bad thing – it is simply the market that degree caters to.

Before COVID-19, not all of our sports journalism majors were looking for jobs as sports reporters – many were angling for gigs running social media at a club, maintaining a sporting body’s website, or producing podcasts.

The same holds true for our discipline in general – there is a wider range of roles available for media graduates even as the journalism job market contracts.

As the pandemic’s wrecking ball swings through higher education, universities are forced to become leaner organisations by streamlining course offerings.

For journalism education this is an opportunity to work with colleges outside of our discipline, to create qualifications that merge media skills with areas predicted to be in demand once the path out of a COVID-19 world is set.

These might be qualifications combining media, languages and renewable energy; or media and cybersecurity – which might speed up the process of diversifying the industry and making it more attractive to students from a range of backgrounds.

  • Dr Nasya Bahfen is senior lecturer at La Trobe University