Challenges, diversity and the future of journalism


Archie McGill

From left to right Achol Arok, Tim Dunlop, Luke Henriques-Gomes, Patricia Karvelas (event chair). After 45 minutes of industry insights the panel took questions from the diverse crowd of university & secondary students, RMIT alumni and family members.

Journalists can “rise above” media power structures to control their own professional activity, ABC Radio National host, Patricia Karvelas said at public panel discussion in Melbourne last week.

Karvelas joined Guardian Australia’s Luke Henrique-Gomes, ABC Melbourne Chief of Staff, Achol Arok and political commentator, Tim Dunlop at the Media Diversity/ RMIT panel discussion on Wednesday at Kaleide theatre.

“I’ve worked for pretty much everyone and my journalism has been pretty consistent throughout. Yet where you work somehow defines your power as a journalist,” Karvelas said. “I really contest that.”

Karvelas said she opposed “media snobbery”.

“I find media snobbery often very classist. In fact, News Corporation was always a place that took working class kids from migrant backgrounds and the ABC didn’t,” she said.

But Dunlop said a lot of issues within journalism were at an “institutional level”, and it was difficult for individual journalists to “affect change”.

“Journalism is all about choices and those choices are driven by the values and power structures within the organisation. It’s very hard to address that kind of institutional structure,” he said.

About 100 people attended the event, held to discuss the “challenges, diversity and future” of journalism.

Dunlop said the modern phenomena of the public being able to read, share and comment on journalism through social media platforms had “fundamentally changed the relationship” between journalists and the audience.

“The audience went from being a passive recipient of news to being an active participant in the creation and distribution of news,” he said.

Henrique-Gomes said one of the main challenges journalism faced was “trust” and “how people think about the media”.

“The fact that you used to be able to get your news from a couple of different outlets meant that people had a connection to the outlets in a way that they don’t anymore,” he said.

Henrique-Gomes said diversity of media outlets, as well as diversity within newsrooms was important to the development of public trust.

“Diversity of experience as well as identity, in terms of cultural background, sexual orientation and people with disabilities,” he said. “If we don’t have different perspectives in the newsroom, then we won’t have different perspectives in our coverage.”

Arok, who immigrated from South Sudan as a child, said watching the news was one way immigrants learned conversational English.

She said seeing the freedom Australian journalists had in their reportage inspired her to follow a career in journalism.

“When I had graduated and I said to my mum I wanted to be a journalist, she was fearful because at home journalists get killed. They aren’t what they are in Australia,” she said.

“For a lot of communities, coming to Australia and having that kind of freedom of speech was something completely new.”

Arok said she was “optimistic” about the future of journalism in Australia, but “real change” would only come from diversity in higher-up management roles.

“Yes, the diversity on-screen is great but I think it needs to go more than that. We need to see diversity in more senior positions where people have executive decisions.”

Arok said she was originally “very fearful” of graduating into an industry known for its competitiveness, but now all her “fears” have been “put aside”.

“What you learn in school is imperative to what you do after, but there are so many things that you can become in the industry or the workroom that you just don’t get in the classroom.”