Some yearn to return to media world

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, HKJA

[中文][Apr 2011 - The Journalist] The newsroom is ever the same: new reporters come, old reporters go. Every year numerous reporters quit as a survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association find that most former reporters get better pay in their new jobs. But for some there remains a yearning to get back on the beat. Some 30 percent of those who have left say they would consider returning to journalism.

In mid-March HKJA contacted about 50 former reporters who quit between January 2009 and March 2011. A total of 33 returned questionnaires. Most of these former reporters were from the city news desk, so our result cannot fully reflect the views of all former reporters.

According to the survey, 36 percent of respondents are working in the public relations industry, 39 percent in other industries. The others are studying, engaged in volunteer work, doing housework or other tasks.

The five main reasons behind their leaving the media were the low remuneration compared to other industries (58 percent), uncertainty of promotion opportunities (58 percent), long working hours and 5.5-6 day work week which affects work-life balance (39 percent), the poor environment and low social status of the industry (39 percent) and the desire to develop a career in another field or study (33 percent).

In the open-end session, one former reporter said he quit because he was unhappy that all reporters’ salaries were unilaterally cut by the employer.

A former reporter with four to seven years experience who is now studying said: “A television reporter needs to play different roles, such as writing script, reporting news, feeding footage...sometimes you also have to be a cameraman (especially during overseas assignments)… I feel like I am a machine. It is difficult to improve my skills. My supervisor required me to play different roles because he wanted to save money rather than for training purpose.”

Another former junior reporter who is now a public relations officer said: “When I was still learning how to handle daily routine assignments, my supervisors had already forced me to look for scoops. Such requirements cannot help reporters to do well’

Better offers outside industry

Most former reporters earn more after leaving media industry. Many (27 percent) got $2,000-$4,000 more on moving out. (See table below)

Salary ChangeNumber of respondentsPercentage
Deducted /No change14%
+$1,000 – $2,000412%
+$2,001 – $4,000927%
+$4,001 – $6,00026%
+$6,001 – $8,00026%
+$8,001 – $10,00026%
+$10,001 – $15,00026%
+$15,001 – $20,00026%
+More than $20,00039%
Not applicable
Taking care of familyVolunteering)

Three former reporters who saw their monthly earnings jump by more than $20,000 had worked in the media industry for between two to 15 years. This shows it is also possible for junior reporters to earn much more if they witch vocation. None of these have any intention to return to journalism because of “the low salary, irregular working hours, lack of private time” and because “salary and welfare of public institutions are better, regular working hours, more promotion opportunities and learning chances.”

However, 60 percent said they did not know or had never thought of returning to journalism. Only 15 percent said they would not consider. Some 27 percent said they would consider rejoining the media industry in the future because, “I still feel enthusiastic about working in news media”.

Others love the independence and the free-wheeling work style that goes with the job. But remuneration and seniority will figure prominently in any reconsideration.

Those former reporters who said they did not know or had not given any thought to returning to journalism said their feelings were complicated. One said, “Even if you have the passion, you need to overcome the living pressure. The environment of the media world is unhealthy, the future of journalists is uncertain.” But another said: “Never say never, because I still have hopes, the job nature of reporting is meaningful, but the reality is that when you work longer and get used to your new job, it will be more difficult for you to return to journalism.”

Media owners should think about how to attract these former reporters back to the industry before they resign themselves to never returning. It takes 10 years to grow a tree and hundred years to teach a people, it is a huge waste to let trained journalists leave the field.