Conference 2002: Professional
Professional Placement – A Tasmanian Experience
There is a correlation between Dr Weisz’s study with RMIT economics and finance students and University of Tasmania journalism placement students. The employment outcome for those journalism students who have undertaken the Professional Placement Unit has been better significantly better than those graduates who did not. This paper will examine this outcome and examine the unique Tasmanian experience offered by the Professional Placement Unit.
The Journalism Professional Placement Unit is now a third-year unit offered as part of the Journalism and Media Studies Major. The aim of the unit is to place students in the workplace for a specified period of time (10 full days) to work as trainee journalists and to be involved in the day-to-day production of news or public relations. Emphasis is placed on the student’s ability to work within the “real world” while being able to make theoretical observations of the work place while they are still under the pedagogical umbrella of a tertiary institution. Students are given the opportunity not only to see how the theory they have learnt translates into the practical working world, but also to show their level of competence as trainee journalists or public relations practitioners.
The unit is currently run in both semesters – although from 2004 the unit will only be offered in second semester. At present students can count both Placement units towards a journalism major. The quota is twenty students in each semester, although there is some flexibility depending upon placement providers. I have placed up to 25 students in a semester. Students must have obtained a credit or above in either television, feature writing, radio or public communications to be able to be placed. As well as being placed for 10 days, spread over the semester, students are required to attend a weekly one-hour lecture and a weekly one-hour seminar. This is an important aspect of the unit and keeps the students in touch with the theoretical issues of journalism and public relations.
The assessment for the unit is both internal and external. The internal assessment is: an oral presentation (10%), a written report of 1,500-2,000 (30%) which must be a reflective piece covering the student’s placement experience in terms of the theoretical units they have studied (in particular ethics); the placement supervisor’s report (30%), which includes a written assessment and a generic skills assessment; a daily placement diary (10%) and a portfolio of work (20%).
Initially the Tasmanian media and communications industry was unsure of the placement program, but after extensive consultation and reassurance that Professional Placement was markedly different to work experience, the industry embraced the concept and is now keen to place students.
The focus of this paper is the experiences of Placement students in news journalism placements. Ten placements are offered each semester in public relations at a range of organizations, from political to community and government departments but these placements are not the subject of this paper.
Tasmania is a unique environment in which to place university journalism students. It is a small island state with a population of 500,000, its own state government and the necessary infrastructure – a state parliament, government bureaucracy etc as well as federal government offices and bureaucracy. With a population of almost 200,000 the capital city, Hobart, has the feel of a big country city rather than a teeming capital city metropolis.
Tasmania has long been regarded nationally and internationally as an excellent breeding ground for journalists. Tasmanian journalists of recent years who have had success interstate and overseas are:
· Neil Kearney, National 9’s A Current Affair program.
Placement students in Tasmania have the opportunity to produce news stories for capital city news organizations as well as regional news groups. Students work as “temporary cadets” under a supervisor during their placement. Students have the opportunity to fine their own stories and are also given stories by the Chief of Staff as a cadet journalist.
Students and placement providers must sign a written contract at the beginning of their placement which includes the wording:
News Organisations in Tasmania
The Advocate newspaper is a Tasmanian-owned regional daily with its head office in the port city of Burnie on Tasmania’s North West Coast. It has a daily readership of 25,246. It has newsrooms in Burnie, Devonport, Launceston and Hobart.
(Students have the opportunity to be placed in the main newsroom in
Devonport of in the Hobart newsroom.
The Examiner newspaper is a Tasmanian-owned daily newspaper with its head office in Launceston, the Northern capital of Tasmania. It’s daily Monday to Saturday circulation is 36,241. The Examiner employs more than 40 news journalists not including sub-editors. The Sunday Examiner has a circulation of 41,777. The Examiner also publishes several rural newspapers.
The Mercury newspaper is a Murdoch-owned newspaper and is Tasmania’s only capital city (Hobart) daily newspaper. It has a daily Monday to Saturday circulation of 54,000 a Saturday circulation of 64,732. The Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Tasmanian, has a circulation of 58,000. The Mercury employs more than 50 news journalists. Placement students are placed either in the Hobart office with the Sunday Tasmanian or in The Mercury newsroom.
(The Mercury has offices in all regional centres of Tasmania. The Mercury also publishes the state-wide rural newspaper, Tasmanian Country and the regional newspaper The Derwent Valley Gazette.)
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has offices in all Australian capital cities and regional centres around Australia. The national broadcaster has its Tasmanian broadcasting centre in Hobart where 24 journalists are employed in the newsroom as well as subeditors and producers. Journalists write scripts for both television and radio news bulletins. The ABC also has broadcasting centres in Launceston and Burnie. Placement students are placed in the Hobart newsrooms.
Tasmania has two commercial television stations - TNT 9 Southern Cross and WIN Television Tasmania. WIN Television is part of Australia’s major regional commercial broadcaster. Both stations have offices in Hobart and Launceston. Although WIN is historically the southern station and Southern Cross the Northern Station, both stations broadcast state-wide and have newsrooms in both Launceston and Hobart. Placement students are placed in both the Hobart and Launceston offices of WIN and Southern Cross. Southern Cross produces a half-hour northern and southern news bulletin nightly. WIN produces a one-hour bulletin - a half hour of Tasmanian news and a half hour of national/Tasmanian news.
Not all students have had work published or broadcast while on placement but the majority do. The best students are able to develop an impressive portfolio of work by the end of their placement, while others will have draft stories for their portfolio. Likewise, television placement students are able to come away with a series of tapes of their work. Several of the television students, particularly those placed with WIN television, have had stories broadcast. The opportunity to create an impressive portfolio is one of the most important aspects for students when applying for employment after graduation. “I now have a substantial portfolio of work,” one of last year’s students wrote (2). Although I was never under great pressure my placement threw me in the deep end a little and this enabled me to learn from my own experiences rather than from observing other people”.
The Professional Placement unit was recently singled in the University’s Generic Attributes study as an exemplary example of the application of social responsibility. Angela Rosier wrote in her case study:
The unit covers this attribute through encouraging students to act ethically with integrity and social responsibility. They are constantly reminded of the social and ethical implications of their actions as journalists. Students are made aware of access and equity principles in the media arena and in the law. Information provided to students states that: ‘Students engage critically with a range of issues confronting the professional journalist, including intellectual, ethical, legal and political considerations and the growth of the information society’ . (3)
Comments range from: “With Southern Cross being a commercial station, their stories are not hard hitting and in depth, therefore legal issues hardly ever arise, nor does the question of ethics” (5) to: “A difference between theory and practice in most occupations provides for conflict, and the journalistic profession provides no exception” (6) and: “Throughout my years as a Journalism undergraduate, the AJA Code of Ethics has been bandied about on a regular basis by lecturers and to most students they seems to be based on common sense values. However, those guidelines suddenly become less tangible when the boundaries between the media and the “outside world” become quite blurred.” (7)
A television placement student said that while she was placed at the
commercial station she was
Another student at a commercial television station noticed the MEAA
code of ethics poster on the wall of the news room but was told by a
senior journalist that ethics was a “matter of personal choice and common
sense”. The student related how a senior journalist told her that a
The student assured me that she thought it was still “a good idea”
to give students a background in ethics.
In the two years that this unit has been running there have been a number of occasions when students have been faced with a fatality, but the experience of one student was particularly challenging. The female student, aged 20, was placed at The Advocate in Burnie. While out on a job with a photographer a call came through about a house fire and as they were only a short distance from the house and the photographer did not hesitate to drive there. As it turned out the photographer and the young female student were the first on the scene and arrived to hear the occupant, who was trapped in his burning house, crying out for help. The photographer tried to reach the occupant (a wheel-chair-bound-man) but was unable to do so. His badly burned pet cat was rescued by the student, but died at the scene. There was little the photographer or student could do for the trapped occupant but stand and listen to the man’s frantic cries as the fire claimed his life.
The photographer was treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. The student was sent for counselling when she arrived back at The Advocate office. The following day when the adrenalin rush had dissipated, she became upset during the work placement and was sent home. The student remained at her placement for the rest of the week before returning to Hobart and to the University. I again encouraged her to use the University’s counselling service, which she did. Although naturally upset by the incident, she was able to put it into perspective and in time accepted that it was an aspect, albeit a very unpleasant one, of news journalism.
A senior journalist told this student: “It’s better to hassle and be a pain than not at all. It’s important for people to see how keen I am and that I’m willing o do things. She said that I’d get more of a chance down here than I would on the mainland.”
An Advocate Placement student had the opportunity to work on the features pages: “About half way through my week at The Advocate I was given sole responsibility of the “Weekend Extra History Page”. I had to select a family history, type it up ad edit it to about half of its original length. I then had to arrange for a photograph to accompany the story.” (12)
Another Advocate student found that “one of the best things about working with a senior sport’s journalist was that he was not afraid to give me a chance. He would just give me a name and a phone number, a brief description of the situation and point me in the direction of a computer and a phone and I found that this, combined with asking a lot of questions, was the best way to learn the trade” . (13)
Placement students have had prominent news stories published in all three newspapers. Tasmania’s largest newspaper, The Mercury, has also given placement students the opportunity to have their feature stories published in the Sunday newspaper Sunday Tasmanian. They have also had stories broadcast and televised.(Show stories.)
On the subject of placements in non-metropolitan areas, I believe there
In terms of the professional placement unit, I think it works well as
Dr Weisz’s experience of employment outcomes for economic and finance students with work experience is similar to the employment outcomes for journalism students who undertake the Professional Placement unit. Only three journalism graduates from the University have found employment in the media industry without completing the placement unit. On the other hand 22 students who have undertaken the placement unit have gained work in the media industry in Tasmania or interstate – and this in a contracting media jobs market in a small Australian State with a population of half a million. This number is set to rise with the new group of graduates entering the workforce.
Jane Bestwick and Alistair Nicholson both gained employment as cadet
journalists at WIN Television – Alister as a sports journalist and presenter
and Jane as a general and sports journalist and presenter. Both front
the Six O’clock news bulletin as sports presenters. (Show video.)
1. “Theory Meets Practice”, Margaret Cook, The Age Education Guide,
May 29, 2002.
12. Melanie Hubble, 2001