The Philippine media industry is facing a crisis: In many newsrooms, journalists are quitting and while that is normal in an industry that has historically had a high rate of attrition, this is happening in the lead up to an election year.
Of those who quit, only a handful do so to join another media company. Many go into corporate communications, public relations, or into handling media for politicians. Each person who leaves — except for those who are shit at their jobs anyway — is a loss to the profession and weakens journalism in general.
One company — whose coverage has already been weakened by complications with the Bureau of Internal Revenue — has had a record-breaking number of desertions this year, with each resignation meaning more work for those who stay.
Those who do stay are underpaid and unappreciated aside from overworked, leading to low morale in a sickly work force that would more accurately be described as a work platoon.
Things have gotten so bad that it is trying to call back staff who have already left for help in the coming lean months. At correspondent rates for round-the-clock work.
Things are not much better at another company, where at least three veteran members of the staff are preparing to resign if they haven’t already. This is on top of several resignations earlier in the year because of internal politics and the favoritism that is characteristic of newsrooms (and, to be fair, offices) in the Philippines.
The good get going while management has to make do with those who can barely do or who want to leave but are staying more because they have bills to pay than because they still believe in the nobility and necessity of the profession.
At another website affiliated with a broadsheet, three resignations this year, including the loss of its boss. At a broadsheet, more resignations that has seen its staff filing as many as eight long form stories across different beats per day.
The tragedy of the situation, aside from the disservice to the public of a harried news industry with no time for depth and background, is that this is a crisis that media corporations brought upon themselves.
In many local media outlets, pay has not increased in the last three to five years while the workload has by the month. Multimedia journalism, touted as the next wave of news a few years ago, has become the industry standard and while that is potentially a good thing, it is also, for the most part, a cost-cutting thing.
In many local media outlets, there is no real system to address grievances and human resource departments will usually take the side of management in disputes. This is not because they are morally ambiguous or because they do not care about employee welfare, necessarily, but because they know that their own employment also depends on the currents of office politics.
Graduation season may bring respite with thousands of would-be journalists eager to change the world available at bargain prices, and this is what the media corporations are banking on.
They will welcome these kids and feed them nice slogans and beautiful promises of making the powerful accountable and doing their duty for the country and then send them off with little training and negligible guidance to sink or swim in the field. If they fail, they will get bawled out. If they fail magnificently, they will be fired and replaced.
That, at least, has been the model that many newsrooms have been operating under. But this is an unsustainable model and students are getting wise to the scam. Many are taking up public relations electives for more lucrative work in the corporate world or will opt to work in a content farm where the pay is better and where there is much less pressure.
And that is the problem with treating personnel as more resource than human, of the mentality that there are hundreds out there who would kill for the opportunity to work in media, or indeed to have a job at all.
At some point, you will run out of people who are qualified and idealistic enough for the job or run the people who are qualified and idealistic enough for the job out.