There was a back-to-the-future aura around a full page advertisement in the Otago Daily Times last week. “Want to be a journalist?” it asked. “We’ll help you get there!”
The advertisement stated the ODT’s owner, Allied Press, was looking for five cadets “who have what it takes to be journalists in their South Island home town in 2023”.
It signalled its return to the sort of in-house cadet scheme that was standard practice in New Zealand when I started my career in journalism in 1965.
When I first set foot in a newsroom, I was a callow and rather shy school-leaver with no more knowledge of journalism than could be garnered from living in a household that subscribed to two daily newspapers, and from a spark that had been planted by an inspiring teacher named Bram Clark.
The Auckland Star taught me how to be a reporter through a combination of in-house courses, in-at-the-deep-end assignments, gruff but instructive subeditors, and a series of mentoring senior journalists to whom I will be eternally grateful. I also learnt things, and lost some of my shyness, through a chief reporter whose acknowledged journalistic talents were more than matched by his bullying attitude toward cadets. Almost six decades ago we were expected to toughen up or bugger off. It was all part of the training, you understand.
Of all the learning techniques employed during my cadetship, I think the most valuable was look-and-listen. I was ‘apprenticed’ to Bill Niland, who is a bit of a legend for my generation. Bill described himself as a “slum kid fromWoolloomooloo” (I can still hear him: “Now spell it back to me”) which gave him the common touch that was the mark of a trade that took its recruits literally from the street. We’ll overlook the fact that his brother D’Arcy and sister-in-law Ruth Park were almost Australian literary royalty. I dutifully followed Bill as he made his daily round of the waterfront picking up stories along the way. Bill taught me the importance of contacts and of dealing with people on their own ground.
The Allied Press Journalism Cadet Programme Te Waraki looks a lot like my cadetship, minus the bullying chief reporter. The five entrants will be paid “from day one” and require no news media experience or formal qualifications. They receive full on-the-job training, learn from “award-winning working journalists”, and their work will be published.
There was an expectation, during my cadetship, that I would continue to be employed by the Auckland Star when I reached the lofty heights of ‘graded reporter’. I was, and then sent off for my next round of training – in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Today, there are few guarantees in news media and jobs are not among them. Nonetheless, the Allied scheme does offer cadets “potential for permanent employment”.
The Allied Press scheme is funded through NZ on Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund. So, too, is Te Rito, a partnership between NZME, Whakaata Māori, Newshub and Pacific Media Network (PMN) whose first cohort of cadets is in the final phase of training.
The schemes beg the question: Why set up in-house cadet schemes when we have tertiary institutions offering formal qualifications in journalism and communications?
It would be easy to say that university degree courses are too driven by critical theory and that polytechs have been destabilised by sweeping restructuring. While there is widespread belief within the industry that tertiary qualifications do not produce ready-for-action journalists, the re-creation of in-house cadetship schemes is not an indictment on the tertiary sector. They are responses to specific needs.
The Allied Press scheme seeks to overcome real problems the group has in attracting young journalists, particularly to rural locations. Te Rito aims to address shortages of journalists with cultural and language skills and to improve cultural awareness in newsrooms (its first intake of 22 cadets covers Māori, Samoan, Cook Island, Fiji-Indian, South-east Asian and Finnish ethnicities).
Allied Press has 28 publications in Otago, Southland, Westland, and Canterbury. Otago Daily Times editor Barry Stewart told me the plan was to recruit within each region and give cadets opportunities to work in their local publications and live ‘at home’. The aim is to encourage later applications to fill roles in the company’s branch offices, where recruitment is proving difficult (last week it advertised bureau chief vacancies in Alexandra, Gore and Oamaru). He hopes there will be ongoing roles for all who graduate from the scheme.
Lois Turei, NZME’s Head of Cultural Partnerships, told me 20 positions, for which the cadets could apply, were being put on the table by the four partners in the Te Rito scheme. Ten of the roles are for NZ on Air funded fixed-term roles which must be filled out of Te Rito. She said each role was an important addition to the respective newsrooms and was hopeful that longer term funding would be found for them.
Both Stewart and Turei see the schemes as a return to the type of in-house training that once characterised the industry. Both involve formal training sessions by tutors and direct work experience (under the Te Rito scheme cadets have been rotated through the participants’ newsrooms). Each emphasised the contribution that newsroom staff brought to the training, but Turei also said those staff had benefitted from the presence of the cadets, who had altered cultural perceptions.
Turei is impressed by the qualities of the Te Rito cadets and Stewart will doubtless have a similar view when his cadets reach a similar stage in their training. However, their cadetship will not provide them with a formal, industry-recognised qualification (nor did my cadetship).
The organisers of both schemes have discussed associations with tertiary bodies and the formal NZQA qualification process. I think the discussions are best described as work-in-progress, but it is important that they continue as the cadet schemes mature.
The New Zealand Diploma in Journalism is currently under review and is likely to be narrowed to a one-year course that is very strongly vocationally oriented – training people to become journalists rather than communications specialists destined for the burgeoning ‘comms’ industry or digital marketplace.
The review is very encouraging and could well develop links with in-house training schemes. I could see, for example, cadetships earning credits toward the diploma. With suitable accreditation, the way could be open for links with tertiary centres such as Wintec to allow cadets to complete their diploma through block courses and distance learning.
I doubt that such developments would have been possible in the first year of in-house cadet schemes. The NZQA and tertiary bodies need to see them in operation before committing to partnering with them. And they would need some assurance that the schemes will survive. Currently they have limited term funding under the PIJF.
The test of their longevity will be the quality of journalists they produce. Allied Press is still recruiting (“Be quick: Applications close November 21”) but the first cohort of cadets from Te Rito are impressing the partners in the scheme.
In-house cadetships without prior qualification requirements have the very real advantage of attracting talented people from diverse backgrounds that might be filtered out by the requirement for costly tertiary qualifications.
When I began in the industry it was male dominated but those men came from varying backgrounds – the slum kid, a merchant seaman, ex-servicemen carrying the burden of wartime experiences, and the sons of Remuera’s finest. Turning the entry qualification into a degree or diploma made our newsrooms more middle class.
Now we can have the best of both worlds and there are good reasons to keep funding both forms of training. Together, they can produce newsrooms that reflect the communities in which we live, and journalists fully equipped for a rapidly changing media landscape.