SACOMM conference addresses job losses and the changing role of journalism

With the proliferation of advanced robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, machine learning and advances in biotechnology and advanced materials, the skills needed to be an integral member of the workforce will change. Jobs will change, some will be lost, some will grow, and others will be entirely new. These were the sentiments shared at a three-day South African Communications Association (SACOMM) conference on Wednesday, 12 September 2018, at Auckland Park, Bunting Road Campus.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) hosted the SACOMM conference under the theme: “Communication at a Crossroads.”

The opening plenary discussion was titled “Job losses in journalism & new beats.” According to UJ’s Prof.Ylva Rodny-Gumede, SACOMM president, ”Communication is the core to issues related the 4th Industrial Revolution and there are no substitutes for real human interactions.” She also briefly discussed the challenges faced in journalism and the lack of investment in upskilling journalists.

There were about 200 local and international delegates, academics & journalism professionals from around the world, with interesting presentations and plenary discussions, including a panel on the future of journalism and a keynote address by Prof. Francis Nyamnjoh.

The other panellists consisted of Prof. Andrew Dodd, Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, Australia; Prof. Matthew Ricketson from Deakin University, Australia; and Prof. Glenda Daniels from the University of Witwatersrand.

Prof. Daniels conferred a presentation titled “The rabbit in the headlights” that spoke of the current state of the journalism industry. She explained the shrinking sizes of newsrooms, the job losses of journalists and shared several sentiments that journalists had to go through during the experience of losing their jobs.

Professors Dodd and Ricketson extended the discussions by illustrating the headlines about major job cuts in journalism in Australia but also confirmed that their research is universally relatable. They also explained their study called “New beats,” which is a study of Australian journalists who have become redundant before or since 2012.

The conference then launched into its parallel sessions that revolved around topics relating to Communication and Social change.

After several insightful sessions, the conference came to end with a book launch and an exclusive screening of Rehad Desai’s documentary “Everything must fall.”

The second day held a similar structure of plenary sessions that extended the topics followed by the SACOMM annual general meeting and the third day ended with a keynote address by Prof. Francis Nyamnjoh that expanded on the challenges and opportunities of an industry as well as practice at the cross roads.

The conference gave rise to interesting questions such as “Is journalism as an academic discipline still sustainable?” Why shold journalism as a profession survive? Concerns were raised about the importance of journalism and questions about how to equip students with necessary skills.

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