Despite its challenges, the mainstream media still believe in the future of the industry.
South African newsrooms are facing pressure from all sides – falling circulation of newspapers, government hostility, downsized newsrooms – but they are adapting and also investing in the future of journalism.
These are some of the conclusions in the State of the Newsroom 2013 report released by the school of journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand.
"The newsroom of today is a ship sailing into extreme headwinds of change. But if the vessel is being buffeted this way and that, it is also showing signs of meeting change head on," the report said.
The media around the world has been heavily criticised for expecting more from fewer journalists and for the juniorisation of newsrooms, Glenda Daniels, the report's co-ordinator, said.
A 2002 South African National Editors' Forum skills audit found that limited resources prevented media institutions from giving junior reporters thorough training. Senior journalists were also unable to do proper mentoring and were trying to improve their own skills.
But local media organisations are spending R100-million a year on training, Daniels said.
The nine organisations that contributed to the Wits report spent R70-million last year.
Last year, a survey of 131 journalists found that most were interested in online and new media training.
The Wits report found that Media24 spent the largest amount – R36-million. It trains 40 journalists a year and has more journalists on bursaries at universities than any other news organisation.
The courses at its academy are National Qualifications Framework certified and even include visits from psychologists. Three months of the academy training are spent at publications and the best interns get jobs.
The training is also not limited to new recruits. Last year, Media24 started the "Army of 200" project, which trained 270 people to repurpose content for online and mobile platforms.
Waldimar Pelser, then trainer at the media house and now editor of Rapport, said in the Wits report: "A fair bit of on-the-job training takes place but newsrooms often face capacity constraints in this regard: the senior people who have the skills to train are either on the job themselves and snowed under, or absorbed in news management and put on the desk."
Times Media spent R4.6-million on training last year and has budgeted R10-million for further training of its editorial staff this financial year. The group's average intake is 10 interns a year.
Paddi Clay, head of its training programme, said: "A lot of money is put into it. We take it seriously. We don't go out and recruit juniors; we have a responsibility to train."
She said that, for interns, it was harder to get good feedback on the job. In the past there were one-on-one formal internships, where reporters' copy would go back and forth until they "learned how to write an intro". But now there is no time: "The news desk just rewrites it," she said.
Independent Newspapers spent R4-million on training 30 interns last year at its cadet school.
Jonathan Ancer, its head of training, said new and old journalists are keen on training. "But newsrooms are stretched, so there is reluctance by news editors for reporters to be taken out of production."
The continued training of journalists, even in these hard times, shows that media companies recognise that training is crucial to their future, said Ancer.
"It's a healthy sign that most of the big media houses have employed editorial people [rather than human resources people] to oversee training in their newsrooms."
The SABC spent R23-million in the past year training about 60 interns under the age of 25.
Eyewitness News is the only newsroom that has formal internships, with young reporters being assigned a senior reporter to shadow.
The Mail & Guardian has had a strong tradition of internships, with year-long programmes running since its foundation in 1985.
It also hosts interns in Bhekisisa, its health unit, and brings interns from around the continent to amaBhungane, its investigative unit. These numbers were not included in the Wits report because they were not sent in time.
Gwen Ansell, who has trained journalists at all the major media houses, except Caxton, said training is taken seriously in newsrooms. But it is hampered by newsrooms being "underresourced and understaffed", so working journalists often have to withdraw from training at the last minute, she said.
When training does occur, it is on basic writing and subbing skills rather than in specialised beats such as arts or science, which are needed to deepen the quality of reporting, she said.
There are some cynical responses in the report. Freelance training consultant Barbara Ludman said training is not a serious priority for newsrooms. "When money is tight, the first to go, it seems, are training projects."
Anton Harber, adjunct professor at the Wits journalism school, said things have changed from 20 years ago when media houses would take people from the working world and train them on the job.
He said that now most of the training is happening in universities as the major groups have cut training costs. This is creating journalists who are good at media studies but still need to learn journalism skills.
"The big question is upskilling in newsrooms. More needs to be spent to train working journalists so they can adapt to new technology and the skills you need in modern newsrooms," he said.
Model of transformation
The report found transformation had occurred in the nine newsrooms it surveyed: 61% of journalists were black, with women comprising 49%.
Changes at the top had also occurred, with 55% of editors being black and 45% being female. "Transformation has significance, considering that the newsrooms of the apartheid era were predominantly white and male," it said.
But the countrywide picture is different – out of 42 editors, 19 are white and 29 are male. This has been one of the biggest complaints levelled by the ANC against the media.
There are 241 newspapers in South Africa registered with Print and Digital Media South Africa. But total circulation figures show that there are 359 newspapers. With circulation steadily dropping, all of these have been cutting staff.