Pay more and stop the talent drain

Financial wisdom has it that the media sector is not the place to get decent returns on an investment. The initial capital outlay tends to be excessive, ongoing production costs can be up in the stratosphere, and the merchandise that’s flogged to advertising clients is generally intangible. It makes sense then that the media isn’t renowned for its massive salaries.

Thankfully, a big chunk of the people working in this game aren’t after the money; they’re in it because they’ve always wanted to do something “for society”, like change perceptions, portray alternative viewpoints, present the truth.
But sometimes people get tired.

The following from well known journalist and media executive Alec Hogg, written as an opening paragraph to an article on South Africa’s strongest stocks, makes the point: “So far this year, two of our colleagues have decided to desert journalism for a better paid but mundane existence in corporate communications. Moneyweb is not the only media company to lose talented, experienced custodians of the Fourth Estate to big-spending corporate spin doctors. It’s an accelerating trend worldwide. US research says it is this talent drain, rather than Governments or madmen, which poses journalism’s greatest threat.”

Things start to seem even more out of kilter when you look at another accelerating worldwide trend - the year on year growth in media companies’ revenues. In the US, adspend for 2004 in consumer magazines was up 11% on 2003, in TV it was up almost 12%, in newspapers it was up around 7%, and in outdoor it was up more than 20%. Locally, as Harry Herber points out (page 49), print is up 21%, TV 26,4%, radio 13,9%, and outdoor 20,7%.

Many media workers and journalists may be asking when they’ll be seeing the benefits of this growth. Their bosses would be well advised to come up with a good answer, ‘cos the talent drain will only stop when they do.

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