The headline is rhetorical, of course. In Turkey in 2022, how many people still buy printed newspapers? But this is not a “print is dead” article. Unlike in the West, an important reason why newspapers do not sell in our country is that the number of newspapers worth buying can be counted on one hand. And yet, although related to it, the subject of this article is also not the erosion taking place in the Turkish media. Rather, it’s about journalists who literally couldn’t afford to buy newspapers – even if they wanted to – due to the precarious economic situation that so many find themselves in.
In the new media environment in Turkey, where most mainstream media are under government control and where newspaper headlines therefore come from a single source, things like competition among newspapers and reporters or the goal of increasing circulation are no longer relevant. And with that, the need for good journalists has dropped. As a result, the unemployment rate in journalism has come to exceed 30 percent. Many have left the profession and most young journalists are not able to find a place in the system. At present, those who are able to secure formal employment at an independent media outlet try to survive on salaries that could almost be considered pocket money due to the financial problems in the sector.
But to come back to the title: Are there journalists in Turkey who cannot afford to buy a newspaper? Unfortunately, there are. In fact, it’s the case with the vast majority of today’s journalists, especially young journalists, who try to do their job in line with professional standards. The first thing a good journalist does at the start of each day is to look at what other media are covering so as to get a good grasp of the agenda. Today, if it were not possible to access news free of charge via the internet and social media, journalists would be in a tough spot, as they wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a set of the day’s newspapers. Nor would they be able to afford foreign newspapers and magazines to follow the international agenda.
A good journalist is expected to have a firm grasp of the global agenda, recent events, and new trends. But there are a growing number of journalists in Turkey who don’t have the necessary income to regularly go to movie theatres, attend concerts, travel, socialize, and purchase books. As a result, their horizons are shrinking and becoming limited to certain subjects. They stay informed about current events solely by means of social media. Young, well-educated people who have high expectations for the future do not want to become journalists. There are journalists in Istanbul whose world is limited to the space between their home and their workplace, and to the places they go to report on. Forget about not knowing the world: Can a person who doesn’t even know the city they live in be a reporter? How can someone whose world is getting smaller with each day explain the world to their readers? How can journalists who haven’t been allowed to flourish build the future of this profession?
This state of affairs is, of course, not the fault of journalists. The abovementioned problems are created by those in power and their subordinates, by those who prioritize quantity of news over quality, who don’t allow journalists to improve themselves, and want them to “repackage” already published news stories instead of creating original content, all the while expecting journalists to work both harder and for much lower wages than anybody else. A friend of mine conducting an academic research study recently asked me: “What is journalism?” The first answer that came to my mind was not “bringing news to the reader and/or seeking the truth,” but “a profession”. Just like medicine, architecture, or teaching…
Yes, it’s true. Journalism is many things, but it is also a profession! And what does one expect from a profession? Certainly, one expects to have the best possible conditions for the realization of their profession and the ability to lead a life worthy of human dignity with the income they earn. The old-timers used to say that a profession is a golden bracelet on your wrist. However, in Turkey, the profession of journalism constitutes cuffs on your hands and shackles on your feet.
For nearly two years, we have been organizing a news workshop for young journalists within the scope of the Media and Law Studies Association. Training is an important part of the workshop, but the main goal is to create an editorial desk simulation for those who haven’t had the opportunity to work in a news organization, and who therefore haven’t received the work shadowing and apprenticeship experience which is so crucial in the profession of journalism. We also have a newspaper where we publish pieces produced by these young journalists. The newspaper is only in its third issue and each issue is better than the previous one.
We request a letter of intent from the candidates in the application stage. The journalism they want to carry out, as described in these letters, sits somewhere between advocacy and activism. To be sure, advocating for rights is inherent to journalism, but journalism is not rights advocacy. Nor is it activism. On the other hand, it is understandable to conceive of journalism as activism in a country like Turkey, where journalists are constantly targeted and exposed to violence by law enforcement, where they work without job security, earning minimum wage, and where they face the prospect of being fired without compensation. And what sane person would use the word “profession” to characterize a job that leaves you half-starved, beaten, and targeted? Journalists are fighting for their own rights – and this is indeed activism, after all.