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Responsibility System Needs Appropriate Compensation

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Responsibility System Needs Appropriate Compensation

Source:Chieh-Ying Chiu

Photojournalist Cheng Chao-wen believes that journalists should be allowed more free time to enhance their skills and be properly compensated to ‘keep the flame burning.’

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Responsibility System Needs Appropriate Compensation

By Pei-hua Yu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 616 )

I started out as a photojournalist at a small paper in 1996. From there I moved on to a major paper, where I have remained to this day.

Back then, 20-some years ago, it was the halcyon days for Taiwan’s newspapers and television stations. Journalists got lucrative bonuses, and I managed to barely catch the boom at the tail end. At one point, year-end bonuses were several hundred thousand NT dollars (NT$100,000 is around US$3,000), which then dipped under 100,000 dollars, and now bonuses are practically imperceptible.

Back then, working overtime, traveling for business, and even waiting around felt worthwhile, as the material rewards were handsome - journalistic ideals aside. But now with the low level of salaries, journalists work all day long for barely over NT$40,000 per month. On weekends and holidays you still have to work on editorial stories, and some people are forced to work on “advertorial” (paid) content. From time to time a journalist may work on something inspiring, which keeps them going a little longer, but when going the extra mile becomes the norm, nobody can keep it up indefinitely.

Since I have been in this business, management has always dealt with journalists using a designated responsibility system. It is true that the nature of journalism is suited to such a system when you keep vigil over a news item, in the hope that you ultimately get to write the story or make the photographs. After all, having people see your work is what brings a sense of accomplishment.

As the nature of a journalist’s work is so task-oriented, completing one piece after another, it is difficult to hold it to a schedule. Sometimes you may work 10 to 15 days in a row to finish a story; the journalist’s unique skill set involves minimizing unforeseen circumstances, planning ahead, and completing the task efficiently.

However, if the boss wants journalists to follow such a responsibility system, which necessitates being present on site as events unfold in order to yield the best quality news, then he should pay on a commensurate scale, just as attorneys, accountants and doctors are compensated. If that were the case, we would certainly be happy to discuss following a responsibility system. If you want journalists to “light their journalistic souls on fire,” you should pay them enough to keep the flame burning.

People say that knowledge workers must spend a great deal of time honing their skills, so their time cannot be blocked out so strictly. However, these days journalists have to issue news reports as news happens, allowing little or no time to reflect or fact check, making them more like workers on an assembly line, restricting technical advancement at work. Only by having more time outside of work can opportunities to enhance skill sets be found.

Alternating Time Off 

Last year, following negotiations between labor and management, our company adopted an “eight plus two” work schedule. For instance, the journalist’s work hours are set at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two hours off in the middle and no need to clock in or out. When overtime work is called for, a supervisor decides whether that journalist should work overtime or if someone else should take over.

With the standardized five-day workweek in effect this year, in the effort to implement a system of one “mandatory” day off every seven days, whenever a big news story emerges, in principle our supervisors let the journalists take turns working overtime on off days. But with the economy slow and staffing tight, the company tries not to encourage overtime, so they sometimes let writers take their own photos for less important news stories.

However, having not had to work overtime on a day off yet, I cannot say for sure how the system will play out.

* In Taiwan, certain jobs or positions are not subject to labor laws covering work hours and overtime and fall under what’s known as a “designated responsibility system.” 

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman

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