Journalists have been facing a tough time since 1997, with many encountering a severe climate of unemployment, a media association says. Camoes Tam Chi-keung, the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, says: 'If you are aged 35 or above at a supervisory grade, you will be more or less in danger of getting laid off.' Mr Tam says this is rooted in the sluggish job market. 'Employers can fire a senior and hire a few juniors as the replacement. In addition, the overall expected quality of stories and pictures has been reduced, which has also led to less of a demand for experienced reporters.' In addition, a number of journalists who joined web businesses a few years ago have been facing difficulties in getting back into traditional media industries. Association statistics show that journalists who left their traditional positions have changed careers. 'Most of them have started to work on a freelance basis. We have helped them in setting up a Hong Kong Freelance Writers Association last year,' Mr Tam says. The Freelance Writers Association was established to strive for members' benefits, provide networking opportunities and also serves as a place for job referrals. On the other hand, some journalists have started working as public relations consultants for government organisations or similar groups. Another group has started running a small-scale publishing business. Some journalists have completely switched their careers to become insurance agents. 'One member has been particularly successful - she went to China to start over again. She is now publishing magazines that focus on producing Hongkonger-interest magazines like dining guides and real-estate guides in China,' he says. Mr Tam has two jobs - one as a university lecturer and another as television and radio programme host. Prior to this, he was an international correspondent for Greater China for a Taiwanese newspaper. He believes the job decline has been happening since 1997. 'A number of media organisations pulled out of Hong Kong since 1997. The worsening economic situation leading to lower advertising revenue has meant fewer staff have been hired. The association has suffered a high turnover rate between 1997 to 2001.' The association occasionally visits universities. 'We try to recruit student members as well as tell them what the profession is all about.' He estimates that 2,500 journalists are working. As a lecturer, Mr Tam educates students in developing the right work attitude and abilities. 'Attitude and personality are of utmost importance. All of us need to have diverse skills and talents to adapt to the changing industry.' Statistics show that only 22 per cent of the journalism graduates in the United States eventually become journalists, while the rest join other industries such as public relations, advertising, or movie production. 'It is essential for students to gain sufficient internship experience for real practice.' Besides good communications and presentations skills, a good reporter needs to be curious and resourceful. Most importantly, they should possess strong observation skills - they need to find the news that is sometimes hidden. 'There are a number of mediocre reporters in the market. However, natural talent and skills are the prerequisites for any good reporter. Moreover, they need to be hardworking and have a bit of luck.'