Student journalists face a gloomy future
— reported by the Belleville News-Democrat
On a recent Wednesday night, the staff of the Whit, Rowan University’s campus paper, was busy cranking out its last issue of the semester.
The students, journalism’s next generation, had all heard the horror stories about newspapers: Sluggish ad revenue. Circulation siphoned off by the Internet. Thousands of jobs lost. Major papers on the block.
Has the gloom and doom deterred Liz Zelinski from her dream of a newspaper career? ‘Not one little bit. I love it too much,’ said Zelinski, 20, fresh from laying out the front page.
I studied journalism, knowing that I didn’t want to be a reporter. In my school, to get a degree in public relations you had to get a degree in journalism. If someone had told me that there were few jobs available and that the competition for them was tough, I would have… wait, they did tell me that. And I went into this industry anyway.
Educators are frank with students about entering a field struggling to reinvigorate itself.
‘We never sugarcoat it,’ said Kathryn Quigley, a Rowan assistant professor and Whit adviser.
They pound the drum for ‘convergence’ skills to tell a story across several media. And their pupils — who have grown up with the Internet, video, audio and podcasts — show little anxiety about the job’s expanded duties.
I studied desktop publishing, advertising, marketing, and management in addition to the required public relations courses. I took public speaking and economics and art history. I wanted to be employable, so I worked in internships as well. Anything to give me a competitive edge.
Some say veteran journalists’ woes may spell opportunity for young applicants. After buying out tenured staffers, papers can hire younger applicants for less, said Arlene Morgan, associate dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
U.S. colleges and universities see strong interest in the field. Total enrollment in more than 450 journalism and mass-communication programs climbed nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2004, according to the Cox Center.
At Pennsylvania State University last fall, the number of journalism majors was up 135 percent from a decade earlier.
The University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism had 750 applications for 160 slots this fall. But 900 applied last year, and students nearing graduation are feeling trepidation.
Call me cynical, but I wonder how many of these journalists are going to end up on our side of the fence.
Here’s Newspaper Blues 101: Between 1992 and 2002, the number of full-time editorial employees at U.S. dailies fell by 8,438, almost 13 percent, according to Indiana University professor David Weaver, co-author of ‘The American Journalist in the 21st Century,’ due out this summer.
By this year, about 1,200 more newsroom jobs at paid-circulation dailies had been cut, the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported. Last year saw new investment in online reporting at newspapers, but not enough to offset cutbacks in ink-and-paper jobs, said Amy Mitchell, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Those who do snag a position won’t be paying off their school loans anytime soon. The median starting salary for applicants with a bachelor’s degree is $26,000 at dailies, according to the Cox survey. At weeklies, it’s less.
Based on these numbers, I’d guess quite a few of them are going to move on over. Which, I’m hoping, can only be a good thing.