Tomorrow's journalists must embrace their inner geek
Three weeks from now, my oldest daughter will enter college, as a journalism major. I tried to warn her.
The prospects for young journalists are not good. An industry in upheaval rarely creates an inviting job market. An ongoing survey of j-school grads, as reported by Editor & Publisher, drives home this point:
Class of 2008 journalism school students graduated into the worst job market for new journalists in nearly a quarter-century -- and those who managed to find a job usually had few benefits to go with a stagnant salary, according to a survey released Wednesday.
According to the report’s authors, only six in 10 of the graduates had full-time employment six to eight months after graduation – the lowest level of full-time employment ever reported in the 23 years of the survey.
Compare the plight of journalists with data geeks, whose fortunes are on the rise, according to the New York Times:
The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more.
What’s wrong with this picture? A big part of the problem is that high schools and universities have been slow to adapt their curricula to the new media mindset and the skills that are required to be a successful e-media journalist: photojournalism, rich media production, web design, social media and, yes, analytics.
Some schools are hoping to get ahead of the curve by evolving their course offerings to reflect the modern journalist’s job requirements. Columbia University’s Journalism School offers classes such as Multimedia Production and Visual Storytelling. The Knight Center for Digital Entrepreneurship, part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, “teaches entrepreneurial thinking and skills to a cross-section of students majoring in journalism, computer engineering, design and business.”
Dr. Andrew Mendelson, the head of Temple University's Journalism Department, told Online Journalism Review that Temple anticipated the “new reality” for journalism students and has been adapting its approach accordingly:
"Six years ago, we changed the curriculum to add more multimedia exposure. We require students to do reporting in all types of areas—print, Web, audio and video. In addition to this cross-platform format, students specialize in newspapers, magazines or photojournalism."
In this rush to bring curricula into the 21st century, let’s hope that the j-schools don’t gloss over the underlying principles of professional journalism – the basic interviewing, writing and editing skills that seem to have become devalued in an environment driven by user-generated content, YouTube, and 140-word status updates. Those foundational skills, combined with a heavy dose of digital media training, could produce a new generation of well-equipped storytellers.
Maybe there’s hope for my daughter after all.