Journalism School: Students Still Hear the Call

Dec 7, 2009  •  Post A Comment

 By Elizabeth Jensen

In the mid-1970s, the movie “All the President’s Men” sent high school students scurrying to journalism school, motivated by the glamorous prospect of bringing down a president.

Today, those now middle-aged journalists who are still working in the field are tracking the daily depressing doses of newspaper and television layoff news: 4.3 percent of television news jobs lost in 2008 and 10.3 percent of newspaper jobs, according to Hofstra University’s Robert Papper.

Yet college students are clamoring to go to J-school. Despite the widespread gloom about the current state of the traditional news business, journalism schools are booming. “Bear market for journalism; bull market for journalism schools,” said Bill Grueskin, the dean of academic affairs at Columbia University’s Journalism School.

So what in the world are the students thinking? It’s not the siren call of a big-screen movie. But it may be that the younger generation sees something that others don’t.

“I think that the very, very intense level of discussion about journalism drives interest to these schools,” says Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s Journalism School.
“Journalism is very top of mind outside the profession in ways that it wasn’t five years ago,” he says, and students, “are betting that they’re getting in on the ground floor of a new order rather than seeing the utter collapse of everything as a lot of middle-age editors are seeing. It’s hard to believe that every single year will be a repeat of 2009.”

Talking Points Memo founder and editor Joshua Micah Marshall, in the annual Henry F. Pringle Lecture to Columbia’s graduation class last May, captured that thought, noting: “If I were entering the profession — probably going back to the beginning of the 20th century — there’s no time I’d rather enter it than now. That is notwithstanding the challenges that the profession faces right now, but precisely because of it. It’s the people who are entering the profession right now who are going to create the editorial models, the publishing models, the business models, that define journalism in the 21st century.”

School administrators offer up myriad other reasons for the booming ranks. At the University of Florida, where the well-regarded program is trying to accommodate 140 students more than its theoretical capacity of 400 juniors and seniors, Dean John Wright says students are drawn by the numerous job opportunities they see not in traditional outlets, such as newspapers, but working for online news operations or company Web sites. “They can transpose what they get here into all kinds of professional opportunities,” he said.

Columbia, an exclusively graduate program, says international students account for some, but not all, of its booming numbers. The school enrolled 260 full-time master of science students this fall, compared with 211 last year and 200 in fall 2003. Applications for that program jumped to 1,085, from 776 last year and 913 in fall 2003.

Grueskin has only “anecdotal” theories for the heightened interest, related both to the economy and the changing nature of the profession. “Any time you have an economic downturn, graduate schools see a bump, because the opportunity costs go down. You’re not giving up as much as you used to be,” he says.

But he adds that the increasing professionalization of the business may also account for some of the interest. Thirty years ago, he says, learning on the job was an option. Today, a whole layer of mid-level editors, the ones who used to take junior reporters under their wings, has been wiped out in the rounds of layoffs.

“With the cutbacks we’ve seen, there isn’t anyone left to train anyone,” says Papper. “If you’re lucky, someone will explain the computer system you’re using.”

Moreover, says Grueskin, thanks to eternal digital search-engine optimized archiving, a mistake early in a career, even in an off-the-beaten-path newsroom, may never be forgotten. “The stakes for doing something wrong are increased.”

Students applying to the University of California’s Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism are “more prepared than ever,” with internships under their belts and quality clips, says Pam Gleason, director of admissions and student affairs. “They know what they want to do, they have a focus,” she says. The graduate school has deliberately kept enrollment small — currently, 59 second-year students and 50 first-year students — but applications in recent years have been up and are expected to be again this year. (The exception was last year, and the school doesn’t quite know why, although Gleason said there was a drop in applicants from China, when the school wasn’t able to offer the same scholarships for them as it had in the past.)

Berkeley’s program sends its graduates out with a full complement of multimedia skills. Schools that didn’t have such programs before are now adding them; Columbia opens its year with a three-week “digital skills boot camp,” and the University of Florida’s journalism department just voted on a major revision to its curriculum, which makes mandatory a similar course in multiplatform production at the beginning of the program. While most courses at the school already teach online and cross-platform journalism on an ad hoc basis, the new course will make sure that “from the outset [students] have these skills to put to use as they go through their various other courses,” says Wright.

Columbia has adapted to reflect the new realities of the journalism world by breaking its former course on law and critical issues into two separate classes. The revamping of the legal course was a recognition that many students will end up working independently in the field, and, even if they end up at a large news organization, they might not find as much legal support as in the past, due to the cutbacks, Grueskin said.

Ethics, meanwhile, has become a case-study based course. Grueskin said the school wanted to add to its teaching there because, “ ‘A,’ the consequences of bad ethical decisions are more far reaching now; and ‘B,’ because the time frames are so condensed online, the need for journalists to make sound ethical decisions quickly has been heightened.”

Columbia also for the first time now mandates a business of journalism course.

Indeed, schools aren’t ignoring the changes roiling the field, and because they know they will face a smaller pool of applicants if they can’t find jobs for the students they have, they are actively aiding the search for new economic models.

American University’s J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism calls itself an “incubator for innovative news experiments that use new technologies to help people actively engage in critical public issues.” The University of Florida is about to open a “21st Century News Laboratory” in its Center for Media Innovation + Research. Arizona State University’s Cronkite School serves as the headquarters for the News21 Initiative, a joint program by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Knight Foundation to change both journalism education and train a new generation of journalists. Columbia recently sponsored a yearlong investigation that led to a 100-page report on “The Reconstruction of American Journalism.”

While students appear to have a much broader idea of what kinds of places they’d like to work, it doesn’t mean they are without anxiety over getting a job, administrators say. Last spring, seniors “were very nervous, and rightly so,” says Papper, the chair of Hofstra’s Department of Jour
nalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations.

“I can’t imagine a worse time to be graduating in the field than we faced last spring,” he says. Still, his program this year enrolled 596 students in the major, up by 1 student from last year, at a time when the university overall has lost students. That comes on top of recent annual growth of 4 percent to6 percent, he said.

Even in a severe downturn, “there are still tens of thousands of standard reporting jobs out there,” says Columbia’s Grueskin. Newly graduated students, he notes, are both “less expensive” and possess “a very valuable skill set for these news organizations.”

Lemann says it’s worth remembering that the “Watergate-era” journalism students also chose to enter the field at a time of deep recession when there was doom and gloom over daily journalism, as afternoon newspapers folded left and right. “But when you’re 22 you don’t notice that stuff,” he said.

“There’s no credible research that says there are any fewer people interested in or less interested in news than there has ever been,” says Papper. “We’re in a very volatile time in terms of what the business model is, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a future. We just haven’t necessarily been smart enough to figure out how that will happen.”

Today’s job crisis for middle-aged reporters is “our reality, that’s not the kids’ today reality,” he adds. “You can talk about how things used to be so much better, and they look at you with blank faces. We need to sometimes get over ourselves.”

57 Comments

  1. A terrific piece. The grimness so many of us geezers feel about the business sure doesn’t show up in the eyes and the work of students. They make me feel very good about the future of our calling — and guilt-free over showing them the joy of getting it right.
    Alan Solomon, adjunct lecturer
    Medill School of Journalism
    Northwestern University

  2. A terrific piece. The grimness so many of us geezers feel about the business sure doesn’t show up in the eyes and the work of students. They make me feel very good about the future of our calling — and guilt-free over showing them the joy of getting it right.
    Alan Solomon, adjunct lecturer
    Medill School of Journalism
    Northwestern University

  3. A terrific piece. The grimness so many of us geezers feel about the business sure doesn’t show up in the eyes and the work of students. They make me feel very good about the future of our calling — and guilt-free over showing them the joy of getting it right.
    Alan Solomon, adjunct lecturer
    Medill School of Journalism
    Northwestern University

  4. I am curious what the job placement rates are for recent graduates of the schools quoted in the article.
    It’s also somewhat depressing that the Columbia official is touting the fact that its new J-school grads are “less expensive” — presumably, a reference to Columbia’s own graduates from five or 10 years ago, as well as the legions of midcareer journalists from across the country who have been laid off from their jobs and are searching for new positions now.

  5. Here’s a good resource for new grads looking for a job in media: http://www.hungrygrad.com

  6. Alan — your posting three times makes me worry you are a print guy. This article is nice, but there’s not one comment from the Scripps-Howard J-School at O.U. on this — novella fail. Finally, the companion piece to this is — “Law Schools find J-schools great recruiting grounds” (you’ve got the useless BA, now you just need the B$)

  7. Nice find … enjoyed it! 😀

  8. , awesome article, I thouroughly enjoyed reading this. This blog gave me the push to attempt my own post, please check out my post by clicking my name at the top of this article, thank you

  9. university of spankopolis tile coasterThe Republic of Spankovia knows a good thing our University of Spankopolis an institute of higher learning and education has made available to you logo style designs to promote the U of S. tile coaster.

  10. If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.

  11. The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.

  12. Really nice post here – I don’t know why you don’t just get the most out of these tools whilst they are free.

  13. That’s great.very helpful,thanks a lot

  14. That’s great.very helpful,thanks a lot

  15. Thanks for the share, I have been readin online all day and this was actully worth reading. Thanks

  16. Well, the post is actually the freshest on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your future updates.

  17. Thank you for your article,It’s well written, in depth posts like these that have aided me in becoming a good forex trader.

  18. Thanks for the share, I have been readin online all day and this was actully worth reading. Thanks

  19. Thanks for your helpful Post, I hope you have a good day!

  20. Thanks for your helpful Post, I hope you have a good day!

  21. Informative information and excellent posts you have!

  22. Thank you for a great post

  23. Wonderful to read!

  24. I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?

  25. Excellent job.

  26. Excellent job.

  27. Great post!

  28. Lindsay Lohan “Most of these were my school years … but also were with the public eye. We were uncaring. I’d been experimenting. I have been doing some things that people do 10 times significantly more of when they’re in schooling.”

  29. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share your this with everyone.

  30. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know wheere u got this from. thanks

  31. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share your this with everyone.

  32. Amazing freakin blog here. I almost cried while reading it!

  33. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  34. Love the blog here. Nice colors. I am definitely staying tuned to this one. Hope to see more.

  35. found your site on yahoo today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it.

  36. Thank you for the great content. I am glad I have taken the time to see this.

  37. Keep focusing on your blog. I love how we can all express our feelings. This is an extremely nice blog here :)

  38. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. :)

  39. I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)

  40. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  41. Love all the opinions expressed here! How is everyone? Love how everyone expresses whatr they feel :)

  42. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  43. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  44. Nice!! Great Ifo. Great People. Great Blog. Thank you for all the great sharing that is being done here.

  45. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  46. This is the ideal blog for anybody who desires to know about this topic. You know so much its practically difficult to argue with you (not that I truly would want.!!!.HaHa)!!! You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been published about for years. Wonderful things, just wonderful!

  47. Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

  48. Love all the opinions expressed here! How is everyone? Love how everyone expresses whatr they feel :)

  49. I would like to start my own blog one day. This was a really nice blog that you made here. Keep up the success 😛

  50. I have found your site on the first page of google. Congratulations :)

  51. I adore th is blog- it is the only one I v isit on the ordinary bas is. Your efforts and opinions (favorite or otherw ise) are all appreciated. Thanks.

  52. Are you interested by content exchange? I had few similar blogs but I closed them. Income was low.

  53. Took me time to examine all of the comments, however I in fact enjoyed the editorial. It proved being in actuality cooperative to me and I am optimistic to every one of the commenters here! It’s commonly pleasant whenever you can not just be informed, but in addition entertained! I am optimistic you had pleasing writing this write-up.

  54. Thanks for communicating your thoughts and experiences so we can learn from them. They were so nicely put. Please continue with the piece you do as it is honestly enjoyed.

  55. Great wordpress blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! take care and see you soon

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)