A couple of days ago, the New York Times published an article about two twins who graduated from Rutgers a year and a half ago with degrees in journalism, have sent out 150-odd resumes, and haven’t gotten a single interview, much less a job. It was actually kind of a lame article, since there was no way of knowing the extent to which their spectacular lack of success had to do with their qualifications or abilities, as opposed to the dismal prospects for young journalists right now.
That said, the prospects for young journalists right now are dismal. Newspapers are going into bankruptcy right and left, TV stations are trimming their staffs, magazines like Gourmet are folding, and experienced writers are giving their work away for free on blogs. The horror!
Given all that, the amazing thing is that this is a boom time for journalism education. Just last week, the Annenberg School for Communication at USC changed its name to the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, because, in the words of the dean, “We recognize the critical importance of educating and training journalists in the support of a democratic society.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education,
Applications to Columbia University’s master-of-science program in journalism rose 44 percent, to 1,181, for the class entering this fall, and an investigative-journalism specialty drew more than twice as many applications this year than last year, up from 54 in 2008 to 121 this year.
Elsewhere, applications to master’s programs were up 30 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 25 percent at the University of Maryland at College Park, and 24 percent at Stanford University.
Enrollment in undergraduate journalism programs nationwide has grown 35 percent over the past 10 years, to 201,477, and was up slightly in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.
Now, the graduate program numbers are partly explained by the presence on the market of so many laid-off journalists with nothing else to do. But the undergraduate boom is real, I have experienced it at the University of Delaware, and it is bemusing, to say the least. I am frankly glad that our program isn’t based around a major, much less a whole school of journalism. That implies a sort of professional-education approach, akin to engineering, accounting, medicine, or law, that I have never been enthusiastic about, least of all now.
Instead, my colleagues and I work on the sort of traditional liberal arts idea that students should specialize in an academic discipline, on top of which some journalism education and training (formerly a concentration, now a minor) can be really useful. That is, if you study journalism well, you learn to: gather and disseminate information efficiently, interview people, write quickly and clearly, and (very) generally have a reasonably good sense of the way the world and especially the media work. That, coupled with your major, will help make you a strong candidate for a lot of jobs, plus a good citizen of the U S of A. As you can see from this partial list of our alumni going back to 1969, they do a lot of different things, of which straight journalism is only one.
However, using your journalism education to find a journalism job is currently, as my high-school college-admissions adviser used to say, a tough nut to crack.
I just wrote an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education about some of the ways my approach to the teaching of journalism is changing. I’ll link to it when it appears.