Times Are Tough for News Media, but Journalism Schools Are Still Booming
COLUMBIA, Mo. — These are tough times for journalism.
The newspaper industry cut more than 2,000 jobs last year as it continued to lose readers and advertisers to the Internet. Network newscasts are being propped up by older viewers and continue to lose market share to cable. Regular reports of ethical breaches are undermining public trust in all news organizations, bloggers accuse the mainstream media of being arrogant and clueless, and Wall Street expresses little confidence in its financial future.
But there is one corner of the profession still enjoying a boom: journalism schools.
Demand for seats in the nation's journalism schools and programs remains robust, and those schools and programs are expanding. This month, they will churn out more graduates than ever into a job market that is perhaps more welcoming to entry-level multimedia-taskers than it is to veterans who began their careers hunting and pecking on Olivetti typewriters.
"If you've got the skills, the jobs are there," Diego Sorbara, who is graduating shortly from the Missouri School of Journalism here, said with the confidence of a 22-year-old who has lined up two jobs, first as a copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this summer, then as a copy editor and page designer at The Rocky Mountain News.
"Newspaper people are too pessimistic," he said. "Part of the nature of journalism is to adapt to your surroundings. We can't all stay in our ruts. If you get into this whole spiral of, 'Woe is us, the industry is going down,' then it will go down."
Michele Steele, 27, who is graduating from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, has a similar outlook. She has been hired as a reporter and anchor for the video network at Forbes magazine's Web site, www.forbes.com.
"Certainly the industry is changing," Ms. Steele said as she monitored the Forbes Web site in the school's new Roone Arledge Broadcast Lab, named after the former head of ABC News. "But the changes are positive."
Some of those changes are being reflected on the nation's campuses, where new media is being taught alongside the old.
Missouri's journalism school — the oldest in the country — is building a new institute with a $31 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for a "convergence center," where journalists and ordinary citizens can study emerging media technologies and new approaches to journalism and advertising.
In New York, Columbia just opened the multimillion-dollar Arledge digital television lab and last fall introduced a new one-year master of arts program in which student journalists can concentrate in a field like business or the arts. It plans to open a new center for investigative journalism this summer.
In addition to such established schools, other new options are arising. Steven Brill, the founder of The American Lawyer and Court TV, and his wife, Cynthia, gave $1 million earlier this year for a new journalism program at Yale. And the City University of New York is opening a whole new Graduate School of Journalism in September. It is even reclaiming an old-media landmark, the New York Herald Tribune building in Midtown Manhattan.
In 2004, the latest year for which there are comprehensive statistics, freshman enrollments in more than 450 journalism and mass communications programs across the country increased 5.2 percent over the previous year, marking the 11th consecutive year of growth. The figures are compiled by a team led by Lee B. Becker, a professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, who has surveyed journalism enrollments and the job market for two decades.
"There is no evidence as of yet that any of these discussions of gloom and doom in the industries, and particularly the newspaper industry, are having any adverse affect on enrollments," Mr. Becker said, although his survey did show a slowing of the growth rate from 2003 to 2004.
"Students are interested in writing," he said. "They're interested in the broader sense of what the media are and what role they play in society, and those are the things that drive them, not hearing about Knight Ridder dealing with a stockholders' revolt."
Students are also driven by the very changes that are upending the old media. For one thing, many do not read the print version of newspapers. As Dustin Hodges, 22, who is graduating from Missouri in August, put it, "I don't pick up a newspaper unless it's in front of me and it's free." For the latest news, he hops online, where he spends three or four hours a day anyway.
Today's students have grown up immersed in the Internet and with the ability to adapt rapidly to new technologies, giving them a comfort level with things that newspapers are just discovering, like blogs, podcasts and video clips.
Richard J. Roth, senior associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University — where the number of applicants has increased every year for the last six years — likes to note that one of his school's graduates is Kevin Sites, who has become a pioneering one-man multimedia foreign correspondent for Yahoo.
He said newspapers were replacing older journalists with those, like Mr. Sites, who were grounded in the basics of news but could also present it in an array of formats.
"They're just buying out the people who are earning at the top and replacing them with people at the bottom," he said, "but those people at the bottom know how to put up podcasts and video."
Unlike some older journalists who may feel threatened by the digital world, today's students are so at home in it that some know more than their professors.
"We're maybe one step ahead of them, and sometimes they're two or three steps ahead of us," said Mike McKean, chairman of Missouri's convergence journalism faculty. "Things are changing so quickly that it's not so much about learning a particular tool or software. It's more about an attitude of working in teams and producing content for different audiences."
At the same time, Brian S. Brooks, the associate dean of undergraduate studies, said Missouri was still emphasizing basic reporting and writing. "We're still making students drill down in the existing media," he said. "That's where the jobs are. You don't want to get too far out in front of the industry."
At Columbia in New York, one multimedia student, Julia Kumari Drapkin, said she was having just that experience.
Ms. Drapkin, 27, a photographer who had taken pictures in Sri Lanka after the tsunami and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, went to Columbia to broaden her skills. She said that some news organizations were not yet ready to allow photographers to write, for example, or shoot video, but she did find a summer internship at Time magazine and its Web site, where she said she would be encouraged to help "rethink the photo essay."
"In this changing media landscape, there's an opportunity for us to be able to do a new kind of reporting," she said. At Time, she said, "there will be conversations about how to handle the new media and I want to be part of that conversation."
Stephen B. Shepard, the founding dean of the City University's journalism school, said journalism education was more valuable to students these days than in years past, in part because news organizations were less able to provide on-the-job training. "There are more demands on people; staffs have been cut, everyone is watching the bottom line and you can't get the training and mentoring that you used to get," he said.
But like many young people just starting their careers, many new journalism graduates seem unfazed by these challenges.
Jake Jost, 24, who interned with Lisa Myers, a senior investigative reporter for NBC News in Washington last year, said that news organizations would always need people with basic skills. "By doing solid news, we can make ourselves relevant to viewers and they'll come back," he said.
At Columbia, Emily Brady, 29, was waiting to talk to a recruiter from Newsday, the Long Island newspaper beset with woes ever since a circulation scandal in 2004. "You don't go into this profession to get rich," Ms. Brady said. "There are financial sacrifices, it's a tough profession, you're under fire, and it's not necessarily the most popular thing to say you're a journalist," she said. "But it's a calling."