Because of tight journalism job market, j-school profs advise students to embrace temp work, hone multimedia skills

By Heather Chapman, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

“The news business is on pace for its worst job losses in a decade as about 3,000 people have been laid off or been offered buyouts in the first five months of this year,” Gerry Smith reports for Bloomberg. “The cuts have been widespread. Newspapers owned by Gannett and McClatchy, digital media companies like BuzzFeed and Vice Media, and the cable news channel CNN have all shed employees.”

The trend has been driven by several factors: “Local newspapers have seen much of their advertising revenue vanish as readers move online. They’ve also struggled to attract many digital subscribers after past rounds of layoffs and buyouts eroded their quality,” Smith reports. “Digital media startups, funded by venture capitalists seeking growth, aggressively hired journalists then scaled back to focus on profitability. Almost everyone is struggling to compete with Facebook and Google, which accounted for three-fourths of U.S. online ads sales last year.”

The changing market has led journalism schools to adjust their instruction, according to a recent study. Researchers interviewed 113 faculty, staff and administrators from 44 U.S. journalism programs, and found that journalism schools have been increasingly encouraging students to not think of journalism as “coherent career path,” Amy McCaig reports for Futurity, a nonprofit university research news site.

“The post-Watergate media era where you would work for a local paper or TV station and work your way up to retirement with a nice pension is behind us,” study coauthor Max Besbris, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, told McCaig.

Instead, Besbris and coauthor Caitlin Petre of Rutgers University found that journalism school professors are advising students to accept that they may need to do temp or freelance work for news organizations or work in public relations, McCaig reports. Students are also advised to hone their skills in photography, social media, graphic design, editing, and recording. Such skills can make students more marketable, especially if publications are looking for a “one-man-band” jourmalist.
Any edge can help in such a tight journalism job market. Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, advises job hunters to widen the scope of their search beyond urban areas: “Many people looking for journalism jobs should consider small newspapers. We still get inquiries from them, looking for staff. And refugees from metros should consider buying a small paper if it’s financially viable. Many have closed because they couldn’t find buyers.”

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