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Journalists: A dying breed

At 21, Alana Taylor has already seen her career in journalismtransformed and perhaps cut short by the technology reshaping the newsbusiness.

At 21, Alana Taylor has already seen her career in journalism transformed and perhaps cut short by the technology reshaping the news business.

She arrived at New York University four years ago thinking about a career in magazines. That morphed quickly to blogging, the faster way to get her writing noticed, she thought. But realizing that $15 per post wasn’t going to pay rent and grocery bills, she took a job with a tech startup this summer in a market research gig.

For now, Taylor considers journalism a hobby. “I try to keep freelancing on my mind,” she said, but the few opportunities that come along tend to pay little if anything.

For a new crop of journalists, with many more wannabes starting journalism school this fall, tumult in the news industry means new opportunities for connecting with readers online, but also fresh anxiety about finding a way to get paid for it.

According to a survey released this summer by Lee Becker at the University of Georgia, only six in 10 graduates from journalism and mass communication schools during the 2007-08 academic year had full-time employment within six to eight months of leaving school, the lowest since the annual survey began 23 years ago. At the same time, those programs granted more degrees than ever, about 55,000.

As Taylor's case shows, even for those with an enthusiastic embrace of new technology and forms of journalism, there is no guarantee of a living.

Taylor found her niche as a journalism major at NYU writing about technology and social media. She was eventually approached by the blog Mashable, which paid her to interview executives at startups and cover tech conferences in New York. And she found writing for the web held an appeal that was lost on ink and paper.

“I really like the idea of building my own personal brand,” she said. “In regular media you hide behind your byline and no one knows who you are or what you look like. I like that online every time I write something readers can go see my photos or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.” The pay, however, was less appealing.

All this poses a dilemma for journalism and mass communication schools, which insist jobs are still available, but concede students will need more of an entrepreneurial spirit and a new set of skills.

“The days when you climbed onto the best newspaper you could and looked forward to doing the same thing for 40 or 50 years are over,” said Dean Mills, head of the Missouri School of Journalism. “People who want security or lack ambition probably should not be in journalism schools these days.”

In the meantime, journalism schools have been retooling to prepare students for reporting in the digital era under the assumption that any new business model will have to reckon with the web.

 
 
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