The J-School Boom
“Declining circulation.” “Weaker ad revenue.” “Fewer jobs.” “Dinosaur.”
All of these are from news reports on the present state of the news business. Even The New York Times is cutting her page size to reduce costs.
Why then, are some institutions cheerfully touting the creation of new journalism programs? The answer, they say, is that the writing and information gathering skills taught to journalism students are an entrée to an increasing number of jobs, both journalism and marketing, as the media comes to include both magazines and Webzines, both broadcasts and podcasts.
“Journalism students see their options as much more diverse” than traditional print and television, said William Rainbolt, director of the State University of New York at Albany’s new journalism major, announced last month.
Indeed, students, fewer of whom are reading newspapers than ever, are not deterred by the industry doom and gloom. A 2004 survey of journalism and mass communication graduates by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication and Research at the University of Georgia reported that enrollment in the nation's journalism programs grew almost 30 percent between 1999 and 2004. And, after a dismal few years, the survey showed that, in 2004, about 70 percent of journalism undergraduates had a job offer upon graduation, up about 5 percentage points from the previous year.
Albany has had a journalism minor for decades, but the new major will allow students to, for example, focus in digital media or public relations and other types of advocacy communications. “Our goal is to make student versatile and adaptable,” Rainbolt said, adding that “it still begins with reporting and writing.”
Numerous institutions are adding or revamping journalism programs. The City University of New York is opening a Graduate School of Journalism. In Texas, Brazosport College is adding two journalism courses this fall to the one it previously offered.
In December, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to the dismay of some journalism purists among its alumni -- and to mixed reactions from current students -- appointed its first dean from the marketing side of Medill, and announced that marketing would become a larger part of a Medill education.
In 2000, just before the economy took a turn for the worse and journalism students started having trouble finding jobs, the University of Wisconsin at Madison revamped its undergraduate journalism program to make sure students learned both traditional journalism skills and media marketing, before separating to focus on one or the other.
SUNY-Stony Brook announced this month that it would open an undergraduate School of Journalism in the fall. Not all of the curriculum details are worked out, but Howard Schneider, former editor of Newsday and dean of the new school, said that students will all have to work in both traditional formats, such as print and television, and new media, such as the Web.
Several journalism professors interviewed said that journalism is simply a decent major for students who aren't necessarily looking to be reporters, but who want a broad education with a lot of writing. Faculty members and deans said that journalism is a very popular undergraduate major for students looking toward law school.
Schneider said that part of his school’s mission will be to educate news consumers. To that end, the school will have a news literacy course required of all students, and open to any student at the university. “We want to educate the next generation of journalists, but we want to educate the next generation of consumers too,” Schneider said. He added that, with the historically unprecedented amount of information now available at the click of a mouse, the only way credible news outlets can thrive is if readers are trained to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Schneider said the class might talk about, for example, the reports of murders and rape in the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “When you analyze it, you see they were based on uninformed eye witnesses who are unidentified, and the coroner never confirms them,” he said. “That should raise a red flag.”
Stony Brook's j-school will offer areas of concentration for students – science and environment, for example – and Schneider hopes to bring in faculty from other departments. Business professors, he said, might eventually work with students on new media business models.
“As the mainstream business models collapse,” Schneider said, “we’re inevitably going to see new ways to transmit news, report news, and make money.” He added that he thinks the current revolution of communications bodes well for the future market for journalism students. “I’m very bullish long term. The mainstream media is cutting jobs, but Yahoo! is adding jobs,” Schneider said.
According to the Cox Center report, about 23 percent of 2004 communications bachelor’s recipients are writing and editing for the Web.
While they’re broadening the scope of journalism education in some ways, institutions are increasingly making room for students to gain specific area knowledge.
At the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the first 27 students who did a second year
-- and an additional master's degree - learning about a discipline, like business or science, just graduated in May.
“There’s widespread perception that journalists, when dealing with complicated subjects, don’t often know what they’re talking about,” said Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia journalism school. “If that’s a problem, it’s a problem that universities are ideally suited to solve.” Lemann said he’d like to see more journalism programs develop their own curricula to help students specialize, rather than simply outsourcing it to another part of the university.
Whether or not the nation needs more journalism programs, Lemann said, is a tricky question, because journalists don’t need credentials, like a lawyer, to practice in the first place. “The question is: Does it add value for the people who go?” he said.
Lee B. Becker, director of the Cox Center at Georgia, said that his students are well aware of the fear and loathing surrounding the future of the mainstream media, and yet their interest is unflagging. “What people don’t understand,” Becker said, “is that students don’t say, ‘oh gee, I read The New York Times is going to write shorter stories, I’d better go into chemistry.’” When he asks students why they’re studying journalism, Becker said, “‘because I like to write,’” he said they tell him, or “‘somebody told me I was a good writer.’”
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