When I’m not lumbering around the newsroom doing whatever it is assistant city editors do, I moonlight as an adjunct instructor at the University of Arizona teaching journalism students how to report public agencies.
Of the 17 students in my class this semester, 16 are seniors and most will graduate next week. If that double octet of junior journalists expects to jump into jobs as reporters shortly after the last notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” fade, all I can say is, “good luck.”
As I’ve written in this space before, the news business is in flux. Old media – newspapers, magazines and TV – are competing with new media – the Internet. No one really knows how it’s all going to shake out.
This has been a pretty dreadful year for newspapers. Besides the contraction in readers and advertising that has been going on for 30 years, the cruddy economy is kicking papers while they’re down.
The trade press that I’m addicted to reading has been filled with announcements of layoffs at papers across the country, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.
The ax has fallen here, too, with the Arizona Daily Star laying off 11 people in December and the Tucson Citizen leaving unfilled about a half-dozen positions vacated last year.
But even when the economy turns around, there’s little chance of job growth in the newspaper biz. Hiring freezes may be lifted and open positions filled, but the industry is not expected to create many new jobs.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 67,000 people employed as news analysts, reporters or correspondents in 2006. The bureau expects in 2016 there will be 68,000 such jobs, the anemic growth attributed mostly to population growth and the news industry’s investment in new media.
Meaning, if you’re a journalism student about to graduate and you want a job, you better be a Web site whiz in addition to being a wizard with words.
Of my 17 students, four have said they’re certain they want to be journalists. The rest are destined for law school, graduate school, public relations, teaching, unemployment or a trip to Europe “to find herself.”
Of the four who want to be nascent nattering nabobs of negativism, none appears to have a great command of the Internet.
They better learn some IT skills fast.
I saw the writing on the wall 11 years ago when I became the 30-year-old editor of a weekly newspaper that had no Web site.
I attended a conference in which one of the seminars dealt with the Internet and the future of newspapers. The speaker predicted the demise of newspapers in 10 years, claiming all news would be published on the World Wide Web.
I realized that I had another 30 years or so to go in my career and that if the guy was right, I was in trouble.
He was wrong, but only about the timeline. Since then, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about digital news presentation.
I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m ahead of the curve compared to some of my similarly- aged and -experienced colleagues.
Newspapers are not the dying dinosaurs their detractors portray them as. All of them are investing heavily into turning themselves into news Web sites, with varying rates of success.
The problem is that newspaper corporations can’t tell if print advertisers, all $42 billion worth of them last year, will become Web advertisers willing to still pay the same $42 billion.
Until that question gets answered, the flux will remain gut-churning.
Certainly, newspapers will look vastly different in 2018 than they do now, and who knows what they will look like 10 years after that. Shucks, 30 years ago, the news was written on typewriters and still often printed using hot lead.
So, if you’re 23 years old and about to embark on a 40-year career as a newsie, what do you need to know to get a job, besides the obvious?
I don’t know for sure, but it’s a good bet you better at least know the difference between a div and a dingbat.
Read Tucson Citizen Assistant City Editor Mark B. Evans’ blog, “Why a Free Press?”
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