Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Young Journalists Are Lost - Here's Why.

"There are no jobs in the journalism industry."

"Going to journalism school is a waste of time and money."

"You don't need any prior experience to be a journalist."

I hear this time and time again from naysayers in the industry, and I think it's bullshit. Know why?

Because there are jobs.

Because education is personal.

Because experience teaches lessons.

So many people in the blogosphere (yes, citizen journalists, I'm talking about YOU) dish rails like this all the time. It happens on blogs. It happens in forums. But most of all, it happens in the office and classroom.

This isn't the way to cultivate a new generation. We journalists sure like complaining about ourselves, don't we?

I've heard many big names give speeches about the importance of mentors. And that's great, despite the discrepancy as to if those changes are actually made.

But what are the entry requirements to be a journalist in the 21st century? Is it a college degree? (I think it should be.) Is it an internship? (I think one is good.) Is it a clip portfolio? (I think there should be at least three 300+ word pieces, no matter the publication).

Simply, the editorial journalism industry (note the difference from the media industry) needs to set a basic standard for entry into the field. And I think the generational disconnect between the "All The President's Men"-style journalist - that is, the Ticonderoga-slingin', steno pad-packin' rebel and the current version (the progressive march toward qualification by a mix of academia and craft) - is hindering this notion.

But really, let's get down to the basics: journalists can't even agree on the worth of a journalism education. More than 100 years after Joseph Pulitzer proclaimed that journalism should be a professional education - like that of medicine and law - we can't even decide that it's worth a liberal arts degree.

Hell, if lawyers are hated so much, how come we can hold them in such high esteem? Because they make so much money? (Boy, we hate them, but when shit hits the fan, don't we need them? Doesn't this sound similar to how journalists are perceived?)

Doesn't Brian Williams command a serious paycheck? Doesn't a publisher make solid pay?

This is 2007. College attendance has more than doubled nationwide since the '50s. And journalists can't even agree that a B.A. is necessary!

(I must say, however, that I am not encouraging hardfast rules or quotas. What I'm talking about is the ability for an engineer or a doctor to say, "well yes, generally you need to have a bachelor's degree or have gone to med school or have studied these courses" and for another to agree.)

Plus, there's all those bursting-with-sunshine journalism myths that I've heard most frequently as of late:

-You don't need a B.A. to get started in newspapers.
-You do need a B.A. to get started at a magazine.
-You need to be impossibly prolific to have any shot at a newspaper (Sewell Chang, anyone?)
-You need to be BFF with your superior at a magazine.
-Journalists are paid horribly. Unless you're a news anchor.
-You need to be really "pretty" to be in front of the camera.
-You need to have little or no ties for success - the better to be shipped abroad. That said, you also need to be fluent in eight middle eastern languages.
-You need to live and breathe the topic of your publication. (If you work for Glamour and choose your spouse over a pair of new shoes, you're out.)
-The only thing a journalism degree is good for is to make inroads at an alternative weekly.

And so on.

I'm really tired of hearing this. Journalists are so good at telling me what journalism isn't, and so bad at telling me what journalism is. Is it all to discourage competition? I don't think so, conspiracy theorists.

It's because there is no leadership. Not just on a personal level, as Chip Scanlan has mentioned - but from up on high. There are famous faces of those who practice their craft, but they're in it for them - or so it seems, doesn't it?

Will Katie Couric comment on this blog with her thoughts about her industry? It IS journalism, isn't it?

Maybe not. Maybe it's because the industry is actually guided by businessmen, and not journalists - the Jared Kushner effect. I don't know.

And we can't even decide our thoughts about j-school. Undergraduate or graduate or both? Who's the best - Columbia? Medill? University of Illinois? Newhouse? Cronkite? Scripps? CUNY? (Depends on where you're from, I bet.) And for what - Print? Broadcast? Radio? "New Media"? There isn't even a ranking for it. I know rankings can be stupid and misguided (yes, even USN&WR), but journalism needs them just to increase the awareness that journalism is a SPECIALTY and not just the purgatory that other profession's fallen end up in.

Without any of this guidance, young journalists are going to end up the same way the current generation is - a batch of mixed opinions and an overall lack of guidance for the profession.

Too many editors are worried about profits. Would it hurt so much to convene twice a year and talk about a lost profession?


fashion theory said...

Love your posts Editorialiste! I'm just happy I don't want to be a "journalist" but just a fashion "editor"! Haha.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in CubReporters.org, an online career guide for young
journalists and college students.