Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Investing In The Future: Papers, Fellowships and The Great Detente

You know what bothers me?

Headlines like this: "Fewer Journalists Seeking Fellowships."

You know why that bothers me?

Because it seems to me that fellowships are nothing but a good thing for the right journalist. And it's sad that the drop in applications is a direct result of nationwide layoffs.

Why? Irony. Isn't it ironic that a reporter would take a fellowship to better his reporting and editing -- you know, so that it's good for the company and benefits them in the long-term -- and then he or she lose his job at his paper?

Angel Jennings of the Times reports:

The decline comes as many newsrooms are scaling back through buyouts and job cuts in response to declines in revenue as many readers turn to the Internet. Some in academia wonder if journalists are staying put to avoid losing their jobs.
It continues:

Stanford did not receive any applications from employees at The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and some other large newspapers.

“Journalists are afraid for their jobs,” said Alex S. Jones, the director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard. “They are afraid that if the newspaper can go on without them for a year, their job might be in jeopardy.”

This kills me. Many employers across the country have programs that allow their employees to earn a degree on the company's tab if it is proven that it will help the company by helping that employee do his or her job better. That's the deal, right?

But then what if that employer terminates the employee just after he or she receives their degree? Isn't that an extremely bad choice, financially and morally (but we'll suspend morality for a moment, since we're talking about large organizations here)? What good is it to spend the money helping an employee that you're about to release to your competitors? Employees who invest in their employees should promise a return.

A fellowship is very much in the same vein. Only this time, it seems journalists are too scared to leave. They won't go for their 'degree' because they wager that the experience -- that is, the time away from the desk -- will be a more negative effect than positive, resulting in a loss of a job.

I don't know what's more depressing: The fact that journalists are too scared to have the confidence to prove that they're better (after the fellowship) than what a publication could hire, or the fact that their lack of applications to the programs displays a weakening confidence in the programs themselves -- that is, that these fellowships couldn't possibly be essential or important enough to warrant risking a job.

Or worse: That there's a very real possibility that a major publication like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times or Chicago Tribune would actually go back on their investment and fire their newly-educated reporter, instead spending the time and money hiring a less-experienced journalist.

The lack of confidence in such education is worrying.

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