Friday, January 20, 2006
EDUCATION: Hartford Courant finds journalism enrollments stable
Journalism Students Facing A Changing Media Landscape
By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ | Courant Staff Writer
January 19 2006
To hear the news industry report on itself, times are bleak for the
ink-on-paper form of journalism.
Newspapers across the country are grappling with declining circulation.
Advertising revenues are waning in the face of
online competition. Staffs are shrinking, and hiring is sluggish as
corporate owners look to the bottom line.
And as they strain for relevancy in the Internet age, papers are confronted
with the stark limitations of the printed
word, as witnessed by many papers' bungled reports this month that the West
Virginia miners had been found alive.
Newspapering, industry folks sigh, is a dying tradition.
But while ink-stained veterans talk about newspapers' heyday having come and
gone, what must it be like for the next
generation of journalists on the edge of graduation and about to enter an
industry in transition?
Are they awash in unease, wondering what they signed onto? Are they packing
in their pens and pads in favor of a more
stable line of work?
Not just yet, say journalism deans and professors. In fact, they say
applications to their programs are steady, and in
some cases climbing.
No Rose-Colored Glasses
"We don't beat around the bush [with our students] when it comes to what's
going on in the business - or, more to the
point, what's not going on in the business," says Wayne A. Worcester, a
professor in the journalism department at the
University of Connecticut, where enrollment is on the rise. "There are no
rose-colored glasses here. And despite that, we
see more and more majors all the time."
Heads of journalism programs offer varying theories as to why. For an
e-generation raised on the Internet and fluent in
new technologies, the media and communications field is a hot one.
And it's a generation, some professors say, exhibiting a social
consciousness and a desire to right wrongs unseen since
the electricity of the Watergate era inspired a crop of journalists in the
"We ask ourselves all the time, `Don't people know what's going on in the
industry?'," says Worcester, who has taught at
the university since 1987. "I'm not a Pollyanna by a long shot, but the only
way I can explain it is these kids are
generally more socially aware and genuinely concerned about serious issues
than any group of students I've seen in the
time I've been here.
"Educated people want to make a difference, as trite as that may sound. And
one of the things that has always been
appealing to people who go into journalism is that, at least in some
small way, if only by reflecting the world
accurately, they can make a small difference."
Thomas Kunkel, dean of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, says
applications to his school have doubled in
the past five years. The current freshman class saw more than 900
applications, of which about 260 were accepted and half
of those enrolled.
"As I talk to my colleagues around the country, applications generally
continue to be strong. And it's not because kids
are unaware the news environment is changing," Kunkel says.
Gloom And Doom
No doubt, the gloom and doom being forecast on some media blogs might be
sobering to eager students considering a career
in journalism, particularly in newspapers, says Kunkel.
"But it's not freaking them out. And part of that is because some of the
things that are scaring journalists about the
changing industry is not so scary to 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds," he says. "We
can't forget that today's 18-year-olds are
media babies. ... From the day they were born, they have been immersed in
media. They're comfortable with it. It's part
of who they are."
Whereas some news folks see the Internet as a foe, the emerging group of
journalists see it as a friend. It means they
can get the news out quicker than a printing press allows, that their
stories will reach wider audiences and, hopefully,
have greater impact.
Jamie DeLoma, a senior in the journalism program at Quinnipiac University,
says he flirted with switching from his
concentration in print journalism to broadcast.
"I was afraid print would become a dead part of communication just because
of the immediacy factor," says DeLoma, 21,
editor of The Chronicle, the university's student paper. "But, in a
roundabout way, I think the Internet is what's going
to save print journalism, because it gives print the one thing it lacks.
"I have no fear that what I'm going into is going to be extinct," he says.
"In the end, I think print journalism is going
to be the premiere source for people to get their news again."
Still, when he hears of staff reductions at papers across the country,
including The Courant, it makes him wonder.
"It definitely causes me to think and question, `Am I going to have job
security - not only when I graduate but in 20, 30
years?'," he says.
How To Inspire?
But with that same kind of anxiety buzzing in newsrooms, with professors who
have been in the business long enough to see
it sometimes headed in worrisome directions, how do they inspire younger
journalists in the face of it all?
"It's tough. No question about it," says Kunkel. "It can be disheartening
for me because I've been working in the
newspaper business since I was 16 years old.
"But there's not a lot of sense in us whining in the classroom [because] our
primary responsibility is to prepare these
students to be of use, to do great journalism in this turbulent context."
The realities of the working world and of the newsroom will inevitably eat
away at these students' youthful optimism,
"We need to nurture that idealism as best we can. Because the fact is the
world needs idealistic journalists. We have
enough cynical journalists," he says. "We don't need any more of those."
Always Jobs For The Talented
Bottom line, journalism deans and professors tell their students: There will
always be jobs for the talented. And there
will always be an appetite for news, a need for hard-nosed investigations
and impassioned storytelling. It's just a
question of how people will prefer to get that information that will change.
And so the tack many programs are taking is to get their students proficient
across all media. Good journalism is good
journalism, no matter the vehicle.
"The most important thing we can teach our students is to be
platform-agnostic," says Rich Hanley, graduate program
director for Quinnipiac's school of communications. "The more you can learn,
the more you can market yourself.
"A story is a story. At heart, you're still a reporter," Hanley says.
"Despite the changes in distribution mechanisms,
the skills of a reporter are timeless: Report the facts, report the
information objectively, and write clearly."
Hanley says the new crop of journalists would be wise to investigate their
chosen field, just as they would a good story.
Know what's going on; know how the landscape is changing; know how media
outlets struggle to balance corporate needs
against a journalistic mission.
He minces no words about it.
"I'm a journalist. So I'm not going to sugarcoat anything," he says.
Students chatting on his class' discussion boards this year seemed to be
questioning their decision.
"But they recognized the situation, got the full details of it and decided
it's OK, that this job is important for
America, and they're willing to do it, willing to take the risk that they're
good enough to find a job," he says.
Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism, where applications have held steady,
reminds students that folks have long predicted the death of newspapers.
First it was radio. Then television. Now the
"I can't remember a time when, except sort of the last half of the 1990s
maybe, when there wasn't this kind of shroud of
pessimism draped over journalists about the future of the business," he
"I don't think our students share this kind of pessimism that you find now
in the business. And I don't think they should
share it. These are really good times for journalism ...The progress of
the press all over the world in the last
generation has really been remarkable."
Realities Of The Workplace
Robert Samuels, a senior at Northwestern University's Medill School of
Journalism, says it can be disheartening to hear
of staff layoffs and steady circulation declines just as he's about to enter
the field. And an internship at The Detroit
Free Press this summer, when the Knight Ridder property sold the paper to
Gannett, exposed him to the realities of
corporate ownership and the effects of sinking morale.
"Both my colleagues and I have thought seriously about grad school or law
school. But there's a lot of pride in being a
newspaper person," says Samuels, 21, editor of the school's Daily
"You wonder, `How am I going to get a job if everyone's cutting? So a lot of
us now are taking internships, hoping those
newspapers will eventually hire us, or hoping it will delay [a job search] a
little more until these cuts and buyouts get
settled," says Samuels, who has an internship lined up at The Washington
Post after he graduates this semester.
Samuels says at one point he and his peers agreed to take a break from the
much-read industry website maintained by Jim
Romenesko for the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in Florida. The
posts were so depressing, they needed a
Samuels reminds himself why he got into the business: to tell the stories of
people whose names and experiences might not
otherwise see print. And that, to him, is one of the most noble of
"A lot of people still encourage me that journalism is still worth it," he
says. "I'm pretty sure I'm in it for the long
haul. ... It's what I love."
Whether these students will stay in the game several years into their first
journalism jobs is the big question.
But, says Kunkel, you can be sure of this: "The best journalism schools
today are turning out students that are among the
best young journalists that this country has ever produced. And I feel very
good about that.
"My hope is these young, bright people are going to ... fix the predicament
we've gotten ourselves into," he says. "The
alternative is too bleak to contemplate."
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant