Journalism remains a smart career, despite shrinking newsrooms

Yan Arief, via Flickr (CC license)
Journalism skills work well outside the newsroom, too — maybe even better.

One of my BlogHer friends, Elana Centor, just wrote me to pose an interesting question. She asked: Is journalism a smart career path in 2008?

I’m just one of many people she asked, so I can’t wait to see her final piece. (I’ll post a link to it when it’s up.) But here’s a cleaned-up and expanded version of what I told her:

————–

Hi, Elana

Great question. Personally, I think that developing journalism skills and experience is valuable for many career paths — but I think that betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases. I think most j-schools are setting bright students up to fail, and that bugs me. A lot.

It’s such a shame that most j-schools still are not teaching new journalists crucial skills they’ll need to act entrepreneurially in media: content management systems (including blogging tools), mobile tools and mobile media strategies, social media, business skills, management skills, economics and business models, marketing, SEO, community management, etc.

One exception to this is Arizona State Univ., which just launched the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship that Dan Gillmor is heading up. Also, at various schools, there are exceptional teachers who really get online/mobile media and entrepreneurial journalism, such as Barbara Iverson at Columbia College, Mindy McAdams at the Univ. of Florida, Rich Gordon at Medill j-school (Northwestern Univ.), and Kim Pearson at The College of New Jersey. That’s important — sometimes all you need is one really good teacher in a program to open a student’s mind. (Disclosure: Barb, Rich, and Kim all contribute to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog, which I edit.)

That said, what surprises me even more is that most j-school students don’t seem to care much about online media or being entrepreneurial…

I get asked to speak to journalism students a lot, and it’s stunning. Most of them actually seem to believe that their career path will lead them to writing big investigative or literary features for major magazines or newspapers. They believe good journalism = Pulitzer. They’re actually BEHIND many other people their age in terms of how they use and view online and mobile media.

I’m not sure why that is — whether most journalism students are close-minded before the come to j-school, or whether j-school does that to them. But I see it so much that I can’t ignore it. Of course, I could just be getting fooled by how disengaged most of them act in class when I’m speaking, so maybe I’m just a bad speaker for that audience. But my gut tells me no, that most of them really believe we’re in the Lou Grant era, even though they’re not old enough to remember that show.

Regardless of the cause, I look at how little most of those students seem to know and care about online/mobile media, and about establishing their personal brand and making their own opportunities outside of mainstream news orgs, and I figure those ones may deserve to go down with the ship of mainstream news orgs.

But there are always a few bright, energetic, ones who get that it’s up to them to make their own career path, they’re eager for opportunity — and they’re generally being shortchanged by their education. A damn shame.

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