Surprise! J-school grads are finding jobs

It's a baffling phenomenon: As the job market for journalists has gotten worse and worse, enrollment in journalism schools has gone up and up. How to explain this?

As it turns out, there's a fairly simple, if surprising, explanation: As bad as things are in the media industry, j-school grads are, far more often than not, finding jobs. And not as subway buskers or strip-club managers, but as reporters, editors and fact-checkers. At least that's the case for recent graduates of two New York journalism schools, one of them venerable, one young.

Of the 306 students who earned degrees from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism last month, 197, or 64 percent, already reported having jobs or other post-school plans (such as internships, fellowships or continuing education) lined up by May 28, according to Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, the school's associate dean for communications. Adds Fishman, "Many of our students have gotten job offers in the last couple weeks, so 64 percent is lower than the actual number now employed." It's also better than last year's graduating class was doing at the same time.
And the places where Columbia grads have found work include some of the same institutions that have made headlines recently for laying off employees: The New York Times, NPR, CNN.

New degree-holders from CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism have found a similarly welcome reception in the workforce, according to Stephen B. Shepard, the school's dean (and former editor-in-chief at BusinessWeek). The most recent class of graduates earned their diplomas in December 2008; of those 45 students, says Shepard, 60 percent have full-time jobs in journalism, while another 15 percent have quasi-full-time internships or freelance gigs.

"Times are indeed tough, but our students are doing very well under these circumstances," says Shepard.

He believes CUNY's curriculum, which focuses on teaching students to practice journalism across all media platforms, has helped them to find spots in rapidly-digitizing newsrooms. Fishman, meanwhile, credits her school's success in placement to the prestige of the Columbia name and "the truly prodigious efforts of our career services team."

My guess is at least some of it is a direct result of the massive staff cutbacks just about every media organization has enacted in the past couple years. It's a corporate cliche to lay people off and euphemize it as "restructuring," but you can be sure that some of the companies that are letting go well-paid editors and writers in their 40s and 50s are quietly stocking up on fresh j-school grads whose lack of real-word experience is at least partly made up for by their effortless fluency in the ways of the web -- and their willingness to work for $35,000 a year.

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