It's no secret that going to journalism school ("J school") just isn't the value proposition it was even a few years ago, especially if you've always dreamed of going into the print end of things.
Traditional jobs at newspapers, magazines and TV stations are few and far between. Gigs writing for online content sites – everything from Demand Media to the Huffington Post to AOL's Patch.com and Seed.com – are more plentiful, but making ends meet for a recent grad burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of student loans ranks as a Herculean task.
Out of that morass, does it make sense to plunk down as much as $40,000 for a journalism degree at New York University, under the tutelage of professor and new-media expert Jay Rosen? The school is betting it will, now that it has partnered with The New York Times to create a hyperlocal neighborhood news Web site. The resulting blog, The Local: East Village will be hosted on nytimes.com.
One of the biggest criticisms about NYU's new program -- that it prepares graduates for entry-level jobs that don't exist anymore -- also apply to just about every other J school. The idea isn't entirely new. City University of New York students write a New York Times Local blog on Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. For years, J schools from Boston to Chicago to Berkeley have partnered with print, television and online media to give students real-world experience. Yet in many cases, schools have used these as dog- and-pony shows to attract more students (and their money) as opposed to creating real-world jobs.
So how is the NYU partnership different? Starting this semester, before the site goes live, students will take an active role in building up the site's functionality: everything from exploring revenue and advertising models to programming a Web-based assignment tool for writers. (That strategy makes sense, since in general, college-age students know more about the Web than Baby Boomer instructors.)
In future semesters, students will be able to take ideas from journalism professor Jay Rosen's Studio 20 innovation class and apply them to LEV Local: East Village).
"Once LEV is up and running, it will be both a teaching lab for the Reporting New York program within NYU journalism, and a kind of local journalism innovation lab for students in Studio 20 and any other NYU students who have things they want to try, test or propose," Rosen said in a Skype instant message interview. "So, say a student has developed a mobile app; it could be introduced as a service of LEV first."
Money College asked Rosen, who is helping lead the partnership's startup effort, what the NYU-NYT program prepared students for. His first response was that it will give students a full set of skills to succeed in any part of the field. Then he posed this rhetorical question:
"Once upon a time you could prepare students for stable slots in media empires that were themselves stable, like 'assistant editor at national magazine.' But is that really the world we are in today?"
Point taken. But he wouldn't speculate on exactly where students would find work once graduating. The tough reality is that there simply aren't that many decent-paying jobs in journalism, whether you have a degree from NYU with nytimes.com clips or not.
Job boards tell part of the story: About 650 jobs nationwide (including writing for Demand Media) are listed on on JournalismJobs.com, and there are about 850 jobs on MediaBistro, including many advertising, marketing and sales positions.
Assume no overlap and that's 1,500 jobs. In 2007, a whopping 85,000 students graduated with bachelor's or master's degrees in journalism or communications, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And don't forget layoffs: The industry shed more than 45,000 media jobs between January 2008 and September 2009, according to Unity, an advocacy group for minority journalists.
Cynical yet? Alan Mutter labels himself an "extremist" when it comes to journalists taking charge of their own destinies. The former print reporter is now a new media consultant in San Francisco and writes the closely read industry blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur.
Programs like NYU's will succeed – and students will be able to find meaningful work – Mutter says, if the curriculum instills the need to become an expert in a handful of topics.
"You have to do what you have to do to keep yourself together, but you should be aiming toward what I would call strategic freelancing," Mutter says. "You pick an area, you get hired by people to write about it, and you're actually also assembling information that makes you more of an authority in that space."
The money comes not from a regular paycheck from a newspaper, Mutter says, but from any number of things: selling articles, publishing books or DVDs, speaking at conferences, giving lectures and teaching, for example.
Cultivating readership and cultivating one's brand are just as important, Mutter says.
"We have to show people that there are ways that you can make it as a journalist," he says. "You can be professionally satisfied and make a decent amount of money."
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