Archive for December, 2010
To be honest, the number of jobs available in mainstream news media is declining. Experienced journalists are being laid off. Most online journalism salaries are low. Lots of people seek free labor. Journalism schools are likely producing too many students compared to the number of traditional journalism jobs available.
But before you write off journalism as a major, consider two points:
(1) The skills you learn in journalism make you employable in many types of jobs;
(2) This is a profession/craft that is reinventing itself. For creative, ambitious, motivated, curious, driven seekers of interesting life work, journalism offers:
Excitement. During the industrial revolution it was cool to be in textile manufacturing. Today the revolution is in communication and information. If you gravitate to chaos, uncertainty and risk, align yourself in the knowledge industries. If you prefer stability and predictability, try accounting.
Discovery. “Today if you’re curious you have an insane advantage. The noncurious get left behind.” (#newsfoo 2010) If you want the insane advantage of curiosity, chose a field that stimulates your curiosity every day. Journalism is an excuse to be curious. If you’re not curious, journalism will feel pointless (as will a lot of life).
Creativity. You will spend time on three things in journalism school that will help you function in any field: how to find stories, tell stories and know which stories are worth telling. Transmedia storytelling is the latest buzzword but the fact is journalism school will help make you make a stronger writer, sharper visualizer and more powerful sense maker. These are skills you can put to good use personally and professionally in nearly any context.
Morality. The “we” generation considers the importance of community, humanity and honesty in relationships at work and home. As Umair Haque writes: “The economy’s what we create every day, with every decision we make. And we can, with small steps and big dreams, create a better one. It’s a perspective anchored in creating real, enduring value, by doing stuff that matters most, in a messy, complex — and very fragile — human world.” Journalism is a social practice built on moral values. If you care about the quality and impact of your work, journalism offers a path to individual and collective value.
Technology. You’ll become a Tool Master. J-profs always says it’s not about the tools but in reality a lot of j-school is about the tools. Knowing how to create awesome video/take photos/tweet/post/precision edit/database/customize/personalize makes you powerful. Lots of organizations would jump at a chance to hire someone who knows how to make these tools produce something that’s actually readable and usable.
Subversive. The status quo is visibly worn out. The future is subversive. Journalism can be a tool of subversion as well as a tool of control. Put yourself in a place that’s about confronting the powerful. Document the voiceless. Connect the unconnected. Learn about the neighborhoods in your own city that you’ve never paid attention to and countries you’ve never heard of. Help pierce the bubble of the comfortable class and engage people in finding new paths to peace and prosperity.
The transition from an institutional/industrial model of journalism to a networked assemblage won’t be smooth or direct. Plenty of disasters await us as we sort through how to circulate and use information at a speed and volume unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
The new model of journalism is far more attuned to relationships and knowledge than connections and style. Schools scramble to catch up and news organizations will come and go faster than you can graduate. You will encounter professors who define journalism by what they experienced rather than what you experience. But if you persevere, you will be well prepared to encounter a future vastly different from the past.
[And j-profs...our challenge is to create a curriculum and education that matches all of this and more.]
Matthew Bernius, writing on his blog Waking-Dream, captures the transitional (cosmic) moment in journalism this way:
As an outside to journalism looking in (the job of the anthropologist), the Wikileaks discussion is about a fundamental change in journalism from an institutional model to an “assemblage” model. By that I mean that instead of news being mediated by a single large institution (say the New York Times of old), the assemblage model is one in which a network of actors, including media institutions and new players such as Wikileaks, collaborate in releasing stories….
A range of social scientists and philosophers have argued that there are fundamental differences between the two forms. The institution is (somewhat) fixed, centralized, and lasting, while the assemblage is more fluid, distributed, and ephemeral.
The implication for journalism education is that it gets bigger or smaller in an assemblage model. If journalists define themselves by what they aren’t, they risk shrinking their roles to occasional actors in information dramas. If they expand their definition of what constitutes journalism to include all the social activities implied in assemblage, they become essential connecting tissue.
Journalism professors constantly make choices about what and how they define journalism and what students need to know. Institutional work requires one set of skills and attitudes; assemblage requires a very different set. What we teach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we perpetuate one mind set or we work to create an entirely new one.