Why is J-school still popular?

The headlines are almost all gloomy. Layoffs, furloughs and budget cuts have decimated news organizations. Newspaper companies are filing for bankruptcy (the latest being the parent of the Chicago Sun-Times), or pulling the plug on print editions. TV stations are “doing more with less.” But journalism schools are seeing record numbers of applicants. What’s going on here?

According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, J-school deans believe what they teach is “highly valuable,” even if their graduates are likely to have trouble finding work at traditional news organizations.

I don’t know that there will be jobs. There will be careers,” said Charles Whitaker, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, which teaches more about the business side of media than in the past. “We’re telling students they need to be much more entrepreneurial about their careers.”

The concept of a journalism career “path” is definitely outmoded. Back in the day, young journalists expected to start in a small market and move up every few years.  Being “entrepreneurial” today could mean freelancing online or finding a job in another field.

Professors say they don’t expect students to get jobs at newspapers in the numbers they used to. But they say there are other jobs for people who can communicate and dig up information — with nonprofits, in government publications, in public relations.

But if you’ve always wanted to work in journalism, or if you always have, it can be difficult to recalibrate your job search. So here’s a little guidance on how to think about that: 10 reasons you should hire a journalist, by Poynter’s Jill Geisler.  It’s a terrific piece that frames what journalists bring to their jobs in terms any employer could understand, and it’s worth a read no matter where you are in your career.



  1. As much as I want to teach journalism at the higher ed level, I’m glad I will still be in the newsroom “mix” for at least the next few years. The evolution of our profession is happening so fast that I want to be able to still have the experience of working the old and transitioning to the new. I think that will have a great value in teaching our future journalists. Everything we did by way of the “old” media will still have relevancy and be applicable to the “new” media.

    I read Jill Geisler’s “10 reasons you should hire a journalist” and thought for the most part that she was right on. I think the greatest takeaways I’ve gleaned from 25 years of working in the field are being able to deliver on deadline and multitasking. Many people outside of the business cannot appreciate some of the extreme stress there is in this business and those that deal with it well are the ones who are undaunted by a little pressure.

    The one thing schools really can’t teach is experience. That comes from attending the School of the Street. You can’t teach someone how to work a major crisis, to handle yourself while you are being verbally assaulted for doing your job within your legal rights, to react to a natural disaster, to have to cover a local neighborhood tragedy…those are some of the things that you eventually learn to deal with over time. Handling those situations is part personal makeup and part having dealt with it before and adjusting to avoid the mistakes of past events.

    Finally, people need to get past the thought that this is an ignoble profession; that it is a gossip-mongering megaphone of vapid hairpieces. Those aspiring to become journalists need to believe that they have the ability to restore and maintain a high standard for their vocation through sound moral judgments and accuracy, regardless of the way the message is delivered.

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