Thursday, November 01, 2007

The next crop of journalists

"In almost every newspaper I've worked in, the most close-minded person I've ever come across is the 23-year-old recent grad."
Those are the words of Rob Curley, arguably the smartest guy working in journalism today. Rob's comments came last week during his keynote speech at the National College Media Convention hosted by College Media Advisers and the Associated Collegiate Press. (You can see a photo of Rob and listen to an audio clip of part of his remarks by clicking here.)

I was lucky enough to be at the convention and hear Rob in person. And I assure you, there's not a more passionate advocate for this profession.
I was there to co-host a session on resumes, portfolios and other tools for landing a job. (Longtime readers of this blog will guess correctly that I was invited because of my earlier comments on the subject.)
I met a lot of students at the convention. And I'm afraid I must say the next crop of entry-level journalists is about as close-minded as the present set. There were some exceptions, but they were few and far between. Most of the folks I met were similar to the "silo students" I've been complaining about for awhile now -- those inflexible seniors who become the close-minded 23-year olds in Rob's newsrooms.
And the root of this inflexibility seems to be the sort of nonsense that some of the older journalism teachers are feeding their students.
Among the disconcerting things I ran into at the convention:
1. A senior who said his journalism teachers told him he should never tell a prospective employer he knows how to shoot photos, because it means he'll never get a chance to write.
2. A student who said her adviser told her she should never, ever mention her college newspaper's Web site on her resume, because no magazine will hire someone who has written for the Web.
3. A student who said she was told by teachers that newspaper design was a booming field.
4. A slew of students who seemed unaware of the financial and circulation challenges the print media industry is facing.
5. At least a dozen students who said they want to be "writers" and that have zero interest in working on any Web-based product.

Rob and I aren't the only people to notice that a large percentage of the next group of journalists seem completely unprepared for journalism in 2007 and beyond. Just yesterday, Howard Owens mentioned the problem.

I have my doubts that journalism schools will be able to resolve this problem anytime soon. I fear that the industry is going to have to wait a few years until more of the older and out-of-touch professors retire.
Until then, we may all be better off recruiting from outside journalism departments -- looking at English, business and computer-science majors.
But I haven't given up completely. And I'll be sharing my opinions on journalism careers with another bunch of students in February when I'm the keynote speaker at the Southeast Journalism Conference in Oxford, Miss.

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education


  1. As as 23-year-old recent journalism grad, I feel I should share my thoughts.

    I was editor in chief of my college newspaper, and we tried some new things trying to push the envelope. Some students were all for it and wanted to try to harness the Web. A lot of others could not care less, while some were opening hostile towards the Web. Many feel it's not journalism.

    Part of that problem is that educators do not make it clear to students that Web is a fast-growing part of journalism and its importance for students to have journalism skills. It's also possible that some professors simply aren't aware of the realities on the ground. They are in their own walled garden, unable to see what professionals see.

    We were not required to take any Web-related or new media courses to graduate from my school, Lehigh. I want to relay a story to you that sums up what is wrong with many current journalism students.

    This happened at a college newspaper this year. The top online editor was made aware of a breaking new story that was big news for the campus. She, however, was at an internship and couldn't leave for a few hours. She called up the editor in chief who told her, "I don't f-ing care about the Web site. Find someone else to do it."

    He only cares about the print edition. Ironically, he and the vast majority of j-students get their news online.

  2. Hey Paul,
    I remember at one time we were discussing certain newspapers that were very close minded about this new media, but when it came to interviewing with them and further discussion, their ideas about being innovative and getting online changed a bit. So now I'm confused as to where they stood in the first place.

    Thanks for all the input by the way.


  3. Thanks for opening my eyes to this. After talking to you Paul at the National College Media Convention and listening to your session, I now feel more open-minded about the field of journalism that I am so passionate about. I also feel cheated out of my education. Why aren't there more professors like you?

    -Hilary delaBruere, A soon to be Journalism graduate

  4. As the moderator of a discussion about working for the business press at the College Media Advisers Conference, I can tell you that at least one student benefited from keeping an open mind.

    First, she showed it by being one of only 10 people who attended the session. What she heard were insights from two of the top people in the b2b press.

    Second, she came up after the session concluded and asked whether I knew of any internship opportunities. Within 24 hours, a managing editor from a well-known b2b publishing house in New York City let me know that they would be contacting her.

    Does this student attend an Ivy League school or have impressive writing clips? No.

    What she has is an open mind. As a result, she now is making inroads in a job market that few college students know about.

  5. Late coming to this conversation, Paul, but my question is: WHY are so many young j-school students so close-minded about online media?

    I've seen this phenomenon too, and it bugs the hell out of me. But I can't figure out if these students come into j-school so close-minded, or if they get that way there.


    - Amy Gahran

  6. Hi Amy,
    I suspect that it's a combination of a) the type of person who comes to j-school and b) the teachers they find when they get there.
    First, it seems that a particular type of young kid -- cynical, bright and well-spoken -- gets pushed toward print journalism at some point in high school. Another type of kid -- attractive and a little self-obsessed -- gets pushed toward television journalism. (By contrast, another sort of kid -- service-oriented, community focused and problem-solving by nature -- would not be directed toward any form journalism by high school teachers and guidance counselors. And those kids would prosper in this profession.)
    Second, once a student arrives at j-school they find themselves in a culture dominated by cynicism. More importantly, they find themselves being taught by people who view journalism as a traditional craft ... sort of like woodworking. These teachers aren't interested in looking at new ways to do things because on some fundamental level they believe departing from the past weakens the craft. I think it's safe to say that very few journalism professors give any thought to advancing the craft. Rather, they aim to "preserve" the craft.
    So when you take a cynical kid and put him in a class with a teacher who values the absence of change in the profession, it's unreasonable to expect a forward-thinking, inquisitive graduate.

  7. Bold statements, Paul.

    I hadn't thought of this: "another sort of kid -- service-oriented, community focused and problem-solving by nature -- would not be directed toward any form journalism by high school teachers and guidance counselors. And those kids would prosper in this profession."

    I wonder if it's worth doing outreach to guidance counselors about this... Do they have an association or something?

    - Amy Gahran

  8. Hi Amy,
    There has to be an association of some sort for guidance counselors. There's an association for everyone!
    There are also some groups that help high-school kids learn about careers in journalism ...but those groups are probably part of the problem. Dow Jones has a nonprofit wing, and Knight-Ridder did at one time (I don't know what became of that), that offer scholarships and such. But I doubt that they're rethinking what sort of kids should be in the business.

  9. Hello Paul,
    Extremely interesting post, but being the type of person I am, I feel obligated to throw my two cents in.

    I do agree with you and Rob Curley. Jounalism will leave the close minded behind, but isn't that true of all professions? Those who refuse to adapt have always been left behind and will always be left behind. Close-minded people are not a journalism problem. They're a human problem. To solve it, a two-pronged attack for journalism educators.

    1)Teach students to be open minded. Tell them "Changes WILL COME. New technologies WILL COME. Be ready and willing to adapt.
    2)Stop sending mixed messages. Obviously this is impossible to do entirely. Some teachers don't have the capacity or foresight to make the change to new media, but they can at least acknowledge it. It seems students have made it clear that they're being told many different things by many different people.

    Great post. It really gives food for thought.

    Marcus Meade, NWMSU