Flying the Coop and Keeping Afloat

May 2, 2012 at 8:44 am Leave a comment

Article by Kelsey Hughes

It’s a scary time to be a journalist.

Last month, the Washington Post underwent its fifth buyout in nine years, according to the paper’s ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton. On top of that, Pexton reported, young journalists seem to be under more pressure than ever before, pressure that caused one young blogger at the Post to resign.

This pressure is not unique to reporters for the Post. Journalism frequently finds its way onto the “worst jobs” or “worst degrees” lists on many websites, ranking the job on values such as salary and future employment rates.

But recent data has shown that the future of a journalist may not be as bad as it seems. A study conducted by Georgetown University and analyzed by the Poynter Institute shows that for recent grads with a journalism degree, the unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, and for more experienced grads, it is 6 percent. This rate fares well against the national average of 8.2 percent, and 13.2 for 20 to 24 year olds.

For a student with a degree from the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, the future may even be a little brighter.

Chris Harvey, internship and career services director for Merrill, said the school offers many opportunities to prepare students for the job market, including an internship fair, a listserv with job listings, a class internship requirement, and an evolving curriculum.

Within the past two years, the school has revamped its entire curriculum to reflect the changing environment of journalism, foregoing print for a more all-encompassing multimedia track.

Harvey explained that journalists will rarely find themselves writing solely for print, and added that social media and entrepreneurialism are also important aspects of modern journalism.

When she graduated in December 2011, Merrill alumna Kelly Fong felt ready for the world of journalism.

Fong already had a job lined up as an associate editor at PassageMaker Magazine, a leisure magazine located in Annapolis, said the ideal candidate for a job should be well-rounded.

Though she ended up doing internships and jobs based on magazine writing, she still felt that her decision to do the broadcast track, which at the time was more diverse than the print track, was the right way to go, because she learned about writing for different mediums.

Esther French, who graduated from Merrill in May 2011, focused on diversity as well when deciding what to do with her degree.

As a journalism student, French was encouraged to seek a job where she could try a lot of different things. At her job as a reporter for the Wheaton Patch website, she does just that, writing about anything from crime to technology with a hyperlocal focus.

“I still feel like I’m exploring what expertise I want to develop,” French said.

For French, this uncertainty of the future is a major component of modern journalism. She said she thinks it’s hard to lay out a timeline and plan what she’ll be doing because it’s not the nature of the field.

“Journalism is constantly changing, so it’s hard to project where you’re going,” she said.

Although she didn’t know it at the time, she felt like JOUR320, a news writing class her professor described as “the most challenging and most useful” class she would take as a student, ended up being exactly what she does at Patch – getting a beat and covering it extensively.

French finds that the pressure comes from a “fast-paced news cycle” on the web, where everything she posts will be there for a long time.

“There’s the drive to break a story quicker, but you have to realize that things travel fast online,” she said. “If you make a mistake, it reflects poorly.”

Though she writes for a magazine, which can be more slow-paced, Fong feels the pressure as well, but says that she left Merrill well-prepared for a job in journalism.

“University of Maryland has one the best J-schools in the country,” she said. “Everything I learned stayed with me.”

What do you think? Is there a silver lining when it comes to the employment rates of your chosen career? Or is this just false hope? Comment below…

Hughes is a freshman journalism major. She is also a student in the Digital Cultures and Creativity Honors Program. To contact Hughes or any other reporter, click here.


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