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Journalism students advised to look beyond traditional media

It once the case that if you aspired to be a good journalist you went to college or university to study English, journalism or a related subject, obtained a degree and then sought a job with a reputable media company. This path is not as easy as it once was. With multiple sources of news available fewer professional journalists are being employed and some media sites are relying upon a few facts linked together rather than well-crafted stories, and there are even bots writing news stories for some outlets.

READ MORE: Is it possible for a robot to write the news?

Surveying what students and teachers are thinking

This has led to a shift in terms of the advice that university professors and lecturers are giving to their students, according to research undertaken by Rice University and Rutgers University. The survey finds that educators are pointing many aspiring journalists in the direction away from the news business.

The survey has been undertaken is in response to the transformations taking place in journalism, where many traditional print papers are shutting down or scaling back and digital news outlets are consolidating. Significant changes in media consumption has closed down a lot of options for journalists.

To compile the data, the researchers used quantitative interviews to assess 113 faculty, staff and administrators from 44 U.S. journalism programs. The overwhelming theme was of a precarious and changing labour market that made the path into journalism less stable compared with five or ten years ago.

Parallels are drawn with a decline in the number of jobs available for high-quality journalist with the devaluing of the role of experts across all fields (something that has been partly driven by populism, as in the case of Donald Trump, where the views of experts are derided, and all opinions given equal weighting no matter how loos the facts supporting them are).

New advice on where to work

Many university professors explain how they are seeking to guide their students along other career paths as alternatives to the traditional model of working for a news organisation. Alternatives include central or local government, charities and non-governmental organizations, or advertising (the latter is interesting, given many journalism schools have for a long time attempted to present journalism and public relations copy as diametrically opposed, in terms of intention and style).

Professors are also attempting to be realistic to students that a steady well-paid job is less likely and freelance work is a more common form of employment for today’s journalist. One model suggested is for students to consider setting up their own websites and to directly publish their own news items or photographs.

Whether it is a self-run website or writing news for a digital channel, many students of journalism will have to move their goals away from the carefully researched, long-essay style feature length expose and more towards shorter, snappier sound-bite driven content. There are still many avenues for well-written news and features, but the job openings are not as great as they once were.

There are also fewer opportunities for new journalists to learn their craft working on local newspapers, as this form of media is in decline due to a rise in digital content. Digital content does not mean ‘dumbing down’, but there have been changes with the way some the general public wish to obtain and digest news, which journalism schools are alerting their students to, especially with news reduced to the form of sound-bites as often found on social media channels, and with a tendency for this form of news to be consumed rapidly by the receiver.

The report, “Professionalizing Contingency: How Journalism Schools Adapt to Deprofessionalization,” has been published in the journal Social Forces.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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