On his Guardian blog today, Roy Greenslade noted a curious phenomenon involving current journalism students. Though they don’t actually read newspapers or use other traditional media, nearly all want to work for these declining mainstream outlets rather than pursue new-media and entrepreneurial opportunities. Never mind, as Greenslade notes, that “they know the risks” and “have been told there will be few job openings.” For them, “mainstream media remains a lure.”
Though it sounds irrational, I understand it. For these acolytes, the morbid state of the print profession is a large part of its appeal.
I should know. Years ago, I applied not to journalism schools but the even less promising career route of graduate English programs. My college professors were encouraging (“follow your bliss!”) but cautionary (“of course, don’t expect to find a job”). Later, when the application packets started to arrive, they all included an emphatic word or two about the weak job market and how post-doctorate employment was not guaranteed.
Were they really trying to scare me off? I think not. If anything, those warnings simply increased the appeal of graduate school. It wasn’t impossible to get a job, just really, really difficult, and I, (like all my fellow applicants, I imagine) was way above average. If only one in ten got jobs, why, I would be that one. The message my future profession was sending was not “don’t apply,” but “only special people like you will be accepted into our fold.”
Greenslade writes of those journalism students that “they may be digital natives, but their ambition is to work for others rather than themselves.” The reason, I think, is the need for confirmation, to believe that you, perhaps alone among all those others in the lecture hall, will be taken into the elite society of journalists. That society is still defined by the old-media professionals, not the new-media entrepreneurs. Journalism schools, it seems, are, consciously or not, complicit in maintaining this mystique.
Will journalism students be sucked in by this mystique, only to have their hopes dashed and end up alone and palely loitering?
I don’t think so. We’re all entitled to some romance in our career plans, and I have no regrets about mine or how they turned out. Those students may not be thinking about entrepreneurial, new-media careers now, but I bet many of them end up there anyway.
Still, why not inject a little romance into achievable careers? There may be few alternatives to traditional jobs for graduate English programs, but those for journalism schools are both numerous and exciting. It’s time to make the future just as romantic as the past.