Journalism enrollment stays strong, despite grim outlook

The world’s oldest wire service, the Associated Press, laid off 90 employees last week. The Washington Post plans to lay off parts of its news staff before Dec. 31, and BusinessWeek is letting go a third of its staff as Bloomberg prepares to buy the magazine.

But despite a grim employment outlook for journalists to-be, enrollment in journalism schools across the country is at record highs, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in September.

Enrollment in undergraduate programs grew 35 percent in the last 10 years and was up slightly in 2008, according to the Chronicle’s report. Early decision applications have not been processed for the School of Media and Public Affairs, but Director Frank Sesno said in early November they are expecting a strong showing.

“Students continue to be interested in a journalism education despite the changing world of journalism that everyone keeps speaking of,” Sesno said.

To keep pace with this “changing journalism world” – where reporters are increasingly valued for their fluency in multimedia and Web reporting – SMPA has added new courses in the last five years to teach students how to edit, report, film, and package stories for print and online media.

Professors Michael Shanahan and Jason Osder, for example, developed an online journalism course two years ago, combining video, Web design and photography to create news stories.

“Journalism is still very popular despite the job market. We’ve got to teach online journalism,” said Shanahan, who is a member of The Hatchet’s Board of Directors. “Interviewing, writing, reporting and shooting, and editing video are all traditional skills that need to be mixed with the new ones.”

He added, “Nobody knows where this is going, you can’t put blinders on. You have to be broader.”

Alumni from SMPA say the school’s location and faculty are major factors in students’ and graduates’ ability to find jobs in today’s threatened world of journalism.

Paul Fucito, a 2008 graduate and former communications director for SMPA, now works as the communications manager for the Pew Research Center. He attributes his success to Sesno.

“He was my foot in the door with CNN and thanks to him, I have built an incredible list of media contacts, from assignment editors and producers to Christiane Amanpour,” Fucito said.

Fucito’s experience with finding a job taught him that a journalism degree can go far, despite talk that the profession is part of a dying field.

“Journalists are highly sought after for their writing skills, regardless of the profession,” said Fucito.

Another alumnus, Jay Mayfield, said the curriculum and faculty of SMPA helped him develop his journalistic abilities.

“SMPA taught the basics. I learned how to write a good story, and you can really learn that in a lot of places. But you can’t take classes by Steve Roberts anywhere. Sitting in his class helped me learn the ability to think on my feet,” said Mayfield, who graduated in 2000.

Like most schools, SMPA employs many adjunct faculty, most of whom still work in the journalism field.

The faculty team works closely with students to foster “a combination of necessary skills that are valuable no matter what changes are going on in the world,” said Director of Graduate Studies and associate professor Silvio Waisboard. “The combination of analytical and hands-on technical classes are ideal.”

Kevin Baron, a 2004 journalism-track graduate, said the internship opportunities in SMPA give students an advantage once they enter the real world of media.

“In one of my political science courses at SMPA, 70 percent of my class was Hill staffers,” Baron said. “I myself had an internship at the Center of Public Integrity.”

Baron works as a Washington reporter for Stars and Stripes, an independent U.S. military daily publication. Based in the Pentagon’s press corps offices, Baron also covers the White House, national security, foreign policy, and military affairs.

“I chose to go to SMPA for graduate school to find out if I wanted to be a journalist. I took Mark Feldstein’s History of Investigative Reporting class and loved it,” Baron said. “I loved the ‘gotcha’ factor to expose the wrongs and write the rights,” Baron said. “At SMPA, I learned how to write in a way that would affect readers.”

Lauren French contributed to this report.

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