Annu Subramanian: Journalism isn’t a dead major

Many of us have experienced the raised eyebrow and creased forehead of a middle-aged relative who just heard that we are studying journalism. He will briefly weigh whether it is worthwhile or not to taint your na’veté and then, upon realizing this battle is his to be won, will lean forward and say in a concerned tone, “It’s impossible to get a job as a journalist today.”

Just like that, his words pour out like wet cement and coat you from head to toe. It gets between your toes and ruins your new outfit. But as you lift a finger to contest, he adds, “Newspapers are dying.”

And the cement sets.

At that point, the argument has been lost and you’re declaring underwater basket weaving as your new major since that expertise provides more realistic job opportunities.

Even in the face of such negative conversations, I’m here (with some help) to give some hope to those who have chosen the journalism route. But first, you need to put down the Moleskine reporter’s notebook and pick up some computer programming skills.

I called Mark Luckie, a (paid!) journalist for CaliforniaWatch, a nonprofit investigative reporting initiative in California. He is also the author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.

While many deride membership in the School of Media Public Affairs as financially foolhardy, Luckie supports it.

“Journalism schools are more important now than ever. There are no real training resources for young journalists. J-School is an opportunity for students to get that experience.”

We cannot simply rely on our textbooks for guidance on how to become an effective journalist, though. “What makes a great journalist is stepping away from the curriculum,” Luckie says. “You need to have an edge over others. Even if you get a journalism major, it can translate into several different fields.

Several jobs have opened up in the fields of journalism and media that did not exist before. Multimedia producers, who translate news stories to multimedia projects for online news sources, are in high demand, as are community managers, who must understand how best to incorporate social media into traditional news sources. Aspirations of partaking in the journalism of the pre-Internet world are “delusional,” Luckie says. “There’s no such thing as ‘traditional journalism’ anymore, especially for young journalists.”

So what’s the fate of those students who seek an old-fashioned reporter’s job at the New York Times?

“You’ll be unemployed.”

Your future employers want more than the ability to write or report. “You can’t just know the basics of print journalism. You need to know additional technology,” he says. Having knowledge of computer or data programming will automatically make you a more competitive applicant.

Beyond building résumés and doing well in classes, there is a great deal journalists can to do to succeed in the field. Blogging, YouTubing and Twittering are all important means to achieve experience. The blogosphere is a crowded arena and it’s imperative to identify yourself, he stresses.

Our own SMPA can have a hand in making the changes that Luckie suggests and the industry demands. As news goes digital, requiring courses that instruct beyond basic computer and data programming is imperative. Likewise, students should be encouraged to keep active blogs and Twitter accounts. While several courses allow classes to contribute to a single blog or only ask students to use digital media for a semester, SMPA is a small enough institution that it should ask students to keep a blog for all four years. That personal form of journalism will not only reinforce résumés; it will prepare students for a future of news in real-time.

So step back, journalists, and survey the entropy that dominates the media industry today. But despite the chaos, some things never change. Journalism remains a primary means to ensure democracy. Truth is the greatest good. Anderson Cooper’s eyes will always be that remarkable blue. And most of all, as Luckie says, “It comes down to storytelling.”

Stick that to your skeptical uncle.

The writer, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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