Andrea Hauser had worked as an intern at the Omaha World-Herald and served as the editor-in-chief of her daily college newspaper at Iowa State University. But she knew those experiences wouldn’t be enough to guarantee a reporting job after graduation.
“You have to be willing to move – to put yourself in unfamiliar territory – to take the jump,” said Hauser, a spring 2002 graduate from Edgewood, Iowa.
So during spring break 2001, while other students were resting or partying, Hauser flew to Texas, traveled the state in a rented car and interviewed at four newspapers in four days. She had phoned editors ahead of time and told them, “I’m going to be in Texas and want to interview with you.”
The strategy worked. Hauser, supported by her fluency in Spanish, landed a reporting job at The Monitor, a daily newspaper in McAllen, Texas, where she now works covering county government.
Only a few years ago, Hauser may not have had to go so far, literally and figuratively, to get her first reporting job after graduation. But because of the recent economic recession, media mergers, dot-com failures and a drop in ad revenue, journalism and communication grads are having to work harder – sometimes a lot harder – to break into the industry.
“You have to effectively market yourself, which means you have to decide what types of opportunities you want to go for, where those opportunities are, what’s realistic,” said Matt Berndt, director of career services for the College of Communication at the University of Texas-Austin.
Virtually all of the people interviewed for this article agreed that the job market for journalism graduates has been weak the past year or so, but opinions varied on whether the market will continue its downward trend or begin to get better.
Berndt was among the optimists. “I think job growth is occurring now and is going to occur in the next year or two,” he said, pointing out that some of the jobs that journalism grads got in the late 1990s disappeared with the failure of many dot-coms. “It’s going to be a lot more stable job growth than the stuff that occurred in the late ‘90s because there are a lot of folks who jumped on the bandwagon in ‘99 who in 2001 were looking for work again.”
Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor for the Detroit Free Press, agreed that the future looks a little brighter.
“Last year, journalism grads were coming into the brunt of the layoff-freeze-buyout wave,” Grimm said in an Internet interview. “This year, graduates are coming into an economy that is not quite ready to grow, but one where newsroom staffs are relatively stable. Things aren’t grand, of course, but it sounds as though they will ease up in the last quarter of the year and early in 2003.”
Others, like Jim Walser, agreed the market might be tight for 2002 graduates but not as tight as it was in 2001. “There aren’t a lot of jobs, but at least there are some,” said Walser, senior editor for recruiting and staff development for the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.
About 2,000 reporting jobs were lost at medium-size newspapers in 2001, according to ASNE’s Web site. And statistics from the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) latest summer survey showed that salary offers being made to some journalism and communication grads are actually lower than a year ago. While salary offers to advertising and communication majors have risen slightly, offers to broadcast, print journalism, and public relations majors have dipped. Students who majored in print journalism and public relations saw the largest decreases with print moving from an average of $30,805 last year to $27,834 this year and public relations majors falling from $31,860 to $28,381.
According to NACE, the figures are part of an economy where, overall, employers reported that they expect to hire 36.4 percent fewer college grads in 2001-2002 than they did the year before.
“There are some employers who have completely dismantled their college relations program,” NACE spokesman Jerry Bohovich said.
Joshua Mills, the director of the master’s program in business journalism at Baruch College, said the recent job market is the worst he’s ever seen, and the layoffs and buyouts at the top of the industry have ramifications for smaller papers.
“Journalists at smaller pubs are not moving up,” Mills said in an e-mail. “Four years ago, I got 3-5 calls a week from hiring editors, looking for everyone from section editors to beginners. This year, between 9/1 and 5/1, I heard of a total of two jobs. In the last month, however, I’ve seen a slight pickup. I’ve heard of four openings.”
On the broadcast side, the National Association for Broadcasters continues to post jobs on its career center Web site, said Alex Hitz-Sanchez, director of broadcast resource programs for NAB.
“Stations are not expanding like two years ago, although it depends on the group and station,” Hitz-Sanchez said. “Fewer jobs are being posted on our Web site, but a dozen or so a day are posted in smaller markets.”
Neal Robison, associate director for undergraduate education in the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University, said the job market continues to be weak for broadcasters who work directly in news-gathering, such as reporters and anchors, but the job market is not bad for people in broadcast production.
“Some people are successful finding jobs in smaller production houses, in areas kind of related to broadcasting,” he said.
Regardless of their opinion on the future of the job market, though, everyone agreed that journalism graduates now need to be flexible about where they get a job, and they need to pay more attention to their job-finding skills.
“What we’re trying to emphasize is to open your search,” said Jennifer Wilford, assistant director for career services for the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. “Even if it’s not your first choice geographically, you may be there only a year.”
Mark Witherspoon, Andrea Hauser’s adviser at the Iowa State Daily, encouraged Hauser and others to expand their searches because journalism jobs in Iowa were scarce.
In addition to expanding the search, networking is important for both broadcast and print jobs. Hitz-Sanchez said because most TV newsrooms are too busy for informational interviews, students should focus on career fairs because news directors critique tapes at the fairs and students can use those meetings to their advantage,
“The most important thing is to network and keep talking with people – build career relationships,” Hitz-Sanchez said.
Bob Adams, director of student publications and adviser at Western Kentucky University, said he encourages his students to go to conventions to meet contacts and then be prepared with good follow-up techniques such as taking cover letters and resumes seriously.
“Your cover letter and resume may be the most important assignment in college because it’s that first impression,” Adams said.
Wilford said she encourages students to make sure resumes are specific. For example, they should include what beats students have covered, and they should list special abilities such as language fluency and computer-assisted reporting skills.
Paula Cobler, general manager for The Mirror at the University of Northern Colorado and adjunct professor for journalism and mass communication, stressed the importance of internships and said it is not enough for students to gain experience on campus media.
Even when graduates have internship experience, impressive resumes and a stack of employers’ business cards, they may still need to lower their expectations.
“My advice is don’t think that you’re going to get hired by the top news organizations when you come out of college,” Ketter said. “A lot of times that’s the anticipation when they get into journalism. ‘I’ll go in and suddenly I’ll get a job with CBS or The New York Times or The Washington Post or Time magazine.’
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “But there are lots of jobs available at what I call the ground level and good jobs that will get them excellent experience. And they’re usually at smaller news organizations.”
Likewise, broadcast majors should be looking at writing and producing jobs because there can be a dozen to 100 applicants for each on-the-air job, Hitz-Sanchez said.
And just as Andrea Hauser did when she set out on the Texas highways to find a job, students have to be willing to pound on some doors to get their starts. For Hauser, the journey has taken her places she didn’t expect.
“Covering county government in Texas is totally different from Iowa or Nebraska,” she said. “At first I was flabbergasted, but don’t be scared to try new stuff.”
Neil Ralston is an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. Karon R. Speckman is an associate professor of journalism at Truman State University in Kirksille, Mo. Jeff South also contributed to this report.