The doom-and-gloom message of weak job prospects for journalism graduates may be changing in 2005.
Soon-to-be-released figures for 2004 from the Annual Surveys of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates show that the job market is improving enough to say that at least it isn’t getting worse, said Lee B. Becker, director of the Cox Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.
“There is some reason to believe that the bottom has bottomed out and it’s moving back, at least slowly, in a more positive direction,” said Becker, who has done the surveys for 18 years. “It certainly is not a strong market. It’s not a market equal to what we had at the end of the 90s, but it’s not worse than it was the last couple of years.”
The Cox Center will release the final 2004 figures for employment levels, benefits and salary Aug. 12 at www.grady.uga.edu/annualsurveys/. According to the 2003 survey, job offers for graduates were considerably under those in 2000 – a level not seen since the depression of the early 1990s. In contrast, Becker calls the 2004 data “guardedly optimistic” as opposed to “continued negative,” but he adds students still have a challenge. At press time, he had looked at only employment figures and not salaries.
“If you look back at the market the last several years, these students have been facing pretty difficult employment levels,” Becker said. “That big drop after 2000 hasn’t been reversed, but at least it’s not continuing to drop. … The evidence so far is that it’s headed back up, so that 2004 is certainly more of an encouraging picture, but it hasn’t gotten us back to where we were.”
Becker says his spirits lifted when he saw the new figures because it’s difficult for students when they’ve trained to be journalists and then can’t find jobs.
“We’ve been reporting bad news for the last three years, so I actually felt a little bit relieved,” Becker said. “I’d like to have better news, but at least it’s not more bad news. Things are looking better for the students. Maybe that means the students who are leaving this year are going to have better luck yet. And you know, it’s a nice feeling because these last several years have been very discouraging.”
Basing his impression on anecdotal evidence, Gannett News Service Editor Caesar Andrews agrees the job market is improving.
“It does seem as more people are moving around,” Andrews said. “There is some increased turnover, that’s certainly true. And by virtue of that, I’m guessing, there are more positions available.”
More broadcast jobs may also be opening up. Bob Priddy, Missourinet news director and two-time chairman of the Radio Television News Directors Association board, says he is seeing jobs in TV reporting and producing and radio reporting. But depending on the market, he doesn’t see a huge improvement in salaries for graduates.
“A lot of people are going to end up working in salaries that are in the teens,” Priddy said. “The more professional experience you’ve gained while in college, the more attractive you’re going to be as a candidate for a job.”
However, he added that although there are plenty of industry jobs, students have to stay flexible about location and be willing to put up with lower salaries at first.
“They have to recognize that if they come out with student loans, that probably radio – and even television – is not the field where they’re going to
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pay off those student loans tomorrow,” Priddy said. “They’ve got to stay pretty open about where they can go in terms of taking a job and finding a job.”
One faculty member who specializes in online media doesn’t see any big upward movement in hiring.
“This is a tough time,” said Steve Klein, coordinator and professor of the George Mason University Electronic Journalism program. “It’s a tough time to be a young journalist. If you have a specific talent or ability, there’s always a place for you if you apply it to the right place at the right time. That never changes. People who are at the right place at the right time get the jobs. I think the climate continues to be difficult out there.”
Klein advises students and faculty to read the recent Carnegie Report “Improving the Education of Tomorrow’s Journalist” and also Howard Finberg’s comments about the report on Poynter.org. Both address changing the education of journalism students.
“We need to provide our students with a cross-platform base that provides them with a variety of skill sets for today’s job market,” Klein said. “It’s not good enough to do one thing.”
Karon Reinboth Speckman is an associate professor of communication-journalism and adviser of the campus chapter of SPJ at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.