Academics / Advising / industry news

NextGen journalism profs and advisers

Paul Conley wrote something the other day that spurred this post, a late addition to the Carnival of Journalism (April edition).

Conley notes an Editor & Publisher article about newly displaced print editors looking for work as journalism instructors. Conley is succinct, as usual, in his assessment:

it’s not in the interest of journalism students for schools to hire people who either can’t or won’t adjust to the changes in media. Heck, journalism schools are already filled with people who don’t understand modern journalism. And there’s little doubt that those teachers have been producing graduates who are ill-prepared for the workforce.

Over the past 7 years as an adviser and instructor, I’ve watched the tide slowly shifting as professors and college media advisers have faced the challenges that impact their industry. Anecdotes are all I can offer, but I’ve seen some journalism professors who’ve been around for more than 20 years who face the future with a keen interest, and others who are still mired in the past. Ditto with advisers.

My sense of things now is that even if someone is entirely dismissive of new media (online media, multimedia, whatever you want to call it), they are not as prone to display their contempt as they were, say, three years ago.

I would add to Paul’s comments by saying that people leaving the industry shouldn’t look to academia as a place to hide. Right now, academic journalism is pushing forward to keep pace with the industry, even as the industry’s pace of change ramps up further. In our department, we’re trying to figure out ways to get students engaged with online/multimedia tools early in the sequence so that they are skilled when they leave. If a retiring editor doesn’t like using blogs in the workplace, I can’t imagine they’ll like using blogs for class assignments (which I see more and more of, btw).

For most of the past five years, I’ve followed the academic journalism job market pretty closely, partly out of my own employment concerns, and partly because I ran the job board for College Media Advisers, Inc. The trends during that time showed a lot more desire for people who could understand, teach, or research in the area of multimedia or convergence. There were lots of positions open for Public Relations/Advertising, a good number of broadcast TV/radio positions, and multimedia positions. Print positions were not as well-represented, and the competition in those areas is already fierce.

In the advising sphere, it’s not much better.

College media outlets are scrambling to replace declining ad revenues just like their “professional” media counterparts. They have the challenge of training students for the skills they’ll need in the future while maintaining their traditional media imprints – no small feat with a mostly volunteer staff.

And a final word of caution for an editor hoping to make the jump from industry to academia (especially in an advising role), there’s an old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In most student media settings, advising is mostly a post hoc enterprise. The adviser doesn’t “tell” the students what to put in the paper, how to write the stories, where to go for coverage – unless the adviser is asked.

That could be a heavy transition for a newspaper editor to make.

With all of that said, I’m keen to see the day when some of the multimedia whiz kids return to colleges to do some advising, teaching and research. But I suspect that won’t be for a while. The industry needs that young blood and is willing to pay more for those skilled practitioners right now.