Monday, August 25, 2008

"Freaked out" seeks career advice

Dear Joe,
Q. I graduated from J-school this May with a newspaper concentration, and I'm interning abroad this summer. Every week I get e-mails from friends who are beginning their newspaper careers in the States and watching newsroom morale crumble around them. One friend says an editor pulled her and other interns aside and told them to get out of the business while they still could. Another intern told me he's the only one in his office who's sure he'll still be working in a week's time. A metro reporter who's only 24 already believes her own job isn't safe.

I still don't think it's that difficult to break into newspapers, especially in small towns or through multimedia. But what about keeping those jobs five years or 10 years down the line? Even if small papers continue to do well, where are the chances to move up going if it's the major metros that are cutting jobs? Sure, Web skills are important, but being able to write HTML or edit video (as it seems almost everyone can do now) won't ensure survival in an ailing industry. It seems to me that the print media industry is headed for a far more compact -- and competitive -- incarnation.

I don't mean to come off as alarmist, but I think my concerns are legitimate. So my question is this: If you had graduated college this May, would you have gone into newspapers? And for us budding writers who are still young and unfettered, is it time to switch paths?

Freaked Out

A. If I came out of school this year, I would not be banking on a long career in newspapers. But I would still study journalism.

When I got out of journalism school, I had no idea in the world that I would ever become such a thing as a newspaper recruiter. I had never heard of one. And then I became one and absolutely loved it for 18 years. And even way back then, more than 30 years ago, we were taught to produce journalism for print, video and audio.

My points: you cannot have your whole career figured out now; uncertainty can include great things; we can't confine ourselves to one medium.

Newspapers are changing, to be sure, and not in pretty ways. Some will not survive. Others will evolve in ways that make them almost unrecognizable -- except that they still do journalism.

I know that video skills are hot today, that everyone is trying to acquire them and that they will soon be surpassed by something else. Evolution has always been the case. But now, change is moving at warp speed. And it is not just happening in newspapers. Don't believe that our brothers and sisters in other industries are having an easier time than we are. They're as worried as we are.

Dealing with this junk takes guts. And it is risky. Yes, many people are getting hurt by this transformation. And some are benefiting. Right now, it seems to me that more are getting hurt. But just as you are at the beginning of a career, all of us are at the beginning of a historic transformation. No one can give you any assurance about what will happen or where we'll wind up. But we are beginning to see some of what it will take to succeed: adaptability, entrepreneurship, initiative and an audience orientation.

If you have a passion for journalism, if you have the qualities I just mentioned and if you can work like hell, I think your chances are pretty good.

(From longtime journalism recruiter Joe Grimm, posted on Poynter Online)