No journalism jobs for you! Grab a hanky and get a business going already

September 21, 2006 at 11:24 pm 30 comments

crying_baby.jpg
Ah, if only Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would have lived to see today’s interactive journalism class.

Her five stages of grief were in high relief…

Denial: What do you mean you aren’t hiring? And current writers must now file five times a day, make photos, create podcasts, train their free replacements [er, citizen journalists] and be available 24/7? No!

Anger: I ain’t nobody’s content aggregator. I am Upton Sinclair. Look! I got the t-shirt.

Bargaining: But if I learn Dreamweaver, I’ll be worthy, right? Right?!?!

Depression: The guy from ESPN.com can’t get paid online. Grad school is futility on the installment plan.

Acceptance: This sucks. I gotta eat. Could [gulp] entrepreneurship be the answer?

Yes.

Today’s wearying presentations brought out the capitalist evangelist in Miss B.

Had a chance to testify to a classmate on this afternoon’s shuttle train. She asked, “Why should we bother trying for a NYT internship with all the cuts and competition?” I nodded and replied, “I’d spend my time meeting editors of mags you want to write for, pitch them ideas and do those stories FOR MONEY instead. Build your business. No one is going to hire anyone. But they’ll buy from everyone with good stuff.”

To be blunt, I think the school is perpetrating a fraud on its less-work-world-wise students.

By emphasizing traditional newspaper “craft”, CUNYGSJ feeds a belief that blacksmithing is back. The emails touting interning tests for AP, Boston Globe, WashPost only exacerbate the delusion.

The only way CUNYGSJ students should expect a living wage is by coming to the marketplace as versatile communicators ready to drum up business for themselves, by themselves.

Scary? Yep.

Liberating? You bet.

It is up to you to make your invisible hand visible in the marketplace. That means summoning courage and making first-move introductions. It requires a broader view of where your talents may be useful—speechwriting, product taglines, corporate patter, oh my! And it forces your being in control of your own time.

If you want security, try the postal service.

If you want to play with words and make a living doing so, get serious about business.

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Damn. Against Parasitism: Bring Us Acidophilus!

30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kenjac84  |  September 22, 2006 at 2:25 am

    … you mean… I’m not garuanteed employment after I graduate? Should I drop out now? But the laptops are so nice!

    Reply
  • 2. annika  |  September 22, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Pretty much what I thought before the semester even started. That’s why I plan to freelance and explore other business opportunities. Very informative and entertaining post!

    Reply
  • 3. joybergmann  |  September 22, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks, Annika. Jarvis said to “leech” from every job. You’re smart to realize school time is our entry-level toil.

    Reply
  • 4. Matt Safford  |  September 23, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Bravo Joy. My sentiments (almost) exactly. I’m extremely frustrated by the newspaper-centric craft classes, partly because that isn’t the journalism I want to do, and more so because that job market is shrinking so fast it’s not a smart career path anyway.

    Why can’t Jarvis be dean? Where are the net-internships? What about a website-based craft class? How about a freelance class that shows you how and where to pitch?

    Don’t get me wrong, some of the tool’s we’re learning in Craft are going to be eminently useful throughout our careers. But others aren’t.

    I came to this school to avoid having to go intern or slave away on some lame beat at the Jersey Journal for a handful of years. And the craft class is emulating that. So I get to write the kind of uninteresting fluff pieces and maybe sensationalist crime coverage that I think is part of the problem with news in the first place.

    Pardon me if I’m not enthused. Why do we have to cover neighborhood beats in the fist place? I’d much rather cover an industry, a company, or perhaps even a political race.

    Thank the gods –that I don’t believe in— for the Interactive class, and my ability to tie the Ethics class into it.

    Now what can be done about Craft and Research?

    Reply
  • 5. anatorious  |  September 23, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    Amen, sistah. I thought I was the only one feeling like this, so it is great to hear you say it with your usual wit. I met with Ellen Walterschied last week and came out of there feeling like I should go begging for my old job back. Mid-20’s is what we -with a master’s degree- are expected to make after graduation if we are lucky enough to get hired at some local newspaper.
    I feel you 100% on the whole entreprenurial spirit bit -just go out there and drum up biznes for yourself, good writing and fresh ideas will always sell.

    Reply
  • 6. joybergmann  |  September 23, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    Thanks Ana & Matt.

    Revolution now! I suggest we call an end to “Movie Night” and immediately begin one-hour “How to Pitch…” workshops based on the articles of that same name at MediaBistro.com

    Can I get an amen?

    Reply
  • 7. anatorious  |  September 23, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    You get an Amen and an Alleluyah!!!
    The best part of last week’s craft class was hearing Dody talk about how to pitch stories, and I’m with you that we need a lot more of that.
    I think that we also need to stop only focusing on journalism jobs and, as you say, realize that we can use our research, writing and communication skills in other fields.

    Reply
  • 8. uptown blogger  |  September 23, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    OK, hate to be the only one to disagree– well kinda–but I just gotta say……You can’t sell anything if you don’t have the writing, reporting and deadline skills. I assume that’s why we’re all in school. Craft class, as I have experienced it so far, has no more to do with newspapers than it does with any other publication type. As I’m sure you all have heard, online journalism ony means that there will be more deadlines and we will have to be more creative to sell our work. What needs to happen (in my humble opinion) is that the convergence ciriculum is actually implemented. Our stories, maybe right from the start, should be told using a variety of mediums. And yes, we need to learn to pitch, sell and hustle but I would be really pissed I came to journalism school and it seemed more like business school.

    Reply
  • 9. joybergmann  |  September 23, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    Totally agree that we’re all here to sharpen our skills. I mean hey, me, blogging? Unthinkable a few weeks ago.

    Also agree that convergence curriculum is the only way to go.

    But I do think that it is mass-masochism to watch movies from the grand ol’ days of journalism. Isn’t that analogous to hosting a Weight Watchers meeting at Dylan’s Candy Bar? See the pretty cookies? They tasted good, didn’t they, oh so long ago?

    Think it better to take brisk, idea-generating walks. Not just for bizness, but for ways to revolutionize this tired industry.

    Reply
  • 10. Al Dayen  |  September 24, 2006 at 2:46 am

    Я тебя люблю!

    Reply
  • 11. unamericanpatriot  |  September 25, 2006 at 12:13 am

    Kate said:

    Craft class, as I have experienced it so far, has no more to do with newspapers than it does with any other publication type.

    Now, I’m not in your Craft class Kate, but if you’re covering a neighborhood, working on a one day deadline and being asked to write short, punchy ledes in easy-to-understand language, I’d call that newspaper-centric.

    I want to cover an industry, a company or a particular aspect of politics, not a geographic area. That’s a newspaper thing.

    I want to write for a specific audience, rather than a general one. Again, that’s a newspaper thing.

    Now of course I agree about the necessity of building skills. I just think there’s more interesting, definitely more relevent ways to go about it.

    It seem to me that what’s going on is that all our professors pulled their way up through local papers or something similar. So they’re trying to replicate what worked for them.

    The problem is, it’s obsolete. The vast majority of us aren’t going to do that, whether we want to or not.

    And I certainly fall into that “not” category.

    Reply
  • 12. jmontalbano  |  September 25, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    I’m teaching an undergrad media-writing class this fall at the University of New Mexico (while still plying my trade at a daily newpaper), and I sometimes feel like a dinosaur in front of my students as I try to drill them on writing an inverted-pyramid story for print. They want to write for TV or marketing or the Internet — just about anything but newspapers and magazines. But I tell them, as Uptown suggests, that if you learn under that format, it will give you the foundation to do just about anything you want.

    I’m teaching them how to find stories, how to cover them and how to tell those stories. If they pay attention and work a little, they’ll have the tools to head in any direction they want.

    I do get the whiff in this thread of youthful hubris — why waste time relearning our ABC’s when we can be superstars now if we only network and blog a bit? I know we’re not supposed to red-pen bulletin board entries for grammar, spelling and style, but reading through this thread I’m a little surprised at the laziness of the writing of grad students in a writing program. Yeah, we’re all off the clock, but any public writing we do should meet a minimum of professional standards (like knowing the difference between a plural and possessive). If you think that doesn’t matter anymore in this day and age, good luck with that.

    Not to be a scold. This is an interesting discussion, and I’m heartened to see some rebellion in academia.

    Reply
  • 13. Zeyad  |  September 26, 2006 at 12:01 am

    What Joy, Matt and Ana said.

    Uptown also has a valid point. It’s probably too early to judge the entire program from these first few Craft classes. Though I have to add that I’m alarmed about some of the practices that we’re being taught, such as the inverted pyramid approach; the short, snappy lede; appeal to the lowest common denominator; fishing for stories; etc.

    But we’ll see where this goes.

    Reply
  • 14. beardednews  |  September 27, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    i totally agree with zeyad. i’m very put off by this LCD approach. and there’s something disturbing about the text book and its checklist approach to story writing. and instructions on narrative stories? come on!

    i don’t know. maybe we should be a little more open minded. i get the impression that they’re making this up as they go along. i got the impression that there was going to be a more explicit forum for us to voice complaints or give suggestions. some of my professors, though, appear very unwilling to collaborate with the students with regards to the cirriculum.

    i got out of my old job b/c i was pissed and tired of reporting stories based on meetings and speeches. i wanted to do real journalism, and learn about all the exciting new venues that are emerging. and what did i do all day yesterday? write a story based on a meeting that no one cares about. back to square one.

    Reply
  • 15. joybergmann  |  September 27, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Bearded Andrew, there will soon be an old-school suggestion box posted near Dean Shepard’s office.

    However, on the topic of prior jobs left…I’ll put this bracing query to the group:

    Why should I spend 2007 at CUNYGSJ? I’m not on scholarship or aid. Every penny I pay for tuition, rent, etc. is drawn from monies earned hour-by-hour through past writing and other communications toil.

    So, do I put out about 7K for tuition, 2K each month for expenses—about 30 grand—to hang in here for skill-polishing and communing with you, my lovelies.

    Or do I hit the pavement and freelance, perhaps earning 20K during those same 12 months, with clips and contacts gained to boot?

    Look, I mock people who pay to get, say, a MFA in poetry. Sheer indulgence that.

    I fear that a MA in journalism is the same folly.

    Refute me, please!

    Reply
  • 16. joybergmann  |  September 27, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    PS

    Why am I alarmed to learn that our writing coach, Heath Meriwether, and our career counselor, Ellen W, only learned about our student blog writing this week?

    Convergence doesn’t trickle up well apparently.

    Reply
  • 17. uptown blogger  |  September 27, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    That’s funny, Ellen Walterscheid told me she had looked at it awhile back.

    Reply
  • 18. joybergmann  |  September 27, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    Uptown, you were my source for the Ellen W bit!

    Anyhoo.

    I doubt our craft instructors know of our blogs. Pity, that. Because I’ve found them the best barometer of our classmates’ individual intellectual wattage-counts.

    As for courage-counts, find it cheering that upwards of 50 folks looked at this thread today; destroying that almost no new posts arrived. Hmmmmm…

    Reply
  • 19. annaliese  |  September 28, 2006 at 12:23 am

    I’ve been thinking about all these issues and I’ve come to a couple conclusions.

    1. We will get a chance to cover more interesting and in-depth assignments over the next two semesters. “Well duh,” you say. I’m frustrated in many of the same ways that you are, but I’ve decided, against my nature, to trust the program and assume that there are careful building blocks being put in place and the reporting I’m doing now will help me cover topics I’m more passionate about. The fact that our curriculum is less than perfectly integrated right now, when we’re all taking the same four classes makes me nervous though.

    2. This is hazing. Pure and simple. I have a friend who in his first year as a doctor in the Bronx. He feels the same way we do a lot of the time. Think Noah Wylie in early ER. Think Grey’s Anatomy. Except without lives in the balance. Those 27-hour surgical shifts? That’s Craft class right there. Did you feel like an absolute jackass asking people about their neighborhoods without a story or a news outlet to back you up? Yeah, me too. Hazing.

    The thing about hazing is that it acheives an admirable end through questionable methods. Part of the whole journalism boot camp experience is productive. Part is just difficult because that’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s how it’s always been done.

    3. Which brings me to my final point. If this program is going to be hard it should be hard. All the classes should be moving right along and *be connected through a common curriculum.* My main academic issue is that half the time I’m in over my head and the other half the hand-holding is unbearable.

    Reply
  • 20. joybergmann  |  September 28, 2006 at 12:41 am

    Very smart post, Annaliese. Thanks.

    Agree that we are well into hazing. If it were an Ivy-Skull-n-Bones ritual with its coffin-crawling-forced-blurting-of-sexual-history in exchange for presidential worthiness, okay.

    But this is CUNYGSJ.

    What’s it worth?

    Reply
  • 21. annaliese  |  September 28, 2006 at 1:00 am

    It takes people who are by nature highly individualistic non-joiners – journalists – and bonds them through shared experience.

    But, as I just said to my boyfriend, I’m not a fan of the cut me down so you can build me back up school of thought and I’m not looking for any sensei, G.I. Jane bullshit.

    Reply
  • 22. Jeff Jarvis  |  September 28, 2006 at 1:14 am

    All: What a great post and magnificent thread.

    It’s important that we talk about all this as a school — and as a trade and industry — and I’m glad for the opportunity to join in.

    I come to the defense of the great, informative lead; the clear, explanatory nut graph; and tight writing. This is not a skill useful only in newspapers and print. This is about communicating. I can (unfortunately) point to many blog posts of mine that were overlong and badly presented. I have to remind myself frequently that my few readers are busy and will not read something I write unless they have a good reason. So I have to present that reason. I do rewrite posts to bring up a nut graph since I cannot depend on people to read 1,500 words of my blather. I rewrite leads to seduce them (and, yes, we can discuss the ethics of that). I trim posts (not often enough) to save them time and to get to the point. (When I shifted from typewriters to computers, I learned to write 20-percent-long and then trim; it always improves the writing and focuses the point.)

    Is all that aimed only at the least-common-denominator? I don’t think so. I think it reflects a generosity of writing that recognizes that you’re busy and I don’t have the right to take up your time unless I explain why I should. (It was in this spirit that I carried the conceit of grades on reviews to Entertainment Weekly.)

    As for reporting on local and daybook stories: I say that journalists are not experts. What we should be good at is knowing what we don’t know and knowing how to find the people who do know. I’ve covered many beats I didn’t care about — at first — but I had to find the people who knew what they were talking about to inform the public. Was I an expert? No. I shun that description. We aren’t experts. We find experts. In any case, we must be able to find the facts and explain the story even when we don’t necessarily care. A good journalist should be able to take on stories that might seem, at first, to be dull — neighborhoods, economics, technology, government — and explain what’s happening for a public that does care. And I argue in my blog that a good journalist today must add the skills of moderating and educating and packaging and more.

    Now about the industry and employment. There ARE jobs in this industry, even in the big, old companies. In fact, those are the companies that most need — desperately need — strategic, inventive thinking and action. I want to see you all be leaders — the leaders, damnit! — in an industry that needs leadership. This is why the NYTimes started a lab; the industry and its leading companies need innovators. But you also have new and added opportunities that simply didn’t exist before, opportunities to start your own companies and products or serve your own publics, to act independently. Those opportunities simply did not exist before. So there are more choices in journalism than there were when I came out of j-school. I don’t care what you select. I do care that you question the old methods and take advantage of new opportunities and expand the scope of journalism, for we need that. Will you be employees or executives or entrepreneurs or essayists? You decide. And count yourself lucky that you have the choice. Don’t get depressed about the economic prospects — unless you’ve always dreamed of being a wage slave working your way up from the bottom. No, recognize the luxury of choice.

    I am here because I want to work with you and watch the change and innovation and growth you — yes, you — bring to journalism.

    Remember how one of our colleagues pointed at the screen and BaristaNet and said, ‘I want that… now.’ We can create — and learn from — new things now. We need to bring the skills of communication and accuracy; those are the crafts that matter. So let’s get about the business of invention.

    More Thursday!…..

    Reply
  • 23. joybergmann  |  September 28, 2006 at 1:17 am

    Amen to that, Annaliese.
    No Karate Kid references nor Carradine grasshopper Kung Fu either!
    And for those of you young-ins who have no IDEA what we’re talking about…well, must go now to apply the Olay.

    Am curious to see Jarvis defend j-school tomorrow. I’ve lived through the first Internet bubble; cast a jaundiced eye on his, “it’s coming, the money is there” cheerleading for bubble 2.0.

    I do know I have clients who cannot and will not write clear prose. Because of them, I have funds for haircuts. Whoeth payeth thy rent? Only the cyber-sage knows and shall [hopefully] tell.

    Reply
  • 24. Jeff Jarvis  |  September 28, 2006 at 2:50 am

    Look at yourself as matter to my antimatter: I gave up the big job (and paycheck) to affect or at least witness change through you. I’m hitching my star to you all for a reason: because we need you. So grab the bull and create. Use this time and work to figure out what’s next for you, not to mention journalism.

    Reply
  • 25. joybergmann  |  September 28, 2006 at 3:08 am

    Savvy Jarvis. He had a great idea and sold it to Entertainment Weekly, for untold sums.
    Bravo. I mean it. Bring on the Manhattan apartment and all its benefits. You were smart a bit back, and got paid. Kudos.
    It’s however, not applicable to our best interests as we seek to pay our next Verizon bill.
    Admit, Jarvis, your motivations for teaching us.

    Reply
  • 26. annaliese  |  September 28, 2006 at 4:50 am

    As I understand it, Jarvis had the savvy idea of Entertainment Weekly, started it from scratch, (albeit with funding) then got booted after his baby turned out brainy instead of pretty. Or rather, left of his own volition, but either way it was because he was delivering more Twin Peaks than Paris Hilton. The fancy job and paycheck came later.

    The motivations question is a good, a fair, one though.

    Reply
  • 27. Jeff Jarvis  |  September 28, 2006 at 10:42 am

    OK, on jobs….

    I see so many new options that did not exist a decade ago:

    * There are jobs on newspapers. Old soldiers still fade away, die, or go into PR. But those jobs are changing rapidly and often radically, requiring an ability to tell stories in any medium on new schedules.

    * There are now jobs on online news sites associated with existing brands. Some of you won’t like those; some will.

    * There are jobs to help create new products for old companies; there’s a fairly desperate scramble to do this in many places.

    * There are jobs on new and big news sites (e.g., Yahoo, CNET).

    * There are new efforts to start news products by nonnews company; Verizon is funding the start of news organizations in two ciites right now and they are hiring.

    * There are jobs in new and smaller but growing news efforts (e.g., Netscape, Gawker, PaidContent…).

    * You can go start your own thing and can balance your ambition with the desire to inform and the desire to eat but revenue to this corner of the world will only grow. Ånd that thing you start can be in any of many forms: text, audio video, all of the above.

    A decade ago, you had to go to the guy who owned the press or the antenna and beg for a job.

    So I see no reason for mourning. Quite the contrary: There is more opportunity than ever. But you must be nimble and imaginative and flexible and you must bring value to whatever you do.

    As for me…. I was just a wage slave at Time Inc. when I started EW. I couldn’t start it alone. They spent $200 million to get it to profitability. Today, I could start it as a web service for far less. And there are similar opportunities today.

    As for why I gave up the big paycheck to teach (for a very little paycheck): It’s because of this very discussion. Journalism needs new thinking — strategic, imaginative, open, questioning, bold, brave — and I believe that will come from you and I want to come along for the ride.

    Reply
  • 28. joybergmann  |  September 28, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks to everyone who posted.
    I want to underscore the theme of my essay: This is not a time to mope, but to be energetic, innovating businesspeople.

    Onward!

    Reply
  • 29. Blogging out of control « NOTHING’S NEWS  |  October 4, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    […] Reporting information you gathered on the launch of the community news service is one thing (apparently the web master has been hired and a decision on the editor is imminent). And the conversation over at Joy’s place asked some very important questions and sparked a really interesting conversation. But flaming professors (or each other) is another matter entirely. You never know who’s reading. […]

    Reply
  • […] But for me, these guys just confirmed what I’ve suspected for a while: the industry is seeking multi-skilled journalists who have an open mind when it comes to technology and the news. They affirmed my goal of becoming a multi-platform journalist. When I graduate in 2007, I want to be capable of producing news online, in print, and via broadcast. It doesn’t mean I’ll do it all, it simply ensures that I’ll be viable in this changing industry. It means that I’ll be better equipped to handle anything thrown my way. I will need to ultimately specialize in one genre, but I love having knowledge of all these tools. And you can’t be afraid of them. You need to wield them! I truly believe that it can only make me more marketable in the world…and I totally agree with Bergmann. This is a business and it’s up to us to make our careers, it’s in our hands.   […]

    Reply

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