SPECIAL REPORT: Industry’s Loss is J-schools’ Gain

By: Joe Strupp

Journalism schools have long been an attractive option for newspaper veterans seeking to do something different or find a life after the daily-paper grind. But in the current state of massive job cuts and depleted newsroom budgets, J-schools are seeing a boom in applications, inquiries and often desperate pleas for jobs in the teaching sector.

With more editors and veteran reporters either taking buyouts or being cut from their jobs, those who run the top graduate and undergraduate programs reveal that interest in teaching is higher than ever, and not always from those who are dying to teach ? but sometimes just dying for a job. ?The answer is a big hearty ?yes?,? says Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, when asked if interest is on the rise. ?My impression is that we are getting more of them across the transom. Every time we have a job posting, we are inundated.?

Lemann has 35 full-timers and some 100 adjuncts. ?We are seeing more inquiries from people who have left newsrooms or want to leave newsrooms,? says Lemann. ?The profession has been downsized and there is a particular sector that has been downsized the most, the top 20 or 25 metro newspapers, not the national newspapers. Those newsrooms are far smaller than they were five years ago.?

Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communications at Boston University, estimates that the number of inquiries in the past nine months is triple what he received in the previous nine months. A former editor of The Miami Herald, Fiedler joined the college two years ago. ?There has been a dramatic increase in the inquiries I get from people who are in journalism now interested in slots here,? he says, adding that many want to be part-timers. ?I have a lot of interest from working journalists to come in as a way to get something on a resum? to make them able to step in that direction.?

At the USC Annenberg School of Journalism in Los Angeles, director Geneva Overholser cited a recent opening for an investigative reporting teaching post that drew 50 applicants. ?There is a huge growth for applications for any position,? says the former editor of The Des Moines (Iowa) Register and Washington Post ombudsman. ?Every week we get more phone calls and e-mails from people who are happy to work with us.?

Robert Gunnison, a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who has spent the past 10 years at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, says, ?In the past, it was freelancers looking for something on the side. Now it is much more people who are looking at cuts and being thrown out in the street. There are a lot of people out there.?

Brian Brooks, associate dean at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, reports a noticeable increase in working editors and reporters who are just sick of the cutbacks and reduced resources. ?Some of them have lost jobs, but some just don?t like where the industry is headed and want a career change,? says Brooks, a 35-year Missouri staffer. ?And people who are on journalism faculties are not leaving ? so there are not a lot of openings.? Brooks claims the largest full-time journalism school faculty in the country, at 85. ?In a typical year, we might have six openings,? he says. ?But we haven?t had any this year. People aren?t leaving, because [other] people aren?t hiring.?

Brooks also notes the diminished interest in newspapers among students, even with an increase in journalism classes. Enrollment has doubled in the past six years among graduate and undergraduate classes to 2,000, but with just 9% majoring in newspapering, down from 15% a year ago. Meanwhile, the number of newspaper vets who want to come and teach has risen sharply.

?It is clearly a buyers market,? says Ted Gup, chair of the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston. ?People of the highest caliber are being spilled out.? But Gup, who has a staff of 15 full-timers and 22 part-timers, says the growing application group sparks worries that some are coming to academia because they have no other options. ?I am not looking to run a refugee camp,? he adds. ?But I think we are pretty good at sorting out the folks for whom teaching is a default position. A lot of people who come into teaching keep a hand in journalism. I don?t think colleges will become a place for dead wood.?

Stephen Burgard, director of the journalism school at Northeastern University, estimates teaching inquiries are up 30% in just the past year for his department, which has just 13 faculty members, eight of whom are tenured. He finds more newspaper staffers cannot depend on their jobs for retirement. ?The end of the cradle-to-grave newspaper career means people cannot stay in journalism until retirement,? he says. ?You have people in full stride of their career having to make choices about what they are going to do.?

According to Burgard, ?what is happening at a lot of journalism programs is that openings come up for very specialized positions,? he says, citing new media as an expanding area. But he adds that few longtime newspaper people have the digital experience needed. ?Everyone is looking at positioning their programs for the changing multimedia field and the economic viability of the new media ? to develop skills.?

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