By Paige Cornwell
The Working Press
The good news: the journalism job market is showing signs of improvement and a search on an industry website produces a number of openings.
The bad news: the job market still is very weak, compared to pre-recession numbers.
Total newsroom employment at daily newspapers declined by 2.4 percent in 2011, according to an American Society of News Editors census. Television employment, however, soared in 2011, with 1,131 jobs being added to news staffs, according to the RTDNA/Hofstra University annual staffing survey.
Overall, journalism graduates holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees are finding employment at numbers significantly lower than a decade ago.
Still, many graduates are settling for less money and taking jobs requiring them to move to another part of the country.
According to the Cox Center survey, 72.5 percent of 2011 graduates of journalism and mass communication programs across the nation reported a job offer or solid prospect upon graduation, up from 68.5 percent among the 2010 graduates. About 65 percent of master’s degree recipients, competing in the same market often with more training and experience, reported having a job offer before graduation. The numbers are a significant decline from 2000, where 82.4 percent of grads with a bachelor’s degree reported being in the same position.
The recent gain is significant, Cox Center director Lee Becker said.
“It suggests the bottom has been reached, and there is some recovery,” Becker said.
Courtney Pitts, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2012, took an internship at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis after graduation, and then accepted a copy editor position at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when the internship ended. The job market wasn’t as bleak as she expected, she said.
“I was under the impression that that job market, especially for journalists, was a black hole of despair,” Pitts said. “I’d heard so many horror stories of graduates going months without a job, despite their top-notch internships and academic record.”
The Cox Center survey also found that communications job descriptions now include web-based duties, Becker said. That doesn’t mean students are finding jobs in environments “radically different from the environments of the past, but the work of the journalist has been transformed.”
“Most listings for copy editors were asking for someone who also had design and web skills,” Pitts said. “Many positions required a wide range of skills and seemed as though they wanted a candidate to do multiple jobs.”
It’s much easier to find employment if the applicant possesses digital skills, because new positions are continually being created, said Ryan Murphy, RTDNA communications, marketing and digital media manager. The television news industry was hit hard by the economic downturn, but even as revenue decreased and jobs were eliminated, news stations kept their digital teams, he said.
“It’s not the best job market, but if you possess digital skills, you will find a job,” Murphy said.
The opportunities may appear differently to journalists, depending on what they want to do, said Andrew Seaman, a medical journalist at Thomson Reuters
“If you want to be a reporter who just focuses on one aspect of small town life, you may not be able to do that, because that audience isn’t there,” said Seaman, a Society of Professional Journalists member.
Graduates must have experience and be ready to move when they’re seeking that full time job, said Chris Hong, a reporter at The Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., SPJ member and recent graduate of the University of Kansas.
“Journalism required working really hard,” Hong said. “People may talk about how bad the job market is, but I’ve seen opportunities out there for those with experience.”
Overall, the numbers suggest the job market will continue to improve, Becker said.
“We have to have some hope that there is no relapse, and that it doesn’t turn back down, but there is evidence that there is a slight recovery under way.”