THE GROUND FLOOR OF A CONDEMNED BUILDING

Posted in Rants on July 15th, 2009 by Ed

Sadly, one of my favorite things on the internet – the Paper Cuts blog, a database of newspaper closures and layoffs maintained by Erica Smith – has disappeared. Hopefully it is on hiatus, to return better than before. A little bit of poorly-formatted archival material is shown here.

Law schools long ago mastered the scheme of promising x students who can afford the tuition that they would get great jobs despite knowing full well that only x/2 could actually find decent employment upon graduation. It's a serious ethical dilemma on the administrative side of academia. We need the money so we take everyone who can pay. Then we let the students discover for themselves, several years and $100,000 later, that, well, those six-figure jobs we dangled in front of them are pretty rare.

Journalism schools are on the bandwagon now, and not because they're taking more students. The industry simply is disappearing. I saw an estimate (and lord help me, I can't find a link) that only 40% of current journalism students can feasibly be absorbed by the print media industry. Are they doing the ethical thing and reducing enrollments? No. That's hard to do when no one has a job and the number of applications skyrockets. Just keep taking them, take their money, let reality steamroll them in a few years, and then rely on hacky right-wing moralization to absolve academia of blame ("It's the students' own fault if they're not good enough to find a job. We tried.")

The really sad part is that many of the jobs that are available only loosely resemble what we'd call "journalism." Rather than becoming news reporters, many of these students are going to end up in lifestyle publishing (magazines of the Modern Bride and Stuff variety), re-writing press releases and wire stories for small papers, or freelancing. An acquaintance of mine graduated from Northwestern journalism school, one of the top 5, and was the envy of many colleagues for landing a real, well-paid job…as the "Gadgets" Editor for a well-known national magazine, a genre of journalism which amounts to badly disguised advertising. Many a quality journalist from Columbia or Northwestern are doomed to sit in offices writing about great software for printing one's own wedding invitations, while many more will be unemployed and forced to compete with other desperate people in a race to see who has less integrity. "I have one job here and there are four of you. Whoever writes the most enthusiastic feature about the new Scion tC gets the job. You have an hour."

It might feel a little less dirty if journalism schools took a fully informed, buyer beware attitude about the state of the industry. But to be honest, would that stop any of the current wave of applicants who are unemployed and lack better options for the future? Like Daniel Clowes said in his hilarious Art School Confidential comic strip, (please disregard the horrendous film based on the same) telling a room full of college kids "Out of you 50, only one will land a job in this field" simply makes all of them think "I'll be the one!"