Monday, 9 November 2009

Jobs crisis in journalism education

What does a jobs crisis mean for journalism education? Are universities cynically tempting students onto journalism courses with the promise of guaranteed jobs at the end? Are there just too many journalism courses? Journalism lecturers, including myself, told that there needed to be a serious debate about the future of journalism education, especially given that there has been a 15.7 per cent rise this year in applications to undergraduate journalism courses. Reputable MA Journalism courses have also seen a big increase in postgraduate applications.

Set this against a dramatic drop-off in numbers of journalism jobs and the potential mismatch is clear. Not all these students are going to get jobs (although my university, Kingston, has an excellent record of graduate journalism employment, as points out).

This assumes, of course, that the whole object of a journalism degree is to get a job in journalism. As journalism lecturer Paul Bradshaw argues, this is not the case. If you want functional training, do an NCTJ fast track course.

Yes, there are almost certainly too many journalism courses. But higher education is market-driven and universities want income from students. As long as the students keep coming, universities will keep running journalism courses. The best thing journalism departments can do is keep updating and refreshing their courses to keep them challenging and relevant (see my previous post) and develop firm links with the industry. Then their graduates will be in with a fighting chance.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Training the journalists of the future

Nothing will be on paper in 20 years' time. Or so my colleague Adam Westbrook predicts. In five years' time we'll be downloading news, books and any other media we subscribe to onto foldable sheets of micro-thin plastic (like Kindle but slicker). There will be downloading (or uploading?) machines in stations and other public buildings so that people can load up their plastic pages with text, video and audio, a bit like an Oyster card.

At least this would go some way to cutting down on paper recycling. And getting multimedia on the move without having to read a tiny iPod touch screen and find a wi-fi connection sounds like a good idea to me. Some of my other colleagues weren't convinced. One of them bet Adam £100 he was wrong.

But Adam's main message, as he says in his blog today, is that journalism departments everywhere, including ours at Kingston, have to shift their emphasis. We need to train our students to be entrepreneurs rather than expect a job for life. Being able to market yourself, find funding, get an audience and grow a brand will be vital skills. Students must blog, have a Twitter presence and join in with the conversation. They need video and photojournalism skills. And the future is niche, hyperlocal.

This last earned a shudder from colleagues who had spent tedious years on local papers "writing about dog mess", as one put it. But the old career model of starting on local papers, moving to regionals and then onto nationals is much rarer than it used to be.

Personally, I think these new ways of thinking potentially open up exciting routes into journalism for students. No longer do you have to wait for an editor to grant you space in a paper. You just start a blog and go for it. Of course, it's not as easy as that. You have to write well and get yourself noticed. And the sad truth is that blogging doesn't bring you a regular paycheck.