Understanding Your Child's Choice as a Journalism Major In a world transitioning from free information to paying for trusted news, what should parents know about their child's interest in journalism? BY TOM CHORNEAU
Journalism majors learn many valuable skills that can be applied to a variety of professions.
“ There remain a certain number of students who simply are committed to doing journalism.”
You did your part in raising a college-ready student. You ensured good schools and teachers; supervised years of homework sessions; braved entrance exams and the obligatory tour of potential campuses. But now all seems lost.
Your child has just finished the freshmen year and given you news about choosing a major—journalism. Yikes! What can be done?
First—know that you are not alone. It might seem counter-intuitive with the dramatic decline the newspaper industry and mainstream media in general, but the number of undergraduate students seeking journalism degrees is actually larger today than 10 years ago and nearly 50 percent higher than 20 years ago.
According to statistics gathered by a research team at the University of Georgia—about 213,000 students were enrolled in journalism majors across the country in 2013—the last time the survey was conducted. That’s slightly more than the 190,000 enrolled in 2003, but a lot higher than the 128,000 found in 1993.
Meanwhile, revenue from newspaper advertising has slid from $46 billion in 2003 to just under $20 billion in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
So why are kids still signing up to become the next Woodward or Bernstein?
"There are still a lot of students who aspire to become journalists, regardless of where they end up working or how they end up doing it," said Lee Becker, a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia, who for 25 years helped produce the annual survey of journalism enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities.
"There remain a certain number of students who simply are committed to doing journalism," he explained. "I think we all try to be honest with them that they are going into a business with an uncertain future and that there isn’t a traditional career pathway—but it doesn’t stop them.
“Remember that there are still students going into dance programs, the creative arts and the theater—because these are things they really want to do, it’s in their heart," he added.
That said, don’t think some young reporters aren’t making it big. A quick review of publishing deals over the past year shows a number of millennial authors signing six figure contracts. And some journalism schools are refining their curriculum to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial and creative about establishing themselves as a news-brand, promoting their scoops and skills over social media.
One change that has occurred over the years, fewer students are going into the print option, while more are choosing to focus on public relations. According to the University of Georgia research, public relations and advertising attracted the most students within the journalism department in 2013 while print had the fewest.
Twenty years ago, the numbers would have been reversed and likely it is the result of the downturn in the newspaper job market. While print is slipping paid digital subscriptions are jumping for all the major newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times—reversing the idea that information wants to be free. It turns out that trusted information still has value.
Becker also pointed out that the curriculum that makes up a journalism degree can be applied to a lot of professions. The ability to write, clear and effectively is a skill needed in many jobs. Perhaps even more important, the ability to organize facts and quickly synthesize reports is a sought-after skill in both the public and private sector.
Tom Chorneau is an award-winning journalist with more than three decades in the news business. He has served as a reporter and staff writer at a number of outlets including the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle and his work has appeared in many publications including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. His new novel, "Enterprise Reporting," is due out in early 2017. For more information visit www.tomchorneau.com.