AGENCY LIFE

Reporting on a declining trend: The falling enrollment of the modern J-School.

By Todd Marcum 

Collectively, enrollments in journalism and communication schools nationwide fell two years in a row for the first time in two decades, according to an annual study conducted by the University of Georgia’s James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research. Some schools have seen consistent double digit tumbles in the percentage of aspiring journalists.

Does it matter? I think it does.

I could go into my mini-treatise of how the news crisis in America will rival the banking crisis, how as a society we have willingly sacrificed accuracy for speed, and why the Internet’s parasitic relationship with the news media has crippled the capacity of the news industry . . . perhaps another rant . . . I mean blog. But the decline of people studying journalism troubles me personally, because some of the most interesting people I have ever known are journalists.

While acknowledging the genie has been let out of the bottle, so far as the Internet usurping traditional channels, journalism will remain an exciting career. Successful journalists will have to be more visionary and entrepreneurial than ever before. The need for content is not going away, in fact, people are consuming information at a rate far greater than ever before. Figuring out how to make a dollar out of it is the rub; this is fascinating and profitable for journalists who figure out how to bell the cat.

For me, the real problem lies with the reduction of the number of capable professionals that the study of journalism produces, even of those people may never become newspaper writers.

A journalism degree teaches an ordered, inquisitive approach that is useful in other careers. Several folks here at Access have J-School degrees. A few other former journalism students who are slightly more famous than Anthony Hardman include Denzel Washington, Phil Knight, Sallie Krawcheck, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Lisa Caputo, and fellow graduate of Marshall University’s W. Page Pitt School of Journalism, Soupy Sales.

The challenge of the modern J-School will not simply be to teach kids to write, but also to teach them to extrapolate value from their thoughts and words in ways that transcend covering the courthouse beat.

So what’s it all mean for the student who has a passion for journalism? There has never been a shortage of useful and rewarding employment for thinkers, communicators, storytellers and entertainers. Today’s young journalism stars will essentially have the opportunity to bypass the traditional distribution channels and take their stories directly to the reader. At the same time, this must be balanced with restraint and ethics, and underpinned with business acumen. It’s a tricky time to be a journalist, but in many ways there has never been a better opportunity.