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Friday, February 27, 2009

Wannabe Reporters Prove Masochism Signing Up for Journalism School

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 5:33 PM

click to enlarge Trust US kids, you're in for an adventure
  • Trust US kids, you're in for an adventure
With newspapers all over the country on life support, the Chron at risk of closing if it doesn't chop staff, and even the recent cover of Time Magazine reading "How to Save Your Local Newspaper," now would seem a dreary time to get into the business.

Yet, strangely enough, Bay Area colleges and journalism departments say they are experiencing stable if not unprecedented number of students applying to major in journalism, with the schools that have experienced a slight dip in admissions shrugging it off as too early to tell.

"We're getting a lot of students that come in and want to switch majors. I say, 'Why? Do you really want to do this? Do you know what's going on?'" says Venise Wagner, the chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University. "We still have more students than we know what to do with. I'm not sure why there's still interest."

SFSU has 588 students who've declared a journalism major in the fall '08 semester, down from 640 in fall '07, but Wagner says the drop might be attributed to the department tightening up the prerequisites for certain classes and restricting application deadlines more than industry woes.

San Jose State University's journalism school says they've seen no drop-off at all. In the current climate, the school has focused on crosstraining students in many media -- broadcast, magazine, photojournalism and the Web -- so they're eligible for a greater degree of jobs, says SJSU School of Journalism and Mass Communication acting director Kathleen Martinelli. Still there might be some hope for landing jobs at traditional outlets: "Some may get jobs at papers still because they're young and they don't need to pay them as much," Martinelli says. That's encouraging.

Stanford University's small 15-student graduate program in journalism saw a 20 percent increase in applications for next year. Ann Grimes, the program's acting director says the curriculum has been tweaked to reflect the changing industry, adding courses in multi-media storytelling, digital journalism, and how to make blogs, wikis, and social networks like Twitter and Digg work for them. Grimes says a degree in journalism may be more valuable than ever since newspapers may prefer to hire someone already trained in new media than teach an old reporter new tricks. "If you have digital media skills and programming skills, there are a lot of media organizations that are eager to talk to you," says Grimes. 

Of course, while the journalism industry's demise has been making headlines -- perhaps we just like to write about ourselves -- it's obviously not alone in job cutbacks. While journalism applications for admission to Berkeley's renowned journalism graduate school are slightly down for this year to 260 from 346 last year, graduate applications are up in general. Berkeley's Dean of the Graduate Division Andrew Szeri says that's a general trend during recessions.

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Lauren Smiley

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