I seem to have been meeting and talking with a lot of young journalists and journalism students lately. It’s making me feel better about the future of an occupation I’ve spent most of the last 40 years pursuing.
To tell the truth, I haven’t been feeling very optimistic about journalism careers for the last few years. If anyone said to me they wanted to be a journalist, my response would be, “Change your mind!” Job security is a huge issue. According to the employment consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, newsrooms shed 16,160 jobs last year, continuing at least a dozen years of employment decline. Pay has been stagnant, and stress has increased. More journalists have been physically assaulted on the job.
And before you say, “If the media was more (politically conservative or politically liberal), they would not have these problems,” let me remind you that this seemingly endless squeeze is due to the dominance of Google and Facebook, not a decline in subscription revenue. These big online media companies have simply sucked up all of the advertising dollars that used to be spent with news media, including local newspapers like The Columbian. In 2019, those two companies took in more than $200 billion in advertising. And the trend continues.
Yes, these have been rough, rough times for journalists. So why am I feeling a little bit better?
First, I recently attended (virtually) the annual Murrow Symposium put on by Washington State University’s communications school. I’m an alumnus, although it was a mere department in those days. The breakout sessions contained some good, helpful advice for students, much of it given by alumni who were five to 10 years on the job. The tone was optimistic, a “You can do this!” attitude.
A couple of weeks later, I had a brief video meeting with one of the seniors. This young woman is graduating from WSU today, and she will be testing the internship and job market. I asked her how the market looked, and she said opportunities were limited, but she had her eye on an internship at a newspaper in Central Washington. Having interned at that same newspaper a generation ago, it made me feel good to think that it remains a starting point for young talent. I hope her career flourishes there and she moves on to a permanent position, as I did. Truly, that internship set the course for my entire life.
We aren’t taking any WSU interns this summer, but we are preparing for our third annual Dee Anne Finken summer internship, in partnership with Clark College’s journalism program and the Clark College Foundation, which provides some compensation to the intern. We’ll choose a student to work alongside our reporters and editors for the summer. You’ll be seeing the intern’s byline regularly, I suspect. Last summer’s intern, Nick Gibson, wrote more than a dozen stories for us, mostly about schools and coronavirus, but also a major piece on Portland International Airport’s new concourse and a feature on electric scooter businesses.
With the pandemic lifting, I think we will be able to give this summer’s intern a better range of stories and experiences, even though most of us are continuing to work remotely. By the way, you can support this internship by donating to the Finken scholarship fund at the Clark College Foundation. I think this is a great way to develop talent and attract nontraditional candidates to journalism.
Finally, I spoke with an actual job candidate recently. We aren’t doing much hiring, of course, (see third paragraph above for details,) but we have an urgent opening for a breaking news reporter.
This reporter candidate works for another newspaper in the Pacific Northwest but is eager to grow and is looking to move up to a larger city full of interesting stories. Hey, that sounds like Vancouver!
Passion was the common denominator in all of these encounters. Journalism is a passionate career. You don’t apply to be a reporter because you want to make a lot of money. You don’t apply to become well-liked. You don’t apply to become famous. (In fact, most journalists I know hate being in the spotlight.)
You choose journalism because you want to tell the community’s stories. You do it because our great nation sometimes produces bad things that need to be discussed and corrected. And you do it because the work is so darned interesting.
I feel good when I see this passion still exist among today’s journalism students and young journalists.