Students are looking past the layoffs, bankruptcies and closure of newspaper and other media properties and are flooding journalism schools with applications.
When the current class of optimists from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism prepared for their March job fair, some were stunned to learn that, along with The New York Times, Forbes, DowJones and other national publications, they’d also been signed up for interviews with Cat Fancy, a lively consumer magazine “for people interested in all phases of cat ownership.”
It was, of course, a prank. But it’s easy to understand the confusion. The Pew Research Center estimates 5,000 newspaper jobs were lost in 2008. Since 2001, more than 10,000 newspaper journalists have lost work, leaving the total count of those still employed at 47,000 nationwide. It’s getting worse, fast. Erica Smith, who runs the online layoff tracker Paper Cuts, counts nearly 7,500 newsroom jobs lost so far this year.
Yet punishing times for journalism have been an unlikely boon for journalism schools. Would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins hiding out from the bad economy or learning new skills to compete stormed the admissions offices of top-tier programs last fall. Columbia, Stanford and NYU applications increased 38%, 20% and 6%, respectively, from the previous year. Same thing at state schools. The University of Colorado (up 11%), University of North Carolina (up 14%) and University of Maryland (up 25%) all saw gains. “I’m amazed that enrollment continues to be so healthy,” says Associate Professor Stephen Solomon at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
The schools certainly aren’t complaining about the demand from tuition paying students into programs that observers had left for dead. But this shouldn’t be taken as much as a true interest in journalism as a strong desire to improve writing skills to better compete after graduation.