GANAHL ON MEDIA: The J-Grad Job Crisis

QUESTION: What are the odds of finding meaningful careers in journalism and mass communications (J&MC) for the more than 50,000 students graduating in 2009-10 from the country’s 480 plus schools with 4-year communication programs?

ANSWER: While it’s impossible to be precise, history may guide us. The authors of the annual graduate report conclude that 2008 graduates in “journalism and mass communications programs found themselves in a disastrous job market” according to the Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communications Graduates.

And the authors should know: this is the survey’s 23rd year. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and a number of media, media associations and educational institutions sponsor the survey, which is conducted by the Grady College of J & MC at the University of Georgia. The Cox Research Center director is Dr. Lee B. Becker.

The survey results are based on a sample of 2,542 undergraduate and graduate students, and represent a 32% return rate of the initial 9,526 surveys mailed. The sample error for the undergraduate sample is 2.0% (N=2,360), and 7.3% for the graduate sample (N=182). Surveys were collected from October 2008 to March 2009.

So, just how disastrous was the career market for 2008 J&MC graduates? More importantly, what career strategies does this suggest for the 2009-2010 graduate?

Overall 60% of the 2008 graduates found full-time employment six to eight months after graduation, and “only half of the graduates had full-time work in the field of communication.” A year earlier, 70% of the 2007 graduates found full-time employment. The unemployment rate for the 2008 graduates was 17.5% compared to 13% for 2007 graduates.

It’s worth noting that the rate of full-time employment among the various curriculum specialties in the 2008 survey ranges from 56% for broadcasting, to 59% for print journalism, to 65% for advertising and 71% for public relations.

The median starting salary reported in the 2008 survey for those finding full-time employment was $30,000 for undergraduate degrees and $38,000 for graduate degrees. Becker notes this is “the same average salary” reported in the 2007 survey, and compares to the $49,224 average starting salary offer for all 2008 college graduates reported by the National Association of Colleges and employers (NACE). The median annual salaries among the various degree specialties varies considerably, and ranges from $24,000 for television, to $26,000 for weekly newspapers, to $29,000 for daily newspapers, to $31,000 for public relations, to $33,800 for cable television.

So, what kind of future does this survey suggest?

Trends in the national unemployment rate suggest 2009 graduates will face even more hostile conditions. Unemployment rates during the 2008 survey time period ranged from 6.6% in October 2008 to 8.5% in March 2009. In just a year the unemployment rate has soared nearly 60% to 10.2% in October 2009. Business Week noted there was little evidence that the more than 18% unemployment rate for 16-to-24-year-olds would change anytime soon “potentially creating a kind of ‘lost generation.’” Please see graphic published on October 19, 2009 by Business Week.

BW Lost Gen

And, what can the 2009 J&MC graduate do?

First, knowledge is power. Simply by reading this column you are being proactive. Immerse yourself in current changes related to your field, and become an expert in understanding the forces and trends shaping your future. Arm yourself with the currency of relevant and timely information.

Second, diversify your career aspirations and cross-train among the various media platforms. Write often, take many pictures, shoot much video and record multiple interviews. Specialize in multi-media story telling. Lead your colleagues in the march to the Internet, and join the vanguard of digital innovators.

Third, become a content area expert. Grow passion for your favorite subject and promote yourself relentlessly. The New York Times’ recent profile of Bill Simmons and his rise from “an obscure online sports commentator” to “perhaps America’s most famous sports columnist” as the ESPN Sports Guy is both inspiring and telling. The digital highway holds the promise of many career paths.

Is the career goblet half empty or half full for the 2009 J&MC graduate ?

You decide.

Dr. Richard Ganahl is a professor in mass communications at Bloomsburg University, PA. His column GANAHL ON MEDIA is an occasional column about media issues. Ganahl is a former media manager, publisher, entrepreneur and consultant. He is co-editor with Dr. Louisa Ha of the award-winning Webcasting Worldwide (2007), and the founding faculty advisor of BU Now, a multi-media, student-managed media blog site.