The What: Journalism School Enrollment Is Up. Now Let’s Get to the Why

A series of recent news items have confirmed that the reports of j-school enrollment increases amid the profession’s economic doom-and-gloom have NOT been greatly exaggerated. While some pieces have provided glimpses into possible reasons, the lingering larger-picture question remains: WHY?

Here are general answers I have come across or personally consider applicable:

1) Students’ Love of Writing/The Creative Angle: They want to create, but not in iambic pentameter.  A j-major still treads a nice middle ground between creative writing/English (too esoteric) and PR/advertising (too selling-out-while-still-young or too foreign a concept).

2) Their infatuation with the pop culture aura of the journalist-as-superhero: A recent Baltimore Sun piece on the enrollment trend cites a University of Maryland j-student saying, “All of the kids in journalism school still have idealized visions of journalism. We’ve all seen All the President’s Men and that’s the journalism we fell in love with.”

3) Their loathing of other subjects like math and science: Let’s face it, even with its burgeoning high-techness, journalism is still seen as much more do-able to many students than the pre-med, engineering, or advanced physics tracks.

4) Their idealistic belief that they will be one of the remaining few to merge the words newspaper and career together: Ironically, many recent pieces not only note that students still aspire to be j-schoolers but also still want a career in newspapers.  Why oh why?  Well, even with imminent death warnings being bandied about like North Korea’s promises of a satellite launch, newspapers still provide the most jobs of any other medium in j-world.  And at least for one last batch of incoming j-students, they provided  their most regular exposure to journalism while growing up.

5) Their hope that new media’s worldwide (web) domination will soon lead to an explosion of related j-jobs: Columbia University’s dean of academic affairs recently said he views the current journalistic slash-and-burn “as being like a forest fire. It damages a lot of trees, but once the smoke clears, you see the buds come out.” (Does he mean blogs?) Basically, while j-jobs might be scarce in the near future, j-CAREERS may still exist (something the Sun piece notes), catering to those with specialized techy skills or knowledge bases or the ability to draw a following.

6) Their acceptance that a j-degree will help beyond the traditional j-job-seeking: It’s an audio-video-Flashified-bloggerific-podcastastic time in not only journalism but marketing, advertising, PR, corp comms, etc.  I have a friend here in Singapore who developed and runs a daily-updated Web site full of all-things new media and a faux-journalistic spirit.  Her field: real estate.

7) J-student extraordinaire Daniel Bachhuber commented on my last post that one possible reason behind the enrollment spike is an increase in non-traditional students– older folks, career-switchers or print-and-ink journos looking to get a new media leg-up in a tough economy.  I think it definitely might be one more factor fleshing out all of the above.  No professional press pieces have yet touched on it.


8 Responses to “The What: Journalism School Enrollment Is Up. Now Let’s Get to the Why”
  1. spatialcontext says:

    As one of the very non-traditional students I am attracted by the new nature of journalism. It has more appeal to me than the old form. I am excited. I want in even if along the edges. The big question is can it be a career? How will it pay? I am beyond that to some extent. I am old enough that I can do it for the love of it and collect social security. There is always my part time library job. BUT democracy is back, at least for a while. This is the new frontier. It is stimulating. Metaphors abound. It is wonderful to see students going to college to follow their passions instead of just getting the degree to become another cog in the corporate wheel. As with all change this one was inevitable and brought on by the rigidity of the institution and loss of creativity and courage in the corporate structure. Journalism is dead. long live journalism.

  2. Yi Wen says:

    Hi Dan,

    How are you doing? This is Yi Wen reporting live from Kathmandu, Nepal. Regarding your post on why students keep flocking to journalism, well, in this age of global financial gloom and doom, everyone is suffering. On a more practical level, at least as journalists we still have to keep reporting the bad news. No doubt newspapers are cutting costs and imposing hiring freezes, but I think journalism students remain positive to the advances in technology in hopes that will help to cut costs and yet allow more journalists to jump on board.

    On a more idealogical side, maybe the youths of today like the hippies of the past just wanted to make a difference in their corner of the world. Journalism in Nepal is fraught with threats, challanges and very low pay and yet increasingly it has the power to highlight the sufferings of the Nepalese people. Especially for third world countries such as Nepal, there is a need to train local journalists who understand the culture and nuances of the nation better. Parachutes and bang bang journalists like us can only do so much to help highlight the problems of the country to the rest of the world, but from my interactions with the local journalism students here, it seems that these students are drawn to journalism by the idealism of what journalism can offer-a voice to the voiceless and hope for the sufferings of the people.

  3. Greg Linch says:

    Or they want to go law school.

    On that note, would it be worth creating a separate track for those people? They’re not really interested in the practical side as the people who actually want to go into journalism, so it makes some sense.

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