Career Prospects, Lord Voldemort, and the Future of College Journalism

The honesty of the lead sentence is almost painful to read.  I both laughed and cringed simultaneously: “I have written this so that I can write in my CV [résumé] that ‘I wrote for the student newspaper’.”

In a recent editorial for The Student Direct at the University of Manchester (the largest campus paper in England), Nicholas Foulis fully and almost gleefully celebrates the fact that he is not out to change the world, raise an issue, get you to think or otherwise contribute to student journalism or greater society. He simply wants to pad his resume.

In the process, he goes behind the curtain of collegemediatopia, exposing a fact that rests at its heart but, in Harry Potter terms, is normally on par with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  According to Foulis, it is “The Whole Sordid Business Of Writing Stuff For The Student Newspaper Just To Say That You’ve Done So On Your CV.”  In his words: “People write and submit pieces for all sorts of other reasons, many of them noble I’m sure, but career prospects must be at the forefront of many a student writer’s mind.”

It is certainly no secret that most, if not all, individuals involved in collegemediatopia regularly report, edit, and Webify the news not only for their readers and the first draft of history but for their own personal/professional gain. College media, more than any other types, boast the skills-training-résumé-boosting-contacts-making aspects of their enterprises as key enticers for students to join.  One comparison I hear a lot: college journalists and minor league baseball players, in the sense that they’re both generally young, up-and-coming, and obviously cannot help but look ahead to the major leagues of their chosen fields.

But what about now, in our current mediated state of betwixt and between topsy-turvydom? Is “the whole sordid business” of student journalists primarily building for the future being turned on its head? College media are more professional, interactive, independent, eager and able to compete with the professional press for eyeballs and Googling fingertips than ever before.  With the new World (Wide Web) of media favoring the individual, the amateur, the upstart, and not necessarily offering a cash reward and a stable career upon graduation, has the time come for student journalists to stop thinking of collegemediatopia as a means to an end?

My bold, if slightly far-fetched, prediction: Forget the minor league baseball analogy.  By the middle of the 21st-century, student journalists will be like the Olympians of yesteryear- young, amateur, unpaid (or lowly paid), but in the spotlight more than any other denizens of their craft (in this case, once for four years straight instead of once every four years).  With j-jobs few, fragmented, and far between in the media landscape of the future, they will pursue quality journalism not to achieve gainful post-graduation employment but for the sheer joy, camaraderie, and idealism that comes with doing it and the fulfillment of knowing they are making a difference along the way.  For many, turning pro will put their best days behind them.

What do you think???

One Response to “Career Prospects, Lord Voldemort, and the Future of College Journalism”
  1. I started working on the newspaper before declaring a major, mostly because I was close friends with three of the editors. However, the thrill of reporting is what made me declare journalism as my major and start applying to J-schools.

    I agree that it is an unspeakable truth that most college newspaper staff members are thinking about their resume when they write. However, that isn’t always the case, especially if you look at schools that don’t offer a journalism degree (like one of my local schools, the University of North Florida, whose newspaper, The Spinnaker, is a finalist for the Pacemaker).

    I like the Olympic comparison because most college students are doing a similar work-level to professional journalists, yet they are doing it pro bono and even having to pay for classes. Take school newspapers like The Daily Tar Heel, which worked all night to meet the deadline despite a bomb scare, or the Minnesota Daily, who exposed that a city council candidate had been lying compulsively. Those newspapers worked just as hard, and harder, than many professional newspapers, similar to the old-style amateur Olympian.