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Home > Publications > Quill > Reading, writing and reality: Will your next job be online?


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Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Reading, writing and reality: Will your next job be online?

By Deb Halpern Wenger, SPJ Professional Development chairperson

Right now, many journalists are getting nervous — they see job cuts all around them, and some are concerned that their jobs are about to become obsolete. We’ve all seen the headlines about the growth of online journalism, but is retraining for work on the Web the answer? What does the job picture really look like for journalists? Here are a few facts:

In late December, Editor & Publisher reported that newspapers eliminated more than 2,000 jobs in 2005.

For television newsrooms, the picture may be a bit brighter, though the most recent statistics available are for 2004. At that time, according the Radio Television News Directors Association/Ball State University annual survey, two-thirds of TV news staffs increased in number or remained the same. Almost half of the stations expected to hold staff sizes steady in 2005.

The RTNDA/Ball State survey indicates that things are not so cheery in many radio newsrooms — in 2004, 65.6 percent of radio news staffs decreased in size. The expectation for 2005 was that 76.3 percent of radio stations would see more staff decreases.

But don’t start applying for those public relations jobs just yet. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for writers and editors is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations — increasing 9 to 17 percent through the year 2014. However, the job forecast goes on to say “competition will continue to be keen for jobs on large metropolitan and national newspapers, broadcast stations and networks, and magazines. Most job opportunities will be with small-town and suburban newspapers and radio and television stations.” And, in fact, when you look at employment for news analysts, reporters and correspondents specifically, employment opportunities are expected to grow more slowly than average — increasing just 0 to 8% through 2014.

So, how do you make yourself more bulletproof when it comes to making sure you will always be able to find a job? If you believe the Department of Labor crystal ball, “opportunities should be best” in the area of technical writing, especially for those with expertise in law, medicine and economics, and “job growth is likely” in the area of new media. Now, if you don’t mind, let’s leave the technical writing issue for another day and talk about how much of an opportunity new media offers to journalists and how to get those new media jobs.

Jonathan Dube is the editorial director for the Canadian Broadcasting Company Web sites and a well-known and often-published writer in the area of online journalism. In an e-mail interview, he said online will become an increasingly important part of the media world, and that “print and broadcast journalists who are Web savvy and know how to work with their online partners and use the Internet will be far more marketable and successful.”

But Dube and others aren’t ready to buy into the idea that every journalist should be preparing for a job in online journalism. The Pew Center for People and the Press and the Project for Excellence in Journalism surveyed American journalists in the spring of 2004. At that time, 62 percent of online journalists said the size of their news staff had decreased, compared to three years earlier, whereas just 37 percent of traditional print, TV and radio journalists said the same thing. There is some evidence that hiring in the area of new media has rebounded somewhat recently, but the fact of the matter is, there are still far more jobs in traditional print and broadcast newsrooms than there are in online. Still, Dube says there is a good reason to learn some Web skills.

“Learning these new skills doesn’t just make you better prepared to be an online journalist, but will help you be better at practicing all types of journalism, because it will teach you new ways of looking at stories and new ways of telling stories,” said Dube.

So, what type of skills does this new breed of journalist need? According to Dube, “All journalists should know how to use a digital camera and record audio in good enough quality to post online. They should also understand how the Internet can be used to help improve stories, so they know what types of ideas to suggest and how to work with their online staffs.”

For Dube, the real trick is to become a journalist who embraces the future and doesn’t fear change.

“The media world is transforming very rapidly, and no one can predict exactly how new technologies and things like blogs and citizen journalism will change our jobs — but they will. Those who welcome the changes and challenge themselves to think of new ways to take advantage of the new opportunities are those who will succeed.”

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