In New Media Programs, Who Benefits?

There was an interesting faculty discussion on e-mail, which I’ll partially reconstruct here, with the permission of the parties:

From Norm Sims:

Folks,
Here’s an article from Inside Higher Education that you might find interesting.

Norm


Response from Ralph Whitehead, Jr:

This is an interesting article, and it should remind us that the situation
in journalism today is a fairly unusual one.

As economists describe it, a labor market consists of two sides: the supply
side and the demand side. The demand side consists of the employers, the ones
who are seeking employees. The supply side is the employees, the people who
make up the supply of labor.

It is quite common for the demand side to begin to look for or even require
employees who have a set of skills that the employers haven’t required in the
past. Economists refer to this as a skills-shift or a demand-side shift.

(How these shifts occur is one of the major themes of the new book by Claudia
Goldin and Larry Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology — the kind of
book that is little-read, but widely-cited.)

In a situation like this, the workers on the supply side who already possess
the newly-demanded skills are in an advantageous position. They are able to get
the jobs that require the skills. In the short run, moreover, the supply of
such workers will be small. If the demand for such workers exceeds the supply,
the people with these skills not only can get hired but can get hired at a wage
premium.

The Journalism program’s new ability to teach convergence skills enables our
students to move into what for the moment, we assume, is still a fairly small
pool of workers who can meet the demand for the new skills and thus gain the
benefits of possessing them.

If this were the whole story, it would consist of nothing but good news. And
we would naturally want the University to continue to invest in the talent and
the tools that would enable Journalism to maintain whatever lead we now hold.

What is happening in journalism (the field, as opposed to the UMass program),
however, makes the demand-side shift in journalism an unusual one: There is an
upheaval on the demand side. Or, more precisely, because there is almost always
some ferment on the demand side, there is an unusually widespread and unusually
fast-moving upheaval on the demand side. Many of the employers who are seeking
the new skills are also experiencing declines in revenue that have begun to
occur at a dizzying speed. Some of us are old enough to have lived through the
decline of the American automobile industry. Here were are, almost exactly 35
years since it began, and General Motors and Ford still exist. Meanwhile, the
overall demand for vehicles has continued to rise, though more and more of it is
now met by Toyota and Honda and other companies. I don’t know what we would set
as the starting date for the decline of The New York Times as a journalistic
organization (regardless of what platforms it might use for its journalism.)
Let’s say it was 2005. How sure can we be that this journalistic organization
will still exist in 2038, even in as weakened a form as General Motors and Ford?

This isn’t to suggest that the GENERAL demand for convergence skills will
diminish. Presumably, it won’t, because convergence is well on its way to
becoming the standard for communication of many differnt kinds. But what we
can’t be sure of is that the JOURNALISTIC demand for convergence skills will
continue for the long run. That is, the short-term demand that now exists in
the JOURNALISM industry will continue for a while and then, once the conversion
of the existing journalism industry to an all-convergence m.o. is complete, no
one will be hired as an editorial employee any more unless they are fluent in
convergence skills.


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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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3 Responses to In New Media Programs, Who Benefits?

  1. journalismprofs says:

    An interesting argument, Ralph, but I can’t say I agree with your conclusion. As Poynter’s Ellyn Angelotti points out in the piece:

    “I think one of the main benefits of encouraging convergence and learning how to tell stories not just through one medium but many media” — such as video cameras, cell phones, pen and paper, Twitter and other tools — is “creating an environment [in which] you are not just preparing a journalist to tell a story with one method,” said Ellyn Angelotti, an adjunct faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, and interactivity editor of its Web site.

    Let’s not forget that implicit in the “many media” concept is writing. The growth of multimedia/convergence does not mean the death of writing and journalism. Hardly. I’ve had many conversations with newspaper folks this summer to try and get across a simple concept: We need to stop killing trees.

    A friend of mine who was at the UNITY conference reports that there was a pall from newspaper folk.

    I’m paraphrasing here, but his point is that until newspapers stop treating blogging as something to be done on the side, and not a priority, they are going to continue to slide. Journalism isn’t dying, the delivery system has changed. Good journalism is still very much what is going to be the driving force for all forms of media.

    How do we know that?

    The audience is telling us.

    The one thing missing from your supply-demand metaphor, Ralph, is the new dimension to journalism — the audience is a player now – from both sides of the equation. The audience wants good journalism but wants to take part and wants to get their journalism on their own terms and in their formats of choice.

    And, as BJ illustrates with her own experiences, there is much merit to development of the student/journalist/entrepreneur. That is much of the idea behind amherstwire — give the students something they can make their own.

    I’ve been through many either-or discussions over the last 12 years — many “traditional” reporters and editors resist new ways of telling stories because, well, they’re new. But at the root of it all is good writing — look at any strong multimedia piece and at the root of it is good writing. The need for good writing skills, good reporting skills and solid news judgment is not going away — it’s growing.

    And, yes, there are many good-paying jobs out there to be had. I placed 3 students at espn.com and another is working for a start-up. The many stories of the sky falling on Romenesko and elsewhere would seem to indicate a decline in jobs but that’s just not true. Journalists – editors, reporters, shooters – are needed.

    It’s like my old boss used to say: Content is king – good, reliable content. People want information from established mass media sources. You could argue that news consumers are hungrier for content than ever before but they’re not going to read it on newsprint any more.

    Are journalism schools incubators of innovation? If newspapers are going to drag their heels, then I say, empathically, Yes! Let’s lead the way!

  2. Dennis Vandal says:

    Absolutely! As I’ve said before, the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been before. It’s very possible an energetic grad could walk the hometown and start a website/free weekly newspaper combination and become the new voice.

    BTW….please sign your comments!!!

    Dennis

  3. journalismprofs says:

    Apologies — the first comment was from Steve.

    chrs,
    Steve

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