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

From Norm Sims:

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


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

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.