Sitting in the Stabile Student Center of the Columbia Journalism School, Shane Snow was typing merrily on a Mac computer cased in translucent-orange plastic.
Typing merrily. Not ripping out hunks of his own hair, or scribbling panicked lists of potential future employers, or crying uncontrollably as one might expect of someone who has just enrolled in a $43,527 10-month program for a master’s degree in what political activist and writer Barbara Ehrenreich called “a dying industry” in a 2009 commencement address to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
In fact, he’s optimistic about his future.
“I wanted to improve my writing, and I wanted to get a master’s degree in digital media. I eventually want to teach. I would like to do business and write at the same time,” said Snow. “I wouldn’t be worried about anyone I’ve met here getting a job.”
Snow is among 453 students currently enrolled in either a part-time or full-time program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. These students were part of the 39 percent increase in applications to full-time programs at the Columbia Journalism School for the 2009-2010 school year.
Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs at the Journalism School, explained that “this is reflective of the fact that young people want to and are participating in acts of journalism, and are generally interested and optimistic about the future of media.”
Rather than considering journalism a dying industry in light of the apparent decline of print media, Sreenivasan and his colleagues focus on giving their students both a traditional in-depth knowledge of journalism, and also a solid understanding of digital media skills.
Like Sreenivasan, Leon Braswell, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Journalism School, said that the industry is still very much alive. “The industry is not dying. The industry is like any other industry in that there’s a business model and that’s what needs to be fixed,” he said.
About the future of journalism, Sreenivasan said, “Specialization is going to be important. We train our students to call what one of my colleagues calls ‘tradigitaljournalism,’ which means you have the traditional skills of journalism with a digital overlay.”
Snow seems to epitomize this outlook. Registered in the Master of Science program, he hopes to combine his extensive knowledge of Internet business and web design with his passion for writing. Since graduating Brigham Young University in 2007, Snow has already founded a web design company called Brave Media LLC, and is able to put himself through graduate school while still heading the company.
“This program is really cool because there are so many people wanting to do different and specific things,” he said. “It is very supportive of the different directions you want to go in or the goals you have. Or if you don’t know what you want to do yet, you can get a good basis—a broad look at journalism.”
In addition to its long-established Master of Science degree, the Columbia Journalism School began offering a Master of Arts program five years ago. This program, enrolled in by 47 current students, allows its participants to take half of their classes at the Journalism School, and the other half at the greater university.
So, are Snow and his 452 classmates crazy for being optimistic?
According to Paper Cuts, a blog administered by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch multimedia and print designer, they probably are. Paper Cuts tracks United States newspaper layoffs and buyouts, and is updated twice a day. Most recently, it reports a 2009 total of more than 14,169 journalism job losses.
And, as published by The State of the News Media, an annual report on American journalism, “Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23 percent in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value. By our calculations, nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone, and 2009 may be the worst year yet.”
However, Sreenivasan asserted that such optimism is not misguided: not only are these students equipping themselves with what he calls “the necessary tools” for story-telling, but these tools aren’t from a toolbox that will be extinct in a few years, either.
“In a time of increasing overload of information, and increasing confusion of the world as we know it, and a time when everything, not just journalism, is changing, you need more people who can explain, contextualize, analyze,” he said. “That’s where journalists who can do those things can be employable and more likely to be read than other people. I really believe that we can change the trajectory of students’ careers. Not everyone needs to go to journalism school to succeed, but we believe that you have a better chance of success if you do, especially now when it’s so competitive [to get jobs].”