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The Nation

Journalism Graduates Get Good News on Jobs Beat

August 05, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Newsrooms across the country may echo with gloom and doom, but journalism school graduates report better job prospects and a more positive outlook than at any time since the 2000 peak of the dot-com boom, according to a study released Friday.

More than 62% of those receiving bachelor's degrees in journalism in 2005 said they had found a job by late last year, up from 56% in 2003, according to the survey by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research. The center is based at the University of Georgia's Grady College.

"These students see web development, they see podcasting, they see all these technological developments as the way to the future," said Lee Becker, a journalism professor who oversees the survey. "They are not obsessed with worrying about the fate of one segment of the media."

In fact, just less than 56% of the 2,754 graduates who responded to the Cox Center survey said they had read a newspaper "yesterday," compared with 82% in 1994.

The newspaper industry has struggled with declining revenues and job reductions, with more than 2,000 editorial positions cut from 2001 to 2005, according to the Newspaper Assn. of America. Yet 8.6% of those receiving bachelor's degrees in journalism last spring took jobs at newspapers or wire services, the most significant hiring in five years, the survey reported.

The balance of graduates who found work did so in television, radio, the Internet, public relations, marketing and related fields. Nearly 60% of all the journalism graduates with bachelor's degrees were able to stay in the communications field, compared with less than half who found journalism or communications jobs two years earlier.

"The job market seems well on its way to recovery from the dramatic declines in 2001 through 2003," the study said, although researchers found employment in the field still was below 2000's levels.

Eric Berkowitz, who got his graduate degree from the USC Annenberg School for Communication in May, said that members of the class of 2006 have mixed feelings about their profession.

"There was a certain feeling that we arrived late, that the period of great newspapering has passed and we are going to have to work for websites or do something else to make it work," said Berkowitz, 47, a lawyer who soon will start an editing job at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper. "But at the same time, a lot of us are excited about that. In a sense, a loss for some may become an opportunity for others."

The expansion of Internet news outlets has created opportunities. About three in 10 of those leaving undergraduate and graduate journalism schools last year reported that at least part of their job responsibilities included writing or editing stories for the web. A year earlier, the ratio was about two in 10.

Laurie Kawakami, who also received her master's degree from USC this year, said she was thrilled to have a job as a news assistant at the New York Times' website. She is "enamored" of the web, she said, and enjoys the chance to enhance print stories with video and audio clips.

"I feel like this is a career path here for me. I don't see it as interim or something," Kawakami said. "I think there is a real career path in online journalism."

Michael Parks, director of the journalism program at Annenberg, said the school's students have been required for several years to take courses across disciplines -- print, broadcast and online. That serves to reinforce the tendencies of a multimedia-savvy generation, Parks said.

Though they may find work in new technologies, fledgling reporters, editors and producers share a common fate with their predecessors: modest pay.

The $29,000 median salary of 2005 journalism graduates is nearly $2,000 below other liberal arts graduates. By contrast, computer science graduates earned nearly $51,000 and accounting graduates, earned more than $46,000.

Like generations of journalists before him, Berkowitz, who spent 20 years as a lawyer, said he was willing to give up higher income for the rewards of the profession.

"The money is just hideous in journalism," Berkowitz said. "But it's much more fun to cover issues from perspective of a journalist than from the position of an advocate."

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James Rainey can be reached at james.rainey@latimes.com.

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