The Good News for Journalism School Grads: There Are Jobs Out There

It's spring, and graduation time is fast approaching, which means students at journalism schools across the country are getting ready to enter the workforce. So the obvious question on everyone's minds is this:

Are there any jobs out there?

The short answer is yes. Despite all the bad press the, uh, press has gotten in recent years about the supposed lack of available jobs, there are, in fact, plenty of opportunities out there in print and digital journalism for young entry-level reporters who want to start building a career in the news business.

Indeed, as I write this in April 2016, there are currently nearly 1,400 job openings listed on Journalism Jobs.com, probably the most popular site for job listings in news.

Broken down by category at the JournalismJobs site, there are nearly 400 job openings in newspapers, slightly over 100 in digital media/startups, more than 800 in TV and radio, around 50 in magazines and 30 or so in communications and PR.

This breakdown contradicts much of the popular "wisdom" out there about how newspapers are dying. While it's true that many newspaper reporters and editors were laid off in recent years, particularly in the period immediately following the Great Recession, newspapers still probably employ more journalists in the U.S. than any other medium.

Dan Rohn, founder of Journalism Jobs.com, said in an email interview that the job market "has been pretty strong over the past few years, particularly in digital media.

Online news sites such as NerdWallet and Buzzfeed have hired a lot of journalists. Traditional media companies have also doubled their efforts into the digital media space, and that has resulted in more digital news jobs."

Many of the listings out there are either for entry-level positions (no doubt due, at least in part, to past layoffs) or for reporting jobs requiring just a few years of experience.

Indeed, the headline for a listing at a paper in Wisconsin reads, "Graduating this spring?"

What else do the listings reveal? Many are for jobs at papers in small towns like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Boulder, Colorado, or Cape Coral, Florida. Many require or prefer that candidates possess some tech skills and familiarity with social media. Indeed, one small paper in Illinois that's looking for a sports/education reporter prefers someone who has worked with InDesign, Quark, Photoshop, and Microsoft Office.

Rohn echoed that, noting that "the phrase 'traditional journalism jobs' is not really applicable anymore because more media companies are hiring journalists with a strong background in social media. The days of just needing to be a great reporter and writer are long gone. Now journalists need to know how to leverage social media to promote their stories and gain interviews."

He added: "Having a strong background in social media could make or break your chances of landing a dream job. Most journalists spend 1-2 hours a day looking at social media. It's just a part of the daily journalism cycle. Tweeting a story they wrote or re-Tweeting a colleague's story is standard practice. Journalists have become -- in some respects -- marketers."

Meanwhile, "digital media jobs will continue to increase until either the stock market collapses or we hit a saturation point, where some venture-funded content sites go belly up because there's too much duplication on the Internet," Rohn said. "Traditional journalism jobs at newspapers and TV stations will continue to drop slightly over the next few years as those industries lose more market share to digital media." 

But he added, "I wouldn't be surprised to see a major shakeout in the digital news sector in the next year, and that obviously won't be good for digital media journalists."

Are entry-level jobs at small papers or websites going to pay a lot? Of course not. One listing shows a starting salary of $25,000 to $30,000 a year. That's probably typical.

But that brings me to my next point, which is this: young people fresh out of college who expect their first job to be their dream job are, at the very least, naïve.

You're not going to start your career at The New York Times, CNN or Politico, not unless you're doing an internship or some sort of gofer job.

No, chances are you're going to have to start out at a small or medium-sized paper, website or broadcast outlet where you'll work very hard and probably get paid very little.

It's called paying your dues, and it's the way the news business works. You go and learn your craft (and make your mistakes) in the minor leagues before taking a crack at the majors.

The great thing about working at a small paper is that, as I mentioned earlier, you'll work very hard, hone your skills and learn a lot. Staffers at small community papers don't just write stories; they also take pictures, do layout and upload content to the website.

In other words, after a few years at a community paper you'll basically know how to do everything, which is never a bad thing.

The other thing you'll realize when you scan the listings at Journalismjobs.com is that it helps if you are geographically mobile. If you're willing to pull up stakes and move across the country for a job, then you're going to have a lot more options than if you've decided you can never leave your hometown.

For most people right out of journalism school this isn't a problem. And for many young journalists, part of the allure of the news business is the fact that you do get to move around quite a bit and live in parts of the country you'd never seen before.

For instance, I grew up in Wisconsin and had never spent much time on the East Coast. But after grad school I landed a job with The Associated Press bureau in Boston, which gave me the opportunity to spend four years cutting my teeth as a reporter in a great city.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you're about to graduate from journalism school and begin your career, you've got a great adventure ahead of you. Enjoy it.