Journalism schools aren't doing their students any favours by not teaching them how to be entrepreneurs in the field, according to Arik Ligeti, a third-year student at Carleton University. He explains how teaching students to create new ventures and sell themselves as freelancers will have a net benefit effect as more young people look to find work in non-traditional areas.
When I look around at my fellow journalism students, I wonder how some of them will make it. Not because they lack talent or motivation, but rather because of the realities of today’s media landscape.
It definitely seems like there are fewer traditional jobs in journalism now than in generations past — paid ones at least. It’s not that there aren’t jobs: If someone wants to hone their skills at a community newspaper in rural Canada, then finding employment is do-able. However, to venture into the metropolises such as Ottawa, Toronto or Vancouver, the full-time employment opportunities become more scarce — I’m even talking internships.
I’ve had friends who have been turned down for major summer internships at outlets like the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail despite being qualified. That said, I’m sure the Star and The Globe made appropriate decisions — there are just so many applicants for them to choose from.
So far it seems like I’m just ranting — acknowledged. But if there are fewer opportunities and increased competition, then I believe it becomes, at least in part, the job of the educational institution to help prepare its students to adapt to an industry that increasingly demands its workers to sell themselves. Journalism has become an entrepreneurial endeavour. We’re expected to create online portfolios, blog, tweet and establish a presence as a way to stand out to potential employers. I want an employer to open their “Where’s Waldo?” book and find me.
What I’m saying is: Schools need to give us the skill-set that will allow us to become entrepreneurs – whether that means launching our own ventures, or simply being able to make a living as a freelancer.
I just read an article in the Winter 2012 edition of Media magazine, a publication from The Canadian Association of Journalists. In it, University of King’s College School of Journalism director Kelly Toughill writes about how the need for journalists to be entrepreneurial led the school to create a Master of Journalism program in New Ventures. The program has courses in “business models, in business basics, in social media and multimedia journalism.” The year culminates with a final project where students work on their own new media venture.
During his bachelor’s degree at King’s, Mick Côté says he kept hearing that journalism was a dying art. “[I heard] the only ones that really made it nowadays were the people who created their own positions or jobs, or made themselves indispensable to other companies.” And so when he heard about the New Ventures masters program, he enrolled.
As for how the inaugural year of the program has gone so far: “Nothing’s perfect,” Côté says. “We’re all trying to figure out ‘Okay, where is this going to go? How can we teach this properly?’” Côté thinks the program will reach its full potential when King’s is able to offer journalism-based business courses; they are currently relying on Dalhousie University for some business courses.
Minor start-up bumps aside, Côté says learning about — and trying to build — viable journalistic business models has been valuable. He has even created his own venture as part of the program. Sexworkhalifax.ca is a website that tells the stories of sex workers in Halifax and sheds light on the issues that they face.
I’m in my third year of the journalism program at Carleton. I can certainly say I’m a better journalist than when I entered the program in 2009, but I do feel that there is a gap in the “sell yourself” idea. Sure, we’ve learned the basics. I thoroughly enjoyed my television journalism course and am in the midst of learning radio basics. I’ve just started an eight-week multimedia workshop where we’ll be required to blog and tweet. But that simply isn’t enough. Yes, some students will always go the extra mile but for others having a forum to learn and try to sell themselves and their stories would be beneficial.
There are constantly new online media ventures popping up in Canada, with OpenFile being the most prominent and ambitious to enter the fold. But others exist, too. From iPolitics, to TheMarkNews to The Tyee, online-only journalism is now a mainstay here and around the world. As it should be. And with the opportunity to launch a new website literally at every aspiring j-schooler’s fingertips (shameless self-promotion!), there is a need to educate us about how to do it.
Although starting a website is not necessary (or for everyone), another critical form of journalism entrepreneurship is: freelancing. If we can’t get permanent jobs, then we have to find a way to make money. Selling our stories is one way to do that. Students desperately want to get published and many that i speak todon’t have a clue — or know enough — about how to do that. Ryerson University has listed a course dedicated to the business of freelancing, though it wasn’t offered this year.
So why limit an entrepreneurial journalism program like the one at King’s to just masters students? Offer some of those courses to undergraduates as well. To be fair, there are a few out there already, though not necessarily focused on entrepreneurial skills: Concordia University has an introductory course in online journalism where students are taught basic HTML and web design; King's has an advanced online workshop where similar skills are taught; Ryerson has an innovation workshop that teaches students about the business of journalism.
Surely schools would be well-served by finding out what is working elsewhere. We need specialized training that will enable us to adapt to a changing media environment which seems to include less permanent jobs and more online ventures. This means a combination of learning how to market yourself to employers and even going out on your own to launch or work with start-ups — with the entrepreneurial skill sets learned in school. Because even if that may lead to more competition, it will also result in a more competent, more opportunistic cohort of young journalists. And that’s what will lead to a brighter future for this industry.