In an era of convergence, consolidation and layoffs, opportunities for media-related careers do exist for the well-prepared
By Pearl L. Stewart, Special to IMDiversity and THE BLACK COLLEGIAN
Posted April 2007 – A few weeks ago, a radio talk show host contacted me with a request to book a couple of student writers on his show, which often addresses issues related to colleges and universities. He hoped to interview students who had written controversial articles for my website, BlackCollegeWire.org. “Great,” I said, “I’ll tune in and listen.”
There is just one catch: The program isn’t broadcast on terrestrial “radio” as we know it, nor even on satellite radio. It’s broadcast online at PSIradio.com or downloaded via podcast.
This is just one example of how “new media” technologies, such as the Internet and portable digital or wireless devices, have changed the landscape of mass media and the field of mass communications as a whole.
A Google search turns up eight distinct definitions for “new media,” ranging from “artworks that use multimedia… and computer technology,” to “emerging digital/electronic communications forms.” In any case, today’s students preparing for any career in media should assume they will be working in a multimedia environment – and a rapidly changing one at that.
Rapid Change, Diverse Skillsets
Remember when you purchased your first laptop with all latest bells and whistles only to find, a year or so later, that it was obsolete? Similarly, if you entered journalism or media program four years ago, you may have thought you wanted to be a TV reporter or producer, or perhaps a newspaper or magazine editor or columnist, or a radio announcer. Maybe you were interested in graphic design, illustration, photography or video engineering for a mass medium. Four years later, those professions have metamorphosed into new forms, and you need to be educated and trained as a multimedia communicator.
“What happens,” asks the website for the New Media Program at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, “when distinctions between print and broadcast media fade away and a single reporter must combine video, audio, text and images to tell the story?”
TV reporters and newspaper columnists are now are likely to have blogs on their employers’ websites, complete with video and audio clips. Print communicators also blog and now often carry digital cameras that shoot still and video images. Their stories are posted online within hours (or sometimes minutes) of being produced along with photos and video clips. Content may be produced, edited, distributed and “consumed” simultaneously in multiple formats as varied as audio podcasts, email or newsreader feeds, interactive forums, and live or on-demand streams delivered to computers, PDAs or even cellphones, as well as in newsprint and broadcast.
This doesn’t mean that the bedrock skills imparted by traditional journalism and communications training are out of date. A strong command of language both spoken and written, the ability to research, digest and communicate information clearly and economically on a fast turn-around, and a familiarity with principles of publishing ethics and copyright may all be more relevant and in-demand than ever. However, finding gainful employment in media increasingly demands that candidates be able to marry these skills with some cross-disciplinary training and multimedia work experience.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment outlook for media-related occupations is a good news-bad news story. Consolidation and convergence among the large and more traditional organizations in the media and publishing industry has slowed job growth for such occupations as news analysts, reporters, and correspondents, and caused a decline for some, such as non-online broadcast announcers.
Nonetheless, for most media and mass communications majors armed with good training and updated skills needed for the shifting media landscape and its new digital tools, the underlying picture is less bleak.
If your goal was to become a graphic designer four years ago, you are now headed for a field that has become wholly digitized, so that designers with website design and digital animation experience will have the best opportunities and likely the highest salaries in the profession, according to the 2004 BLS analysis.
For print communicators, the BLS offered a similar outlook: “Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors, especially those with Web experience” and backgrounds in specialized areas such as science or business. Also proliferating are corporate and nonprofit vehicles outside the “traditional media” industries where communications majors can use their skills. Nearly every major corporation, for example, from pharmaceuticals to automotive, maintains a newsletter, brochures and annual reports, multimedia web channels, and online PR campaigns – often produced in-house and more or less professionally. Similarly, easier, cheaper publishing technologies have allowed small, highly targeted niche publications to flower, from multicultural and non-English outlets, to trade and hobby magazines, to “alternative” newswire and syndication services. Even as representation of African Americans has been spotty or sparse in mainstream news and entertainment media – in employment and community coverage – Black-owned and -oriented media companies have grown in number in recent years, with new media players like Black Planet and Black America Web joining the more traditional BETs, Ebonys, or BLACK COLLEGIANs of the world.
The diversification of media formats has also expanded the range of potential employers of mass comm. majors. Not too long ago, for example, someone aspiring to a television programming career had a handful of local studios and national networks to pick from. Even with the advent of cable TV, the positions were relatively limited. Today, however, major cable and online companies may hire media professionals to manage both aggregated content and original programming. Meanwhile, wireless industry employers are increasingly serving on-demand news, business information, entertainment and gaming content produced or reworked just for their mobile/cellphone products.
Some colleges and universities are eons ahead of others in embracing this new media explosion. George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media recently launched a new podcast, Digital Campus, now available from iTunes and Digitalcampus.tv. According to the online news release, “The biweekly roundtable will discuss how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums.”
GMU’s program for more than a decade has used digital media and computer technology to preserve the past. Its projects include a September 11 Digital Archive and a History News Network, and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank that includes blogs and podcasts related to hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.
At Columbia University, students are being prepared for the digital media world through a variety of programs including the Hearst New Media Professional-in-Residence, a New Media Lecture Series and special events such as last November’s panel discussion, “The Changing Media Landscape,” which featured panelists from Yahoo!, Wikipedia and WSJ.com, the Wall Street Journal’s online publication.
The University of South Carolina’s 5,700-square-foot Newsplex is described as “a $2 million multimedia newsroom of the future” where professionals, college faculty and students, and even high school faculty and students attend seminars for training in “converged media management.” It’s part of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.
Unfortunately, not all journalism or mass communications programs have caught up with the changes in media. However, fellowships, internships, conferences, job fairs and training seminars, where students can interact with today’s media professionals, offer opportunities to find out what it’s really like to work and communicate in the new media environment.
Pearl Stewart is founder of the Black College Wire news service, former newspaper editor, and visiting professional at the University of Southern Mississippi School of Mass Communication and Journalism. This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine, published by IMDiversity, Inc., and in an extended online version focusing on career opportunities in media and mass communications fields for college graduates.