Sure J-Schoolers Can Write, But Can They Handle Their Biznass?

Paul Gillin at Newspaper Death Watch writes about a recent lecture he gave at an anonymous top journalism school. He wasn’t impressed by the response he got.

My material wasn’t the type of stuff these students are used to hearing, judging by their reactions. About 2/3 of my talk was about economics and business. Among the topics I addressed were:

  • How advertising efficiency is devastating the media economic models that are based on the inherent inefficiency of mass-market advertising;
  • The irony that newspaper readership is at an all-time high even as the industry craters;
  • How the efficiency of online publishing permits new media organizations to operate much more cheaply than their predecessors;
  • Why the 57-year-old average daily newspaper reader is an undesirable target for advertisers;
  • Why advertising costs will continue to go down and why this is a problem for traditional media;
  • Why Craigslist has devastated newspapers’ most profitable revenue source;
  • How the need to sustain high circulation levels has made newspaper editorial content bland, inoffensive and, ultimately, vulnerable to competition.

    The students were aware that they’re stepping into an uncertain world but they didn’t seem to grasp the finer points of the media business. Looking at the journalism department’s website later, I could see why. The curriculum lists 29 courses in the journalism program, and not a single one is about the economics of publishing or how to sustain a career as a journalist.

    This university is failing its students. I suspect that so are a lot of others.

  • Gillin’s piece resonates with us. Back when this humble blogger graduated from journalism school in 2005, he had no clue how the newspaper business worked. Getting laid off from one newspaper and watching another fold during his tenure taught him the hard way.

    We asked USC Annenberg journalism student and Neon Tommy deputy editor Kevin Grant for his take. His response after the jump.

    Although I think Annenberg has done a good job acknowledging many of j-schools’ failures and taken measures to correct them, there is still a long way to go. It is absolutely true that the church-state mentality persists in the classroom, depriving many students of skills they’ll need to make good decisions about their careers. Yes, there is a basic understanding that the Web has disrupted newspapers’ business model. But there is little discussion of how that business model worked in the first place, or how media companies generate revenue on the Web. Beyond that, I agree that entrepreneurial drive is a must for any young journalist. Opportunities must be created, but my sense is that many students are uncertain about where they’d begin creating one.

    On the other hand, Neon Tommy is exactly the kind of venture that every journalism school in the country should have launched already. It provides top-to-bottom digital experience and around-the-clock Web publishing…[W]e are funded by the university and do not sell ads. We dig into Web metrics and aggressively pursue linking relationships and content partnerships with other media outlets. Without money on the line, however, there is a limit to what can be learned on the business side.