Journalists see teaching transition hurdles

Given all of the changes in the media, it shouldn't come as a shock that many longtime journalists are looking for work.

Given all of the changes in the media, it shouldn't come as a shock that many longtime journalists are looking for work. One place they are applying en masse is in academia, following the long, traditional line from member of the working press to journalism professor. However, many are finding it a near-impossible transition because of tough economic conditions for universities, evolving curriculum, and the need for higher-education degrees.

The number of journalism teaching jobs available are also considerably smaller than the total of laid-off or fed-up former journalists actively seeking them. Those that apply quickly find that while years of experience and journalistic ability were usually the most valued assets in a newsroom, advanced academic degrees – from a master's upward – are essential at most colleges and universities.

“[At media outlets], the coin of the realm was learning on the job,” says Jacqui Banaszynski, professor and Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “This varies dramatically from institution to institution and job to job, and... most universities... won't even consider you if you don't have a master's – and certainly a Ph.D is strongly preferred.”

Marilyn Weaver, chairperson of the journalism department at Ball State University, says current and former journalists have a better chance of getting an academic gig if they can teach multimedia or cross-platform skills to students about to enter the workforce. She also adds that of the three journalism positions her department has open, a master's degree is a requirement for two, and hopefuls for the third must have a doctorate.

“[Applicants] may be great writers, but if they can't teach students how to deliver across platforms, then they're not as attractive,” she explains.

The process is further complicated by the fact that academic institutions – many of which are operated by budget-crunched state governments – are facing the same dismal economy as everyone else. Weaver adds that many schools are in the process of implementing cutbacks or hiring freezes, and as a result, many journalists – and laid off employees from various other sectors – are finding salaries in academia are lower than what they wanted.

“That means that staff positions are being cut and faculty positions are being reviewed more closely,” she explains. “For the positions that we are able to fill, I doubt that we will be able to offer salaries that the higher-level professionals expect.”

William McKeen, professor and chairman at the University of Florida's Department of Journalism, adds that many active journalists who wonder if they have a good chance of getting hired at his university or other schools approach him. The answer, he says, is often dependant on the institution's academic standards, as some place more value on real-world experience than advanced degrees.

“I have a lot of [working journalists] saying to me, ‘What are my chances? Can I teach?'” he explains. “And I say that I have no doubt that you can teach, but you need to find a university that puts the value on [years of experience].”

McKeen clarifies that while his university is demanding applicants have new media experience for positions now open, advanced reporting, editing, and storytelling abilities also remain top priorities.

“Obviously [multimedia] is the direction we're going in, and we want people with that sort of background,” he says. “Also, anyone with news executive experience and skill with language is going to be at the top of the list with what we need... it's going to be people with a sense of news and writing style.”

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