Journalism jobs: how do you plan for a changing profession?

I recently took part in a student/alumni networking event at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the school I have a journalism masters degree from myself. The event was called speed networking, setting me up with a student every seven minutes to talk about their career aspirations and the profession in general.

Almost every one of the seven I met told me they want to work in magazines. I found that shocking, given how few magazines are left and how many will be gone in the not too distant future. Simply put, the advertisers who once paid to support magazines so all us journalists could write long-form stories in them don’t want to pay anymore. They’ve found more cost-effective ways to reach their customers (ie Web ads, social networking, one-on-one marketing).

The magazine I work for these days is one of the few islands in the storm of change sweeping print journalism. I sometimes feel like we’re in one of the mountain glens that haven’t been inundated by the next ice age, but that age is coming.

Magazines, you want to work for magazines? Good luck, and all the best, it's tough and getting tougher.

Magazines, you want to work for magazines? Good luck, and all the best, it’s tough and getting tougher.

Some magazines will survive of course, no communication medium has ever completely disappeared when the next wave hit, after all. But for students just starting 40-year careers, magazine shouldn’t be the first job option to pursue these days.

I suppose I sounded like the grizzled old veteran (which I am) in telling them that. And some may find magazine jobs, I hope at least some do. I hope also all stick with journalism and find places willing to pay them to be first-rate reporters because society still needs such reporters, even if we haven’t figured out just yet who will be paying them in the future.
John N. Frank

P.S. I know Medill has a long, new name now, but I studied journalism there and so prefer to still call it that. More evidence I’m a grizzled old reporter, I suppose.

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