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Minding Our Business


March 10, 2010

In a Word — Jobs!

“Don’t let anyone tell you there are no jobs out there,” WLTX general manager Rich O’Dell told me at our recent job fair for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.  O’Dell’s WLTX recruiters had some openings news side and, as always, in sales.

I steered an advertising major that way.  She wants to be a media buyer.  Why not media sales?  Same coin.  Flip side. 

McClatchy chairman Gary Pruitt, after a brutal stretch of contraction for the company’s papers, says ad sales are on the upside with a marked improvement in online advertising revenues.

 Even ABC News, after announcing cuts of as many as 400 positions in late February, is now posting new jobs. 

It’s a little bit like the story Ronald Reagan liked to tell about the boy who got excited over a barn full of manure, because “there’s a pony in there somewhere.” Finding the pony is something else. 

“I didn't realize how terrible the job market was until now,” a broadcast major who graduated in December reported in an e-mail.  “Unfortunately for me, it happens to be just after I graduated.”  

While the economy as a whole has been struggling, the media have been in particularly difficult straits. This is perhaps the most transformative period for media since Gutenberg invented moveable type and put in jeopardy the jobs of all the monks scribbling away in the abbey. 

Meanwhile, there is a daily parade of prospective students and parents across our campus, now breaking into spring blossom.  What a great marketing job the Horseshoe does for us.

Decision day is nearing for 2010 high school graduates.  There are a lot of variables they have to sort out:  big/small, public/private, in-state/out-of-state, ACC/SEC football, garnet/anything but orange.  Ultimately, job prospects/no job prospects. 

Our challenge is to deliver an honest appraisal of the evolving media environment without decimating enrollment.  It’s not just parents who want to know if it’s madness to pursue a career in a field that does much of its metamorphosing in public rather than in some shady cocoon. 

This is not entirely new.  My parents also questioned a journalism career.  I became a math major — for one semester.  Journalism worked out pretty well for me, but I can’t promise any student a globe-trotting career.

“You don’t want yesterday’s job,” I tell them.  “Today’s may not be an option, either.  What you want is tomorrow’s job, and I can’t tell you exactly what it will be.“

That’s pretty much what ABC News president David Westin told his staff in a February 23 e-mail recounted by TVNewser:  “When we are finished, many job descriptions will be different, different skill sets may be required, and, yes, we will likely have substantially fewer people on staff.”

It pushes journalists toward a jack-of-all-trades job description, although we now call it multitasking.

In my network experience, including a stint with ABC News in Moscow and Germany, I only occasionally had to shoot my own film — yes, film — because there were places I did not want to take my Russian cameraman.  I was never lauded for my shooting ability.  “All we see is shoes,” I was told on one occasion by a New York producer.  That was because a couple of KGB goons were wrestling the camera away from me as I tried to shoot a demonstration in Red Square.   I digress.

 “There’s a lot of value in having a two or three-person team because it gives you more eyes and ears covering the story,” I told TVNewser’s columnist Gail Shister, who’d inquired about the ABC cutbacks.  But the one-man band’s been with us a while, especially in small local markets.  Moreover, today’s backpack journalists have proven quite talented at shooting, reporting, editing and presenting stories substantially on their own. Some relish the independence and control that gives them.

What I tell prospective students in journalism and all our communications majors is to worry least about the technology and hone the skills they’ve always needed—inquisitiveness, critical analysis and effective writing. 

ABC’s Westin delivered one telling quote about the endangered species in the television industry.  “There have been people in television news — very successful people — who do not write,” the New York Times quoted.  “We are definitely going to require more of our journalists.” 

|   The Column

Charles Bierbauer

Minding Our Business is a column by Charles Bierbauer, dean of USC's College of Mass Communications and Information Studies and a former CNN and ABC News correspondent.

This column addresses issues faced daily by students, faculty, editors, news directors, public relations experts, and media managers about our professions.

We welcome feedback.

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