By Patrick Lee, Jackie Watanabe and Yowei Shaw
There is an air of uncertainty at this year’s AAJA Convention.
Amid a slimmer job fair, fewer attendees and not quite as many cocktail parties hangs a hint of fear – not only about the future of journalism, but the future of AAJA itself.
“Yeah, there’s worry, and it’s based in reality,” said AAJA National Treasurer Candace Heckman. “I’m not going to sugar coat anything, the industry’s in trouble.”
AAJA will likely end the year with a deficit of more than $100,000, Heckman said. Funding for some programs already has been cut. Further cuts may be on the way, and some members are talking of fundamental changes to AAJA programming.
Last November, AAJA foresaw the probable shortfall and scaled back its revenue projections for the coming year. But even anticipating a $38,000 deficit when planning its annual budget has proven insufficient to keep the organization’s financial projections on track. AAJA is now looking for more money from non-media companies.
Maya Blackmun, interim executive director, believes finances have not yet gotten to the point where drastic changes are needed. The group’s endowment, currently $930,000, can provide a cushion as a last resort, she said.
Members, however, have already felt some effects of the budget crunch in ways big and small at this year’s convention – from the lack of free tote bags usually given out at registration to a drastic reduction in funding for Voices, the convention’s student-produced publication.
“Everything is at risk of being cut. Everything,” said Heckman. “But I don’t think anything is at risk of being eliminated.”
But there are signs of hope as well.
J Camp, AAJA’s multicultural high school program, received an unexpected donation of $25,000 this year to seed an endowment. The program’s directors, Clea Benson and Angie Lau, said AAJA national board members have assured them financial support will continue. Other initiatives, including some scholarships, cannot be eliminated because of legal requirements from trusts and donors. And the Executive Leadership Program for mid-career journalists kept most of its regular programming this year, cutting only its annual reception.
The hardest-hit program so far has been the student news project. In past years, the project’s budget has exceeded $100,000, said Janice Lee, outgoing deputy executive director. This year, AAJA chopped the budget by more than half, resulting in a shorter project schedule, minimal funding for professional mentors, less equipment and no technical support.
“We appreciate what we’ve gotten, but we’ve sacrificed a lot, too,” said Marian Liu, the project’s director. “Seriously, why else would you work your brains out for free? … It’s a passion project.”
A controversial proposal was recently sent to the advisory board, recommending that AAJA downsize Voices to a less expensive mentoring program with no news training. The plan – drafted by Thomas Lee, a reporter for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and Janice Lee – argues that because of tough times and less student interest, the program’s budget should be cut by more than one-third, to $15,000. They were scheduled to formally present their plan to the advisory board Saturday morning at the Seaport World Trade Center.
In reaction, some have formed a letter-writing campaign to save the project.
Thomas Lee defended his plan. A former Voices student and editor for eight years, Lee said the project helped him profoundly, but his goal is to get AAJA members thinking about concrete responses to this and future years’ budget woes.
“Feelings are not a policy proposal,” he said. “AAJA has to start making some hard decisions. I think, up until now, we’ve been sort of nibbling around the edges … you need a strategic plan.”
No such plan currently exists. AAJA’s last five-year strategic plan ended in December, and board members said they can’t draft a new plan until it hires a permanent executive director. The unexpected departure of recently hired Executive Director Ellen Endo has compounded AAJA’s problems, raising questions about the organization’s direction and pointed questions about transparency among its leaders.
Even the best-case scenario for finances this year – where AAJA breaks even on the convention and receives all of its outstanding donation pledges – is fairly grim. Since AAJA depends on the convention as its big money-maker, barely covering its costs in Boston will result in an overall loss for the year.
One possible revenue source is increasing non-media sponsors. AAJA’s fundraising policy prohibits government sponsors and controversial groups, such as alcohol companies. But such decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, bought a job fair booth this year, and Bud Light has sponsored AAJA’s karaoke night for several years.
Both the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists accept non-journalism sponsors, although NABJ makes a point not to take money from government agencies. NAHJ, however, accepted $50,000 this year from the U.S. Army, and its top eight sponsors this year were non-media.
“Just because these government organizations may sponsor you, it would be stupid to think our members are not going to cover them fairly,” said Ivan Roman, NAHJ’s executive director. “We have a very strong policy of donors or sponsors not dictating anything.”
Even seeking non-media companies, however, may not be enough. ELP Director Dinah Eng said she asked Bank of America this year but was turned down.
“Everything will have to be re-evaluated,” Heckman said. “And we’re going to have to make some serious decisions about how to scale back.”
By Patrick Lee
Last year, newsrooms saw the biggest plunge in employment in 32 years – a loss of 5,900 jobs at U.S. daily papers.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, the highest in 26 years.
Last week, 272 students began preparing for classes at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
More than 1,100 students applied to the program for this fall, a 44 percent increase from 2008. This surge in applications reflects growing numbers of students at graduate journalism schools across the country over the last decade. In the fall of 2007, the year with the most recently available data, national enrollment in journalism and mass communications programs jumped by 10.3 percent – the highest increase since 2000.
But why are students flocking to an industry that is crumbling before their eyes?
Steve Brill puts it bluntly: “I think people are just behaving stupidly.”
Brill – founder of American Lawyer and co-founder of Journalism Online, a new company aimed at helping publishers generate revenue by charging for online content – says the cost-benefit analysis simply doesn’t add up: Thousands of dollars in tuition for a chance to gain entry into a field of closing doors.
But for the upcoming generation of journalists, it still seems too early to give up. Several recent college graduates interviewed said to break into journalism, they would be willing to work multiple jobs, parlay their skills into social media enterprises or – as evidenced by the numbers – go back to school.
“There’s something new to learn for the first time, probably since the advent of television, and that’s the advent of digital journalism,” explained Steve Shepard, founding dean of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
CUNY has also seen a 40 percent increase in applications for this fall, the biggest jump since the school opened in 2006.
A year ago, however, graduate school was not even on Juana Summers’ list of post-college options. A convergence journalism major at the University of Missouri with three semesters until graduation, Summers felt she was well-qualified for a wide array of journalism jobs and that graduate school would be overdoing it. But when she started job-hunting this summer, her options proved to be more limited than she had planned.
“The majority is freelancing, unpaid,” said Summers, currently an intern at the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”
With the final semester of her undergraduate years looming over her, she has started seriously considering journalism graduate school as a way to defer undergraduate student loans for a few years, wait out the industry and make herself an even more competitive job candidate.
Lee Becker, a journalism professor and researcher at the University of Georgia, would point out that Summers’ situation is not unique. He has collected journalism-related statistics since 1988, and the job market figures for 2008, released on the first day of the AAJA Convention, show as dire a picture as ever.
“I can tell you that the market is much worse than it was last year,” he said. “We don’t know if students will simply shift and go into PR or advertising or something like that, or whether they will go into engineering or some other kind of occupation.”
For some, journalism school offers a safe environment to refine reporting skills, test new technologies and brainstorm new ways to make journalism profitable online.
“What better place to experiment than at an academic level where all great minds are coming together to figure that out?” said Vadim Lavrusik, an incoming graduate student at Columbia. “Plus, not that many people are hiring right now.”
Lavrusik, who graduated in the spring with a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, is betting that $40,000 of tuition for 10 months of school will help him figure out how to get paid to report for an online publication, despite the state of the industry. Others, like Laura Bennett, applied to graduate programs because it was the only path that could provide her with a semblance of stability in an industry with no easy entry point.
“J-school is structured: You take classes, you write papers, you get grades, you graduate,” she said in an e-mail. “Journalism, needless to say, is not.”
Having just graduated from Yale, Bennett deferred her acceptance to Columbia’s graduate program to pursue a Fulbright scholarship in Spain. In one year’s time, she said, her decision on whether to attend graduate school will be wholly based on the job prospects she has – or doesn’t have – upon her return.
While the uptick of interest in journalism has some experts puzzled, others say vocational decisions don’t always depend on job market. Some decisions, said Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs and new media professor at Columbia, simply stem from an individual’s desire to make sense of their surroundings through journalism.
“After 9/11, we saw a spike in interest in journalism because people wanted to go in and explain the world,” he said. “This is another time I think we’re going to see more interest in business journalism, see more interest in explaining complex issues, politics.”
And that’s the spirit incoming student Lavrusik exudes when he talks about his reasons for pursuing journalism. A self-proclaimed “new media journalist, social media enthusiast,” Lavrusik’s passion lies in telling stories about what goes on around him – and hopefully finding a way to make money doing so, even if it takes a $40,000 investment upfront.
“I’m sure I’ll figure it out during the school year,” he said. “We’ll see where things take me.”
By Patrick Lee
It’s been a whirlwind journey for David Molyneaux – at times exhilarating, other times nerve-wracking.
After 40 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, more than half of which spent as travel editor, he took a buyout in 2006. He was reluctant to leave the newsroom in fear that he would be unable to continue his passion.
But in the past six months, Molyneaux has written dozens of golf resort reviews, blogged at all hours about travels from Charleston, S.C., to China and amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of cruise ships.
As more and more journalists are forced to start new careers in the wake of layoffs, many have wandered far out of the field in search of work and fulfillment. They’re discovering that the transition can be jarring and stressful, the new work different than anything they’ve done before. But many are finding the skills they honed in journalism invaluable in their new endeavors. For the proactive and open-minded, experts say, the daunting task of starting over is not insurmountable.
The day Molyneaux left his paper, he went back to work immediately – as a freelancer with a passion for travel and an interest in Web publishing. One year and two defunct Web sites later, he believes he’s on the right track for building an online audience and establishing his Web site as a destination for travel tips and news. Maybe.
“It’s still not there. I’m still trying to make a dollar here, make a dollar there, sell a freelance story here, get on the phone, try to market — that hasn’t ended,” he said. “Small time publishing, it has possibilities, but no guaranties.”
Just as his career as a journalist was centered on delivering news to his readership, Molyneaux, 63, has focused on building a Web site that caters to the needs of his new, albeit smaller, audience. He still considers himself a journalist and editor — he sprinkles his Web site, blog and tweets with journalism news — but now with an added entrepreneurial focus.
Adopting a wider sense of journalism and journalism skills is key for those exploring new opportunities, said Joe Grimm, a former recruiter for the Detroit Free Press.
“I think it’s a good time to remind the people, to remind journalists that there isn’t a dark side,” he said. “Broadcast isn’t the dark side for print people, and public relations isn’t the dark side…We’re not the only real dedicated ones.”
Tiffany Hurt went through that kind of a transition. She went back to school to study Web design and interactive media while working the evening shift as A-1 page designer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She wanted to learn the digital skills in case her position was cut. Then came April, when her fears came true. Two weeks later, she started her own graphic design business.
“Since I’m going to school and running a business, I’ll be up from 9 o’clock in the morning until 3 am,” she said. “I get a lot less sleep than I used to than when I worked at the paper.”
Hurt faced some initial challenges: wooing clients, managing payroll and doing the actual graphic design. But the skills she uses to collaborate with clients, organize her operation and juggle deadlines are ones she honed over her 15-year career in the newsroom.
Her story is one of only a myriad now among journalists seeking to continue doing what they love most – but also is a reminder about the importance of thinking creatively.
“We used to see stories about auto workers and everybody else getting laid off, never thinking that could happen to us,” Grimm said. “We think we’re special somehow, because we’re on the inside. But our reporting should tell us differently.”
Listen to the Gary Locke interview. Link below story.
By Patrick Lee
He was the first Chinese American governor and the first Chinese American to head the U.S. Department of Commerce. The story of Gary Locke embodies what many consider the Asian American dream. He grew up a third-generation American of a family that had immigrated from China, living in a public housing project and helping run his dad’s grocery store. Then came Yale, Boston University Law, a meteoric rise through Washington state politics and, now, a cabinet position in President Obama’s administration. After more than 20 years as a pioneer in politics, Locke speaks on his life, the Asian American community, and the future of ethnic America:
Q: How did you first get interested in politics?
A: I guess it really started from my days at Yale. It was the time of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protest, and I really felt that we could really make more change not by burning buildings but by using the law – I got involved in a lot of community organizations and community political action focusing on affirmative action, and focusing on just services to the Asian American community in the Seattle area. Then I started helping out with other people’s campaigns, doorbelling, and helping make signs, mailings and things like that, and soon was encouraged to run for office myself.
Q: What do you think the priorities of the Asian American community ought to be in the 21st century?
A: Well, I still think it’s much the same. We’ve made a lot of progress and, of course, ethnic America has made a lot of progress as evidenced by the election, the historic election of President Barack Obama. We cannot let down our guard, we cannot relax our efforts, there is still so much more to be done. I think the issues that ethnic America really faces right now are removing the glass ceiling, raising the glass ceiling, making sure there’s opportunity – especially that our children receive a first-class, high-quality education so that they have the tools with which to realize their dreams and have their dreams come true.
Q: What does it mean to be an Asian American politician, and how do you balance the expectations of all the communities you represent?
A: I’ve always taken the view that the issues of concern to the Asian American community and to other ethnic communities are really the same as concerns of all America. But I think that for Asian Americans, there’s great pride in our culture, in our ancestral homelands, just as other ethnic groups have that great pride. I mean, America is a land of immigrants, whether we are first-generation or 10th-generation, whether our ancestors came from Europe or Africa or Asia. I think especially children or first-generation Asian Americans have a difficult time bridging both cultures – the expectations of our parents to adopt and embrace the values and customs of our ancestral homelands while still trying to fully integrate into America. As a politician and a governor, I know that 95 percent of the people of the state of Washington are not Asian American, so I have to focus on the needs and the critical needs and the issues facing the entire population. But being Asian American can give you a greater sensitivity to the issues faced by all immigrants, whether from Asia, Latin America, Europe or Africa. And so I think that being a person of ethnic origin, especially of immigrant parents, gives you that perhaps wider perspective and greater sensitivity in carrying out your job.
Q: The journalism industry itself is going through major changes as it works to reform itself. As commerce secretary, do you see any connections between the need for innovation in the struggling journalism industry to that of other sectors in the American economy?
A: The key to the success of America has always been its history of innovation, change. We have to understand that change is not easy, but we need to embrace it, and we need to move forward. Whether it’s the print media, whether it’s electronic media, it’s a changing world out there, and the ones that try to just delay the inevitable are the ones that are going to fall by the wayside. And we’re already seeing that with a lot of print organizations, we’re seeing consolidations, and so people are going to have to be really creative with respect to how the American public receives its news, how they receive information. That’s quite a challenge for journalists, for journalism, but those that really embrace that American ethic of innovation and change and creativity are the ones that will succeed.