Students about to graduate from journalism schools across the country will enter a job market that would have been unrecognizable even just a few years ago.
Newspapers have just emerged from the darkest period in their history, a time of massive layoffs, bankruptcies and even closings. And while the worst seems to be over, it also seems clear that in the new age of digital media, the heyday of print is over.
On the other hand, online news sites like Patch, Yahoo and Bloomberg are, for the moment at least, growing and hiring. Patch.com alone has hired upwards of 1,000 journalists in just the last year or so and said this week they'd be hiring even more.
So what should the new crop of graduates expect in the job hunt? A mixed bag, says newspaper analyst John Morton.
Morton says while papers are doing better financially then they were a few years ago, he doesn't expect them to be doing lots of hiring.
"Most papers have cut to the bone already, and will probably only hire when they need a replacement for something they can't do without," he says.
That's because papers face systemic problems that aren't going away. Circulation and advertising revenue continues to drop. Online advertising is growing, but it hasn't proven to be lucrative enough for newspapers, which still get the lion's share of their revenue from display ads.
But there's a caveat: Small-town papers are more immune to these problems than the major metros.
"All of these things affect larger markets vastly more than small-town ones," Morton says. "Smaller papers in less competitive markets are not faring nearly so badly. They tend to be closer to their readers and their advertisers. Small-town dailies will turn out to be the most resilient."
That's important because 70 percent of newspapers have circulations under 50,000, with the typical daily paper being around 25,000.
The real growth is in online news sites, which "seem to be the most promising areas for today's graduates," Morton says.
Karl Smith, a Pennsylvania-based regional editor for Patch.com, says the company is hiring local editors to run news websites that cover cities, towns and boroughs across the country.
Smith says Patch is looking for people who can report, write and edit news stories; shoot and edit digital photos and video; and are well-versed in social media.
"We want people with a real passion for community journalism, who want to get involved with their community and who know what the issues are," Smith says.
The Outlook From JournalismJobs.com
An informal survey at JournalismJobs.com found plenty of job listings from small-town papers in places like Chatom, Ala., Palmdale, Calif., and Elyria, Ohio. But there were listings for larger media companies as well.
Dan Rohn, founder of JournalismJobs.com, says the journalism job market "is much better for college grads now than it was in the second half of 2008 to late 2010. We're seeing a lot more jobs in online media and other communication-related fields."
Unfortunately, Rohn says the radio, TV and magazine industries are still in recovery mode.
"But newspapers that cut or left jobs unfilled a couple of years ago are back on the recruiting trail," he says. "And it's not just small papers in rural areas looking to fill reporter and copy editor slots. Bloomberg, Gannett, the New York Times Company, Dow Jones and some other traditional media companies have been pretty aggressive in their recruiting."
Overall, he says, "the market is looking pretty bright. Just be prepared to apply to a lot of places and not get discouraged. One bright spot for recent grads is they generally earn and cost less to employ than their older counterparts. Companies know this and sometimes target younger workers."
About to Finish J-School, One Student Readies his Clip Portfolio
Tom Rowan, 23, is about to graduate with a journalism degree from Temple University in Philadelphia. During his college years he's done all the right things: worked on student newspapers, done a couple of internships and even spent six weeks in London with a group of students creating a music magazine.
Now he's building his online clip portfolio, and since he'd love to be a sportswriter he's started a sports blog.
"Journalism was never an easy career to get started, and with the recession and technological evolution it can be difficult," Rowan says.
But Rowan has a can-do attitude and the sunny optimism of many his age.
"I think a boom is coming," he says. "Once the major news sites start charging for content, which will be accessible to all of the consumers devices, journalism will start hiring more reporters and designers and editors than ever before. As we become an even more digital and information-driven society than today, there will be a need for information-gatherers."
Smith's advice for new j-school grads? Go where the jobs are.
"If there's a great opportunity out in Portland, Oregon, go out and get it," he says. "Don't be tethered by geography or a certain type or size of company.
"Just over a year ago we might not have been on anyone's radar," he adds. "Now here we are."