By Najib Aminy
Up on the second floor of the Student Union, journalism major Jennifer Gustavson is reading off the concert billboard on air on the university’s radio station, WUSB. In the small cubicle are albums of new music, posters and pictures of musicians, and reminders of the station’s policies. There is vintage equipment that Gustavson controls to manipulate the audio levels of her one-hour 9 to 10 a.m. Monday-morning broadcast.
Today’s program of Esoteric Radio is empty of news but filled with music. “I am playing my husband’s play list,” Gustavson said. “I didn’t have any time to prepare news to talk about.”
As AC/DC rocked the airwaves from the 80-gigabyte-iPod encased in a black and interior red velvet case, Gustavson searched for public service announcements to play while explaining that she needed to record another promo for her show.
Gustavson is in her final semester at Stony Brook and looking to enter “the real world” in hopes of landing a career in radio or print journalism. “I wanted to get more internships under my belt so I am more prepared to get a job,” said Gustavson, who said she could have graduated in the spring.
Gustavson said she is worried about landing a job in the media market, a field that is undergoing rapid reformation, and planning to start job searching in October.
It’s one thing to graduate during a time of economic grief when unemployment for young adults is over 50 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s most recent report. But pursuing a job in the field of journalism is like adding salt to a wounded dream.
Despite the gloomy outlook for the future, journalism schools across the country, including Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, are experiencing an increase in enrollment. Like the rest of the nation, the School of Journalism is adapting to the dynamic field while wishing the best for its graduates.
Stepping Into a Field of Uncertainty
When Gustavson hears about her former classmates landing jobs, many in the metropolitan area and few beyond that, she says she becomes very excited and happy. “The reason why I think they are getting jobs is because they are persistent,” she said. “The people who don’t have jobs is not because they are not good journalists,” she paused, “it’s a game.”
Having interned with a reporter from the National Public Radio, The Daily News, News 12, and currently at Newsday, Gustavson said she is hoping to cast her net as wide as possible hoping to land an entry-level position.
“Whatever will hire me first,” she quickly answered about where she wanted to work.
Senior Michael Kelly, editor-in-chief of The Stony Brook Independent, said he is concerned but no more than any other student about to graduate. “I think the jobs are changing but that the field isn’t dying,” said Kelly on journalism. “I think that there is still going to be journalism being done, it’s just a matter of figuring out how it’s going to be done.”
Kelly has interned as a reporter for the Albany Times Union and for Newsday’s website, despite his expectations to see the newspaper industry die and other opportunities arise.
One opportunity comes with newsroom lay-offs spreading all over the nation. “I don’t think it’s a good thing all these people are losing their jobs,” Kelly said. “I think in terms of my situation things aren’t as bad as it’s made out to be because they are going to be looking for people my age to come in and work.”
Graduating from a New School of Journalism
Behind every polished resume, cover letter and connection is a worthy variable that influences employment: prestige. Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, turning four years old, is in its infancy when compared to journalism programs such as those of Syracuse University, Northwestern University and the University of Missouri.
Calling it a “catch-22”, Kelly said he believes that while the school’s youth lacks in prestige, it is given the advantage of adapting to the changes occurring in the field of journalism.
“It might be a little tougher initially to get a job because the school doesn’t have the prestige, say, of other journalism or communications schools have,” said Kelly, who switched from a math major to majors in history and journalism. “Because it’s new, it’s almost more well adapted to give me the skills I need to go out in the current journalism climate.”
The program mandates that students majoring in journalism complete courses in all forms of media including an online course, a field thought to be the future of the profession.
“They’ve been lagging with innovation and ideas,” Gustavson said about the media. “They really need to take this serious,” she said talking about media owners who say they are smart and experienced to know what is best. “They have to stop that attitude and really sit and think of ideas to get out of the hole,” Gustavson said.
My Office number is…
On the desk of J-School graduate Rohma Abbas is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a gift from her professors Harvey Aronson and Irene Virag, a reminder for her to read the book.
She has yet to read it.
Resting aside Bradbury’s classic is Intimate Journalism, a book used in her magazine writing class taught by Aronson and Virag, and another book titled, How to Write Funny.
“I found that at a bargain sale for a dollar,” Abbas, the former editor-in-chief of The Independent, said.
And beside that was a mundane black hard-covered book titled in gold text, Penal Code. It is a textbook that helps Abbas understand police jargon when typing up the police blotter for The Southampton Press, her employer.
“It’s still going on right now,” Abbas said. “The transition from not having a job to having the most intensive job I’ve ever had.”
Abbas said she was fortunate in her job search taking up every opportunity that came her way, from the courses, connections, and her involvement with The Independent. But like many graduates, her time from graduating to landing a job was what she called a depressing time in her life.
“I was losing it,” Abbas said. “I was getting really upset. Nobody was getting back to me. Here I spent four years of my life getting this degree, four years of my life, and two of those years were intensive journalism years. I packed my schedule, got a job, was editor of The Independent. It meant nothing.”
But after freelancing for a short time, setting up job interviews, and having professor Julia Mead, who Abbas said got her the job, vouch for her, Abbas’ fear of being jobless forever ceased.
“I think it’s really important for J-school kids to make friends with their professors,” Abbas said. “They will really help you out, don’t underestimate that. I can’t stress that enough.”
Recent graduate Adrian Carrasquillo took another approach, he updated his linked-in profile, started using Twitter, created a blog that he would update twice a day and like Abbas, made it his job to find a job.
“You feel like you are getting beat down because you know how daunting it is, the worst job market in 26 years, journalism is dying, papers are dying, you picture the scenario of fire and brimstone coming down to the city,” Carrasquillo described the job search process.
But the hail of fiery rejections ended when Carrasquillo landed not one, but two jobs in journalism, one as the social media editor at The Queens Ledger and a weekend web producer for Fox 5 NY.
“It’s a tough market and people are starting to get lucky,” Carrasquillo said.
While some J-School graduates are fortunate, others are still searching for careers in journalism. Some have gone off to law school, graduate school in different fields, or taken time off. A few even turned down jobs. But for graduate Katie Serignese, one of the first seven students to graduate from the School of Journalism in 2008, her search for a job is still an ongoing one.
“The most discouraging thing that I find is that they are looking for people with experience,” said Serignese, who works as a skybox guest attendant in Citifield. “How am I supposed to get a job if no one is giving me the opportunity to work three to five years,” she said.
Serignese, who concentrated in print journalism, has freelanced for Newsday while searching for a job.
“I’m kind of jealous of the ones that did get jobs,” Serignese said. “Maybe they were more of go getters, I wonder what they did different. I am optimistic nonetheless, I am not convinced that I am never going to get a job as a journalist.”
Serignese still has options available. She is debating whether to pursue a freelance position at Anton Newspapers, a hyper-local group of local town publications in Hicksville where she gets paid $30 dollars an article and is taxed.
“It cost me $30 dollars to get there so is it really worth the drive?” she asked. “I’m still on the fence about it,” said the Miller Place resident.
Intent on finding a job, Serignese has not thrown out the idea of graduate school and is grateful for her time as a journalism student despite her career status.
“It was an experience I wouldn’t take back for a second,” she said.
A three-month unpaid summer internship only fills up a couple lines on a page-long resume but professors argue they are crucial in landing a job.
“We still need to be convincing students how important it is for them to have these off campus internships,” said Barbara Selvin, a professor and internship coordinator for the journalism school. “Your resume is going to go to the bottom of the pile if you don’t have internships.”
With the school still in its infancy, Selvin said that media organizations have contacted her about internship opportunities for Stony Brook students.
As the school of journalism grows, both in size and in majors, so do internships.
“I haven’t had to do all that much because people have to come to me with good internships,” Selvin said. “I think its word of mouth, I don’t know what else to attribute it to.”
The relationships the J-school has also created have proven useful for some of students including Gustavson and Kelly, who have taken advantage of Stony Brook’s connections, such as Newsday, The Daily News, News 12 and NPR.
But Selvin says the program is still trying to grasp what’s best for their students in addition to internship opportunities.
“We are ramping up our job training and career efforts particularly in the internships programs which are going to have a stronger focus on resume writing this semester,” said Selvin, who teaches a course on the current state of journalism.
Four months since the class of 2009 graduated, Selvin said the number of her students finding jobs is on pace with what she expected. Ultimately, she said she hoped all her graduates would have found jobs by the end of nine months.
“It’s the economy, it’s the changes in the news industry, it’s the problems, the recession in the news industry alone, Internet news sites are not really making a lot of money yet,” she said. “Everything is still up in the air.”
Building a Major Around Uncertainty
As the number of students around the nation that pursue journalism increases, how does a new school, such as the J-school, develop a curriculum sufficient enough to prepare their majors in competing in the professional yet dynamic job market?
“The most important thing we can do is teach students the fundamentals, how to get to the bottom of stories, how they can report, report, report to get to the bottom of the story,” said former editor of Newsday and Dean of the School of Journalism Howard Schneider.
“The second job after teaching fundamentals is to teach them skills and attitudes that will enable them to be very valuable employees. To that end they need to think how to add value across platforms.”
This is implemented through the program’s 65-credit course, which includes multidisciplinary studies, where students must take courses in varying fields of journalism such as print, broadcast and online.
Since the program opened in 2006, the school’s growth has significantly increased from zero to more than 225 majors, Schneider said. The expansion doesn’t stop there: the school has added a $1.3 million two-level newsroom, a recycled broadcast studio from local television station WLNY-55, and is developing a graduate program where students can earn an MBA and an undergraduate degree in journalism in five years.
But with a limited staff of former editors, producers, and editors, Schneider said the growth of the journalism school is something that raises concern.
“We are going to have to balance growth and quality,” Schneider said. “Numbers are great but at some point we think that quality needs to be a key factor.”
Schneider said he is optimistic about the future calling the current generation of journalists the ones that will fill the expectations of using new technologies.
“I think that the revolution we are going through is going to provide enormous new opportunities for young journalists,” Schneider said. “I think we are going to see more online newspapers, alternative magazines, we are going to see a lot of new experiments.”
The “Other” Future of Journalism
Freshman Louis Rosenfield is sitting in Javits 110 on a Wednesday morning waiting for Schneider’s JRN 101 lecture for his News Literacy class. It fills a D.E.C. G requirement for Rosenfield, who sits near the back on the right side of the lecture hall.
It is seven minutes past eight, and Schneider begins his lecture. Cans of Red Bulls, Green Mountain Coffee cups, and orange juice bottles lined up the tables of the lecture hall, the class was surprisingly attentive that early in the morning.
“He makes it entertaining,” Rosenfield said of Schneider. “I enjoy what he is talking about.”
As the class continues, Schneider converges a history lesson with his lesson of freedom of the press. His left hand clenches on the clicker to move from slide to slide, his right arm moves up and down with each syllable he pronounces while walking from one side of the classroom to the other.
“Is Jon Stewart a journalist?” Schneider asks, who then proceeds to playing a clip of legendary journalist Bill Moyers interviewing Jon Stewart and asking the very same question.
Stewart said he is not a journalist in the April 27, 2007 interview but a political cartoonist.
Deciding who is a journalist, explaining the freedom of the press, establishing the difference between propaganda and information are just few of the lesson topics students learn during the semester that Schneider says establishes a better future of news consumers.
“We have not one mission but two,” Schneider said of the journalism program. “One mission is to train next generation of journalist—that and the next generation of news consumers.”
And since taking the class one month ago, Rosenfield said he is more critical of the news he takes in. “It makes me decide whether the journalists are giving me reliable information or if they are trying to just promote ideas or if they are independent from the companies they are talking about,” Rosenfield said. “When people don’t directly tell you that they are working for a company and they make it look like they’re being objective and they’re not, I don’t like it because they are trying to trick me,” he said.
It is Stony Brook University’s News Literacy program that has Schneider receiving phone calls from different universities looking to implement the program at their school creating a lot of buzz and giving the school a lot attention.
“If you just focus on supply side and turn out good journalism but the audience doesn’t appreciate it or recognize it then it wont help,” Schneider said of the program’s goals.
Though the J-school is still very young, its students, both current and former, shared their concerns. “It needs to be more intensive and deadline orientated,” said Abbas, who wrote five stories including a 1,400 plus word article for The Southampton Press in one week. “That’s the biggest issue I’ve had since I’ve gotten here—time management.”
“The online program has to improve,” Carrasquillo said, that and “practicing more on your stories and reporting.”
“I guess what I would say is that they should do a better job in advocating for people to get involved with student media than they do,” Kelly said. “They should really be pushing that because you learn more from joining one of the campus papers than you do from sitting in one of your classes reporting on four stories for one semester.”
As the school continues to grow, it will have to match that growth with infrastructure, Schneider said. “But when it happens so fast there are going to be bumps along the way.”
In spite of the market, Serignese is still hopeful of finding a job. “I just want to do the best I can because I knew they did the best they could for us,” she said of her professors.
Serignese was recently assigned a freelance story on a meeting discussing neighborhood crimes in Levittown for the Hicksville Illustrated News.
“Ultimately, it will be the graduates who are going to determine the reputation of the school,” Schneider said. “If we turn out terrific people the word will spread where you go to school and if we turn out graduates and they are disappointing and cant live up to what we expect, the reputation of the school deservedly will not grow.”
For Gustavson, that pressure begins after December. “I think I can make a good impression,” she said. “The hardest thing is getting your foot in the door.”