As long as the public turns to reliable and credible sources for its news, we will need well-trained, ethical journalists. (Ernst Moeksis/Flickr. Used with a CC BY 2.0 license)

Where have all the journalism students gone?

Op/Ed by Maryanne C. Shults

The lyrics of folk singer Pete Seeger personified the era of the ’60s by advocating for social justice and world peace. The activist’s song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” became so well known, it was sung at small family gatherings to massive protests of the Vietnam War.

This was also a time when journalism was becoming a noble profession with the duty of informing the public and helping to shape opinion. When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two young reporters at the Washington Post, broke the Watergate scandal, enrollments “were expanding exponentially” and students “were flocking to journalism schools,” wrote Jean Folkerts in a journal article published in 2014.

Jump forward about 50 years…

Where have all the journalism students gone?

Is “journalism” dying as an academic subject and/or major? With so much negativity about the media in general, some faculty who are teaching students to be reporters, editors and producers, may feel they are beating a dead horse.

One of the hot topics among journalism educators at the 2018 Mid-Winter Faculty conference for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges was about recruitment and how we can increase our enrollment numbers.

Naysayers claim professions in the mass media, including journalism, are not the direction to take, especially with today’s push to STEM careers. However, labor statistics refute that claim, with data from the U.S. Department of Labor projecting a 6 percent growth through 2026, which translates to about 43,000 new jobs. The demand for media and communications occupations “for media and communication occupations is expected to arise from the need to create, edit, translate, and disseminate information through a variety of different platforms.”

Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics shows the number of associate’s degrees conferred increased by 317,000 degrees, or 46 percent across the board, including a 370 percent increase in the fields of communication, journalism and other related programs.

Some at the conference expressed the perception of a barrier formed by community college’s academic counseling is departments that were once known as Speech now have names such as Communication Arts or Communication Studies.

The problem is two-fold. First, community college guidance counselors are pointing students who want to transfer into journalism at a four-year college or university to “communications,” which focuses on human communication and speech versus mass communication. When, in fact, these students goal is to transfer into a program that offers a bachelor’s degree in communications major with an emphasis in journalism and media. This error is often not discovered until the student has completed multiple units that are now nontransferable into the program they truly desire.

Second is students, often nontraditional or re-entry, who seek to strengthen or refresh their reporting skill set or those who wish to get a certificate in journalism, are advised to rethink their academic goals.

Is the answer to change the name of our departments to something more enticing to a younger demographic? Names like “Media Arts,” or “Media Studies” or even “Media Innovations.”

For the community colleges that comprise courses in mass media or mass communication studies and public relations, names such as “Journalism and Mass Communication,” are a better representation, as was proposed by California State University, Long Beach several years ago.

“The mission of the Department of Journalism is to train students for careers in journalism inclusive of public relations and mass media communication. To achieve our mission, the Department is committed to producing working journalists, public relations practitioners and other communicators with a broad background in the liberal arts and sciences,” was one of the defenses of this proposed name change.

Perhaps those of us who came into teaching after successful careers in media-related fields are told to open our eyes and turn toward the future and that media are advocates for the devil. We are not closed-minded nor myopic. We are just the opposite. We advocate the future of journalism because it is the backbone of our democracy and not just the future of our students, but for the freedoms offered to us in the U.S.

We will continue to embrace technology and follow paradigm shifts in reporting to best use innovations from social media to 360-video and to not only teach but inspire and excite our students, regardless of having to constantly update curriculum and create new classes, not to mention the time spent learning new skill sets so we can teach them.

The question we should all be asking is if the numbers are showing a journalism major is still popular and continues to grow at the college level, where are all the students and how do we return college newsrooms to the glory days?

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