So, you want to be a journalist? Ha ha ha. Jeez. Your timing sucks. But hey, it's a perfectly semi-honorable profession; nobler than finance, not as noble as being a postman. So whether you're already in journalism and wondering about what direction your career should take (besides down), or a terribly misguided young go-getter looking to get into journalism, we're here to help. Every freaking thing you need to know about the real state of the media job market, after the jump.
Newspapers Forget it. Really. This is the worst place of all to either be employed, or be looking for employment. An easy rule of thumb: only the very top and the very bottom of the newspaper industry even have a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. National papers—NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, USA Today—at least have strong enough brands to possibly pull through and prosper in the future. Tiny local papers are okay, since they have no internet competition to speak of. But every city paper in the population range from Spokane to Chicago is going to get slammed hard for the forthcoming future. Not the best job prospect. (Except in India. Print is exploding there! If you like naan as much as journalism, buy yourself a plane ticket).
Business and Tech Titles These had a good run once upon a time in the tech boom days. No mas. These titles will be some of the hardest hit in the upcoming downturn. As you can deduce, by their target audiences. So while they're a fair prospect today, they won't be for long, generally speaking.
Alt-Weeklies Alt-weeklies are great. I started at an alt-weekly! But they're a little like newspapers: big, chain-owned alt-weeklies are getting decimated. Smaller, independent, more far-flung ones have a slightly better outlook. A good place to get some clips. A bad place to build a career.
The Trade Press Safer than mainstream news outlets! Though not totally safe by any means! Trade magazines, etc. thrive in relation to the industry they cover. When the industry gets slammed economically, the trade magazines get slammed even worse. So everything from advertising to finance to media (heh) trades: rough. Real estate trades: still have ad revenue for now, as developers try to clear all these suddenly unpopular properties off their books. Once they do that, though, ad revenue will crater. Trades are only a safe haven when compared to, say, newspapers. Choose with care.
Cable Networks Many cable networks are doing quite well! Hey, CNBC will surely be popular for the foreseeable future! Cable news is a niche far less damaged by the internet than print media. And specialty cable networks like the Sci Fi channel or National Geographic seem to be doing fine. So if you can broaden your idea of "journalism" to include, say, being an assistant producer for some nature show, you just might be in luck!
"Good" Magazines Oh, these are the jobs everybody wants. You want to write for the New Yorker. Or Vanity Fair, or GQ, or Vogue, or Wired, or SI, or the 50 or so other big splashy magazines that, you know, everybody wants to write for. These jobs were always driven by connections. And guess what: they're still driven by connections, but there are even less jobs to go around now! So your chances are even worse than they would have been historically. These good jobs are never advertised, so you have to be well-connected enough to hear about them from an insider. Big magazine companies are cutting budgets and instituting hiring freezes. And every veteran magazine writer has a huge ego, so forget trying to cut in line ahead of them. Plan on getting to one of these places later in your career, as the icing on the cupcake of many years of experience, and you'll save yourself a bunch of heartache. Build up to these magazines from other, nonexistent entry-level writing jobs.
Online Ventures, new and otherwise These are a mixed bag. Once upon a time young people worked for blogs as a way to gain exposure and land a good magazine job (Elizabeth Spiers). Now, in some cases, the two are viewed as roughly equivalent (our new editor is coming from a real magazine!). So you actually have to evaluate the specific title now to determine whether you're moving up or down. For example: Editor at the Huffington Post > Police reporter at the Newark Star-Ledger Writer for Slate = Writer for Washington Post Writer for Tina Brown's new Daily Beast < Reporter for the New Republic, because Tina Brown's thing might fold in six months. Use discretion.
PR Oh, did you say you want a well-paid job involving the media, with good benefits and stability? One current well-established journalist says, "Here's some advice: take a job at a PR company. I was offered one recently and would have made more than 2x what I'm making now. And wouldn't have had to worry about whether the job would even EXIST in six months." See, as the number of journalism jobs shrink, much of the work that reporters used to do gets de facto outsourced to flacks! So PR firms can offer harried, overworked, underpaid journalists near-complete story packages—ideas, angles, sources, art, photos, etc.—in return for a wee bit of client placement. Lots of laid-off editors and reporters go into PR, just like ex-soldiers sign on with private contractors and get sent back to Iraq with better guns and better to pay to do the same job they were doing before, but without any inherent "public service" element. Still, we would never advise anyone to go into PR on general principle. If you want to be in journalism, be in journalism. The takeaway from all this: the outlook is grim. If you're just getting into journalism, the job market is already flooded with people with far more experience than you who've been laid off, and are competing for the same jobs. If you're employed, moving up is treacherous—you never know when the new job you just took could disappear for reasons unrelated to anything you did personally. But there's still a huge news hole to be filled with crap. Somebody has to do it. It might as well be you. It's mostly shoveling coal for Satan, anyhow.