The State of Student journalism

Matthew Harvey, Multi-Media Manager

For much of 2018 I wrote freelance for an online publication called the AV Club. I covered entertainment and culture, the hours were flexible, and it provided a source of additional income that allowed me to live more comfortably in my daily life. On January 24, I was notified that the AV Club would no longer be able to keep me on as a freelancer for the website. Though it was disappointing, the effect of the news was much less than devastating for me. I relished the experience and moved on to devote my time to other endeavors. However, my dismissal from the payroll was only the most benign symptom of a much more treacherous trend in the media field. At the same time, mass layoffs were executed by Vice Media, Buzzfeed News, The McClathy Company (The umbrella corporation for the Kansas City Star, the Miami Herald, The Telegraph, etc.), Gannett (USA Today), magazine conglomerate Conde Nast, and more. Hearing about this devastating landslide was the first time that I truly questioned my future in journalism.

According to Pew Research Center, between 2014 and 2017 there had been a net loss of about five thousand journalism jobs, despite an increase of two thousand in digital native companies. That number, however, doesn’t include the loss of one-third of positions at major newspapers since 2017, and the estimated 2,200 positions shuttered since the start of 2019 alone. These numbers are the stuff of nightmares for countless students spending thousands of borrowed dollars preparing for a career that promises an even more dire outlook on the job market in the future if the trend continues. It’s a noble fight waged by students who’ve faced condescension, and concern from friends and family alike for the very issues that have left the horizon and arrived at our doorstep.

These concerns may seem unessential at best, whiny at worst. However, the “tough nuts” reaction to this news that patronizingly insists that those students— as well as the thousands of professionals who have been relegated to surviving off freelance work or complete unemployment— “learn to code”, is unheeding of the dystopian state of news and information delivery. It is these humans, who’ve chosen to dedicate themselves to revealing the truth, informing the public and telling their stories, that barricade our civilization from corruption, fake news, and ignorance. It is these humans that reveal that no level of programming skill can prevent an algorithm from behaving like an algorithm.

So, student journalists. Here we are, faced with the dilemma of our time. Our plight is not unlike the struggles of past generations who faced the consolidation of media and the digital revolution. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the future of journalism restores, and maintains its integrity. It is our responsibility to protect the public from misinformation. It is our job to amplify the voices that deserve to be heard in our society. We must remain committed to the pursuit of truth, and reminding our society why this discipline is vital. To treat journalists as disposable is to damn democracy.

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