Way back in October of aught-eight, we published the Gawker Guide to a Journalism Career. Lots of things have changed since then. For the worse, mostly! Time for an update. Aspiring journalists and other masochists, read on.
Whether you're a kid just trying to get a toe into the world of professional journalism (you poor bastard) or a laid-off journalist trying to get back in the game (you poor bastard) or a current journalist trying to advance your career (you poor bastard), you must ask yourself: Where are these "journalism jobs," and how do I get them? We're here to help! To the extent possible. Below, updated prospects for each category we explored in the halcyon, awful days of 2008:
Haha. Really now. No. There are no new newspaper jobs, and if you find a place hiring, you'll be the first one out the door in the next round of layoffs, which start in about a month.
Business and Tech Titles
Portfolio's dead. Forbes had massive layoffs. Fortune, too. Businessweek got sold. Wired is a great magazine that's constantly on the financial brink. Just to name a few! So, no. Print business and tech titles are not a good prospect for you.
Ehhh. Lots of alt-weeklies slaughtered their staffs in the past year or so, too. A job at an alt-weekly is a good way to break into journalism and get some clips. If you want to build a career at an alt-weekly, make sure the owner's not crazy, the publisher's not a stingy bastard, and the editor is entrenched enough not to get deposed (along with you) at the first sign of trouble. That's maybe, what, five alt-weeklies in America? Good place to write angry essays, though.
The Trade Press
Woo boy. Just a short while back, trade magazines seemed more stable than the average magazine, since they each dominated a well-defined niche. The wisdom of Grocery Week magazine is simply indispensable to the thinking grocer! But of course, when all the businesses in your niche start going broke, one of the first things they cut from their budget is the trade magazine subscription (they're surprisingly expensive). Trade mags are the emerging markets index fund to the Dow Jones index fund of big consumer mags: They plunge more drastically in bad times (now), and shoot back up faster when times are good. So avoid them for another year or two, then watch them start hiring once America gets it head back on straight and starts buying more groceries, or whatever.
The poorer people get the more they watch TV! Cable news is not always "journalism," exactly, but what is these days? Worth a shot.
Here we're referring to the big name-brand magazines that are famous and everyone knows them and you always dreamed of getting a staff writer job there so when you say who you write for people would be like "Oh, yes!" and nod knowingly and approvingly. Anyhow, unless you have real solid connections, forget it. Think of the year Conde Nast has had. Now, forget your big magazine aspirations. For the time being!
Online Ventures, New and Otherwise
I can't believe we made a category this broad last time. Lo, how the world has changed! Let's break it down a bit. For example: It used to be that cockstrong young men and women would get jobs with this very company, make their names, then go on to one of those good magazines you heard so much about. Now, it's the opposite. As newspapers and magazines desperately lay off talented people, the more established online precincts are scooping them up. Gawker is now a more stable employer than Conde Nast! Which is probably a bad sign! The point is that many of the traditional employment functions ELITE journalism have already moved online, in various places.
The bad news is, there are just way fewer jobs online than there were in the good old days of print journalism. There will simply be fewer professional journalists. And, of course, not to say any names, but some of the biggest blogs in the universe have a business model based on free labor. All those columns you wrote for HuffPo to "get your name out there" will not get you a job! Unless you're lucky. So, hope for luck.
Finally, there's always the entrepreneurial online route. Start your own blog and make it big! This, we are sad to say, is a terrible gamble. Try only if you are independently wealthy or have some investors willing to lose money. The fact is that the best current prospect for making money via your writing on the internet is to land a Tumblr-to-book deal.
Ah, yes. Journalists used to resist PR as long as possible, till they really needed the cash, and then give in and go over to the other side and take the money. Two things are different now: One, some journalists are going over to PR for the simple reason that they cannot find a job in journalism, period. And two, with this new flood of unemployed journalists, PR firms are being a little pickier about who they hire (they're not exactly minting money these days, either). So if you were counting on your years of service at the Detroit Free Press or whatever to pave your way into a lucrative late-career PR gig, you may be sorely disappointed. Particularly if you're incompetent.
The takeaway: This is all a moot point. Because if you've made the mistake of commiting yourself to a journalism career, you'd take just about anything you can get right now. Wouldn't you? Yes. So our advice, for those of you who are still in a position to take it: Don't go into journalism for five years. By that time, the concept of a "journalism job" may not be (as much of) a punchline—people will have figured out how to pay decent wages to online journalists, and the current crop of highly-qualified laid-off old media types will have quit the profession in disgust. That's your chance. 2010 is just another year for trying to blend into the scenery so your boss can't find you to fire you.