Wanted: A First Job in Journalism-An Exploration of Factors That May Influence Initial Job-Search Outcomes for News-Editorial Students

Article excerpt

This essay explores how journalism-school graduates pursue newsroom jobs and what characteristics and approaches serve or harm the graduates, particularly those looking for what are traditionally called "print" jobs. The role of social capital is a major focus: Education, credentials, and experience (through internships, especially) are important, but graduates sensed they needed something more. Some tapped social networks for information and/or sponsorship, while others-often those lacking extensive networks-opted for more aggressive, attention-seeking actions. Among a small group interviewed, job-seekers who tapped networks had better luck in their job searches than those who did not.

How do journalism graduates really get jobs at newspapers? What gives them advantages, and what puts them at a disadvantage? Clearly, these are crucial questions for students and for placement directors and journalism professors who prepare students for their professional lives.

The research on which this essay is based was designed to explore how journalism hiring actually works and identify factors that should be considered in future research regarding journalists' pre-employment preparation, job-search strategies, and the impact of social capital on job-search outcomes.

Literature Review

This project draws on studies concerning journalists and predictors of their career success as well as on sociological theory concerning social capital (and, to a lesser extent, economic and human capital) and social networks.

Studies of Journalism/Mass Communication Graduates. Lee B. Becker and his colleagues have studied journalism and mass communication students and how they fare following graduation each year, providing a useful measurement of early career outcomes. However, the variables measured in the Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates explain very little of the variance in whether graduates find work in communication in their first job searches. In 1993, Becker et al. analyzed the variables and found that, for news-editorial students, for example, they could explain only 15.7% of the variance using a wide variety of predictors, including grade point average, prior work experience, jobplacement assistance, race, and gender.1

The most recent Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates, based on 2006 graduates, shows more than three-fourths (78.3%) of communication graduates had completed a media internship and onethird (32.7%) reported having worked at their campus's student newspaper. More than three-quarters (76.2%) of non-minority 2006 graduates reported having jobs of any type several months after graduation; 67.3% of minority graduates reported having jobs. More than two-thirds (66.6%) of minority graduates had communication jobs, while 75.8% of non-minority graduates had communication jobs. Women fared somewhat better than men, with 76.7% reporting having a job (not necessarily in communication); 68.7% of men reported having a job. Graduates with bachelor's degrees reported a median salary of $30,000.2

Social Capital. The idea of social capital is that people may enjoy the benefits of things that are not really "theirs" by virtue of the relationships they form. Information and opportunities (among other things) may be shared across a social network. (This essay focuses on social capital as it relates to an individual, his or her network, and the resources that network may provide to the individual. This essay does not address social capital in the broader sense of a set of resources found within a group or community, as Pierre Bourdieu did in France and others have there and elsewhere.)

In 1973, Granovetter made the then-surprising discovery that weak ties are more useful than strong (or close) ties when it comes to finding professional, technical, or managerial work. A job-seeker's strong ties, such as friends and family, would know about the same options as the job seeker and would not offer connections to many, if any, new opportunities. …