I can’t speak for college newspapers across the U.S., but The Independent Florida Alligator is in a position quite different from the professional journalism industry.
From my understanding, the paper is on very solid financial ground, though I won’t get into specifics. We have enough money for a full staff, which is more than many newspapers can say, and I’m very thankful for that.
However, here I am, with seven weeks left in the semester, and there is still a drastic shortage of writers.
Our budget allows for five university desk writers, three metro writers and one features writer. Right now, we have three university writers (one who was just hired within the past two weeks), two city writers and no features writers (just freelancers).
It doesn’t seem too bad at first. These are shortages we normally face. But let me put this into context.
We started this semester off with almost a full staff. University had a desk of five strong writers, leaving metro with the opportunity to have its pick of the freelancers.
Within a month, four of those writers quit, and only one had a valid excuse (16 credit hours). Meanwhile, barely any of our freelancers seem to be interested in staff positions.
We were not given any warning or reasoning as to why three of them left. I won’t lie. I was angry. But I thought we would find replacements relatively soon, especially as freelance writers started sending in assignments for their reporting classes. Not so.
I’ve been at this paper going on three years, and I can say recruiting has never been this difficult. For the first time, I’m hearing students turning down staff positions because they have to keep their GPA up just in case they have to choose a backup career if journalism doesn’t work out.
My hypothesis is that journalism students are jumping ship. They see the numbers, and they’re scared. I think we can’t find student writers because students may be switching majors or using journalism to prepare for law school. I plan on speaking with the college to see if enrollment data reveals any trends.
I understand the industry is in a bad state right now. Believe me, I’m scared about not having a job after graduation. However, this bad news is just a reminder that I have to try harder at what I’m doing now to prepare myself.
Not going into journalism isn’t an option for me. It’s my calling. Could a nice salary and designer shoes replace passion? I don’t think so.
I’m OK with shopping at Payless.