SAN FRANCISCO — Who and what is a journalist in the age of social media, sponsored content and sagging newspaper circulation?
The American Press Institute set out to answer that question — and many others geared toward taking the profession’s pulse =- in a survey of nearly 10,500 alumni of the nation’s leading journalism and communications programs.
The survey released Thursday, Aug. 6, found that while just 41 percent of the respondents with journalism degrees are employed by news organizations, sizeable minorities in other fields still look at themselves as practicing journalists.
For example, more than a third of the graduates who described themselves as entrepreneurs and a fifth of those in technology said they are creating content, engaging audiences, editing and doing other work they consider journalism or contributing to the Fourth Estate.
An additional 17 percent that have put their training in journalism, marketing, public relations or mass communications to use at commercial companies felt the same way, as did the 19 percent engaged in politics.
American Press Institute Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel said the “Facing Change” survey conducted in collaboration with 22 journalism and communications schools is believed to be the largest ever conducted of people who majored in media in college and the first to seek journalists’ thoughts on their profession in at least a decade.
“No one had surveyed people in journalism in quite some time, and one reason is it’s hard to know who these journalists are anymore,” Rosenstiel said. “You can’t just go to TV stations and newspapers and say ‘OK, we are interviewing journalists,’ because you would be missing a lot of people that way.”
That many journalism school graduates employed outside traditional news outlets regard the work they produce as journalism did not entirely surprise Rick Edmonds, the media business analyst for The Poynter Institute, a professional training organization for journalists.
“Back in the old days, any metro paper had six or seven people on the science desk, and there were a lot of science magazines. A lot fewer people do that kind of work now, are pure science journalists,” Edmonds said. “But universities, drug companies and hospitals are employing a whole lot of people, and it’s not totally unbiased. But they are writing about scientific discoveries and doing a whole set of things that really transfer the journalism function from the independent outlets to various institutions and organizations.”
The online survey’s respondents were more or less equally grouped among alumni who had graduated within the last 10 years and within previous decades going back to 1980 or earlier.
Recent graduates were more confident than older alumni that the quality of their own work had improved in the last five years. Regardless of their age or place of employment, though, a majority of the respondents said they think journalism has generally gotten worse during that time.
The survey results were presented in San Francisco on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, a professional organization for journalism professors and teachers.