April 4, 2008

Newsroom Cuts Send Journalists in New Directions

By Jun Wang
New America Media

The Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published its 2008 State of the News Media report, noting that mainstream newspapers had dropping circulation numbers and advertising sales. Yet, due to the steady influx of new immigrants who access media through their mother language, the ethnic media sector continues to grow.

But both mainstream journalists and ethnic media journalists are feeling the crunch of the recession and the solutions offered up run the gamut from immediate support by member organizations to more holistic changes to the field, starting in journalism schools.

The recent waves of newsrooms cuts have left reporters and editors who are out of jobs desperate for help. To boost its members’ faith in the harsh job market, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) launched what it calls “a comprehensive initiative” to assist its members who have recently lost their jobs.

Laid-off members can receive a discount on membership fees and are encouraged to apply for a complimentary registration for UNITY 08, the largest convention of journalists of color, which will have nearly 10,000 journalists and media executives in attendance. In a statement, AAJA said they want to “provide (laid-off members) the opportunity to meet with potential employers at the UNITY career fair and to participate in training sessions at the convention that would help them in their new job search.” The conference will be held in Chicago in June.

As part of the AAJA initiative, a conference call moderated by Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press, offered advice on how to deal with “the possibility and reality of unemployment.”

“The cyclical recession we appear to be in and the vast migration of audiences to the Internet is reason enough for layoffs and buyouts,” Grimm wrote in an email after the call. “But there are many other reasons, as well, including audience fragmentation and empowerment, advertiser migration, Wall Street and rising costs for health care, paper and gasoline. In sum, the traditional models for mainstream media no longer seem to work and there is little reason to believe they will again.”

Grimm believes all media face some of the same challenges, such as financial difficulties, but that the ethnic press has “a pretty good chance of survival, provided it continues to adapt.”

Tae Soo Jeong, executive editor of the Korea Times, says the paper’s advertising is a now on a steep downward curve. But demand for the Korean-language media means that the newspaper’s audience is actually growing. Jeong says the newspaper hasn’t laid people off; instead they find that they are “always short of employees,” and continually look for people to do multiple jobs.

The China Press is also interested in expanding its editorial team. Published in simplified Chinese characters, the newspaper targets the flood of new immigrants from Mainland China, where people shifted from using traditional Chinese characters to simplified ones in the 1950s. Cindy Liu, reporter at the China Press, says she and her colleagues just received a salary increase because of the growth of their market.

“Although [the increase] is not a lot, I feel I’m lucky since the unemployment rate is going straight up,” she says.

With audiences going to the Internet for breaking news and information, La Opinión – the second largest newspaper in Los Angeles after the Los Angeles Times – localized its coverage to better serve its Hispanic readers in both the United States and Mexico. La Opinión sells some 500,000 copies of their newspaper at newsstands everyday, and doesn’t offer subscription service. Executive editor Pedro Rojas explains that they don’t have “base subscription” because home delivery is very expensive.

During an economic recession, saving money, financial management and entrepreneurship should not only be practiced by media organizations but also by journalists themselves. The Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley is teaming up with Berkeley’s Haas School of Business to teach classes aimed at journalists who want to start their own media Web sites – focusing specifically on skills like writing a business plan. Aware of the online trend in media, the journalism school has been offering digital media courses for several years. With multimedia reporting becoming more and more important, the school has made a class on the subject a requirement for all of its students.

The survival of ethnic media has also caught the attention of journalism schools. Marcia Parker, the assistant dean of UC Berkeley’s journalism school disclosed that the school is planning to start courses on ethnic-focused reporting – funded by a major foundation. At the same time, the school is trying to recruit more students with an ethnic media background and different language skills to the two-year graduate program.

The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University emphasizes the importance of networking and works hard to sell students on the idea of joining media organizations. Ernest Sotomayor, assistant dean and director of career services, says he is organizing the school’s biggest-ever annual job fair with more than 100 media outlets later this year. He advises students not to limit themselves to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, and directs them to “smaller media markets where there are positions to fill.”

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