3 things to know about the next generation of journalists, from a j-school educator

With graduation around the corner, a new wave of entry-level journalists will soon enter the workforce. 

We asked Robert Hernandez, professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg, to share insights about the next generation of journalists. Hernandez is an award-winning journalist with a focus on exploring and developing the intersection of technology and journalism.

What are three things to know about students coming out of journalism school right now?

Hernandez: They are impatient, won’t tolerate inefficient and ineffective ways we do journalism — or the culture we produce journalism in. This isn’t a fear or laziness around “paying their dues.” They are just more vocal and more active about working in places that are no longer debating whether or not to be a modern, digital news organization.

They are not expecting any news org to have solved the digital challenges, but they are expecting to be part of the solution to help their organization get closer to those answers. They bring in perspectives of current and future news consumers and they know what they want/expect in a news product … if your news product is not evolving, they aren’t going to work for you for long.

Pay them. No one pursues a career in journalism thinking they are going to make a fortune, but this generation is not going to be abused for low pay. There is a growth in unionization as a way to force news organizations to treat their employees fairly. If this makes you uncomfortable, you are likely part of the problem that has led to journalists to be frustrated with the poor pay and treatment. And a shift is coming … best embrace it rather than fight it. Pay them.

What can journalism organizations do to help these emerging journalists succeed?

Hernandez: Do not talk down to them. Do not dismiss them. Do not apply the same framework that exploited young talent in the past. Their expectations have changed, and if you won’t treat them well and pay them fairly, they will walk, leave your news org for another, or leave the industry entirely. These modern content creation skills are in demand in many industries, not just journalism … but the importance of our type of content has never been so essential. They are here to produce quality journalism, but they are not going to waste away their lives while being mistreated.

What advice do you have for students about to graduate before starting their first journalism job?

Hernandez: Assuming they haven’t secured a journalism job yet: The most important piece of advice is to network. Realize that the human network is the key to succeed in any industry, including journalism. As you fight your way into our industry looking for a job that will value you and work skills, don’t sit idly. Take advantage of the reality that creating quality and effective journalism can be produced without the backing and funding of a newsroom. Apply your acquired skills and make a piece of multimedia journalism that can become an example of the journalism you want to be paid to produce. 

Assuming they have secured a journalism job but haven’t started: Find and get to know others of your demographic inside your new employer. You are not alone and, realistically, you are not going to reinvent the wheel. But you — with your colleagues — can help the org evolve. There is strength — and sanity — in numbers. Find colleagues that care. Sometimes that means connecting outside of your news org and may be found inside of a “competitor” org. If you can’t find community, build it. Organize informal meetups/happy hours.

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