Print Media in Peril: Are Journalism Majors Doomed?


Published: February 26, 2009

It’s been a rough few years for print. The prevalence of free content on the Web has been threatening the existence of print media for some time, but in the last few months, things have gotten much worse. It started with our economy setting foot onto shaky ground in early October. Hearst Corporation’s CosmoGirl! was the first of what would become a plethora of publications to get the axe in the past four and a half months, claiming they wanted to direct their dwindling teenage readership toward Seventeen. In mid-January Hearst’s Teen suffered the same fate. Radar was next in line—having only put out 15 issues of the 60 they had promised with their third revitalization. Following suit was Men’s Vogue, a Condé Nast title, which was spared at the last minute, transforming into a bi-yearly to be published only as a supplement to Vogue.

Sadly, this was only the latest blow in an industry that had already been suffering at the hands of the Internet for some time. By Thanksgiving, New York Magazine (online) was appropriately calling the mess the “Media DeathWatch,” and by year’s end, print media’s version of the bubonic plague had consumed titles such as Cottage Living, DNR, Outside’s Go and People (London). Other publications suffered medium to severe budget and issue cuts, while some employees surcame to buyouts.

But what perpretuated this demise for print publications? How did it happen so fast? And are we actually witnessing the demise of print media as we have come to know it?

While there are far more opinions and theories than actual answers to these questions, the bigger one is this: what will this mean for Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC)’s communication & media studies students? With FCLC being home to a rather large communications & media studies program, students dawning upon graduation are beginning to panic.

For Caitlin King, FCLC ’09 and had four different internships, the panic set in after Domino, Condé Nast’s youthful home décor magazine, folded in the last week of January.

“I wanted to work for Domino magazine—that was my goal. But it folded. So now I’m desperately trying to figure out a new route,” King said. “I was shocked because I thought that it was a young, hip magazine. I was really upset. I feel really discouraged.”

Corey Rados, FCLC ’10, an ad sales intern at Rolling Stone, understands, but feels better knowing that the media industry is not the only industry going through a tough time.

“I don’t know if what’s going on in the media industry is any different than what’s going on in any [other] industry,” Rados said. “The current financial climate is dreadful, no matter where you choose to look.”

But this panic is not just limited to those counting down the days to graduation. Even former FCLC graduates with communications degrees have been feeling the heat from this media hellfire. Alina Soler, FCLC ’08 and former features editor at the Observer and currently on the editorial staff at People, had a difficult time finding a job even before the media storm really hit.

“The post-grad job search was pretty rough. I thought that with all of my fancy internships and writing clips that landing an entry-level job would be no problem,” Soler said. “I sent my resume everywhere, even a hunting and fishing magazine. I’ve never been hunting or fishing… After a solid month of not landing any interviews, I seriously considered getting one of those T-shirt launchers they have at baseball games, stuffing it with copies of my resume and blasting them into strategic points in Manhattan.”

Adam Kaufman, FCLC ’08, former managing editor at the Observer and currently an ad sales assistant at The Atlantic, seemed to agree.

“I had three [internships]—, Filter and Rolling Stone… none turned into a job,” Kaufman said. “My internship upon graduating was at [Rolling Stone], and as you may know, they—and most other magazines—are not in a place to be expanding.”

One would think after building a portfolio and having an assortment of solid internships on a resumé, we would not be hearing these kinds of stories. So if communications graduates and soon-to-be graduates are being faced with these issues, what else can they do to avoid them?

Marion Viray, associate director of Career Services at FCLC, believes that career services is doing the best they can in helping guide students toward their career goals and finding jobs, but he suggests that students should not be so specific in their search or even in their interests.

“We are focusing on making sure the students are prepared in every perspective, so its not only that industry, but being able to go into other industries and maybe doing the same thing,” Viray said. “We don’t try to suggest one specific path for students. We try to really prepare them…  We kind of help them create things to lay out on the table, and it’s the student’s responsibility to know themselves better—what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about—and help them create those options.”

“A well-rounded individual is going to be much more successful in any type of job market, in any type of recession. That’s really what we focus on,” Viray said.

Communication & media studies professor and head of the internship seminar Brian Rose believes it is key for students to recognize the modernity of the world and how it is shaping the work force.

“Understand that the world has dramatically changed. The era of full-time employment is receding fast and that most likely their careers will largely be based on freelance projects, moving from one place to another on a per-project basis,” Rose said. “More than likely, this means no benefits, but it also means that there will be increased opportunities as companies forgo traditional employees and look toward skilled freelancers to do their work.”

However, despite the bloodshed the print media industry has seen in past months and the call for students to be flexible with career goals, industry insiders and media students remain hopeful, as most view the current downturn as the industry’s “reinvention” or “facelift,” if you will. Calling the situation the “demise” is simply not a question.

“If anything, they’ll switch to online,” Rados said. “Most periodicals already have ‘“coms’”… [and] marketing teams just need to sort of modernize their approaches… As long as print media remains creative, and innovative, there’s no reason for it to disappear.”

King agreed, arguing that not everyone wants to read things online.

“I don’t think that every magazine is going to just collapse. I think that the big magazines—like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—they’ll always be around. And I don’t even think that newspapers are going to become nonexistent because people still like to have something in their hands to hold,” King said.

But even with all the hope and reinvention of the industry and of ourselves, Kaufman reminds writers of the bottom line.

“More than anything else: don’t stop writing. Freelance, start a blog, keep a journal. As tough as things are, there are now more ways than ever to get your words out there, whether anyone sees them or not. The important thing is not to be discouraged if you don’t get that dream internship at the New Yorker. In the long run, those of us who show persistence and creativity will figure out a way to have a future in this industry,” Kaufman said.