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May 17, 2009

The Changing Face Of Journalism Fellowships

The NAJP was started as a fellowship program, and was, right out of the gate, one of the best in the business. A year to follow your interests, study and recharge, free of the grind of deadlines that regulate the lives of professional journalists.

freelance.jpgWhen the program began in 1994, most of the applicants were staffers at news organizations. The program didn't really look much at freelancers, and freelancers weren't a significant share of the applicants. Over the next dozen years, applications to NAJP flip-flopped. By the time the fellowship program ended in 2006, most of the applicants were freelancers.

That's been true at the NEA arts journalism institutes as well. The majority applying for the programs are freelancers now. And this, about the applicant profile and those selected for the most prestigious journalism fellowship programs this year:

...even though newspaper employees once dominated the top journalism fellowships, their share had been slipping for a few years, and in selections made over the last few weeks for the next academic year, it has plummeted. Four of the best-known programs -- at Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford and the University of Michigan -- chose 29 employees of American newspapers for fellowships in the year that is now winding down, and just 11 for next year. There have also been declines in the number of people from magazines and wire services, but not as pronounced.

At the same time, applications to those four programs, for positions that are open to American journalists, jumped 62 percent this year, to about 600. The pool was swelled by legions of journalists who no longer have steady work, and by people from the growing nontraditional media. The slots that used to go to newspaper people are going, instead, to freelancers, including many who do some work for papers, and to people in online and broadcast media. Some programs are also giving more positions to journalists from overseas.
Certainly this reflects changes in the ranks of journalism. Layoffs and downsizing are changing the way journalists work. Is it good for journalism? Right now, not so much. On the other hand, the consumption of news has increased, not gone down, so there's a market for what journalists do.

I am certainly biased in favor of journalists having more control over their own work, so I'm not shedding too many tears about news organizations who have made stupid editorial decisions based on bad business practices. I haven't run into too many journalists in recent years who have been happy with the ways their publications have made business decisions (and thus editorial decisions).

In the end, I suspect this freelance-ification of the news business has the potential to give journalists more control over their work than they had in the old system. And with it, ought to come a bigger upside to share in the financial rewards. Right now, though? It sucks for a lot of people.
May 17, 2009 6:18 PM | | Comments (0)

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