Pardon me while I vent on the state of the publishing industry…

I graduated from college with a journalism degree over a decade ago. (Wow, I just made myself feel old.) Admittedly, I ended up with a journalism degree because I couldn’t do an English degree and graduate in 4-years with a double major in International Relations. Now, years later, I realize that the English degree would have been better suited for me. But at the time, I was more focused on having a writing background in general, and having loved writing for my high school newspaper I thought a journalism degree would be a good fit. About a year before graduation, I realized I didn’t want a career in journalism, but I still completed my journalism degree. I chose to let my International Relations degree lead me down a different path, and for a while that path worked.

In recent years, I’ve found myself relying more on my Journalism degree to carve out a life and career that I enjoy. It turns out it was the better fit for me than the IR degree ever was. Now, I am incredibly thankful that I have it because I know it gave me a great foundation, even if it is a little rusty, for the work I am pursuing.

One of the realities of career in journalism, or writing in general, is that it is incredibly difficult field to break into or to even stay in these days. Yes, freelance gigs can be found, but a full-time staff position at a newspaper is a much bleaker prospect. Today, Gawker.com posted an AP article on a recent survey of newspaper editors which only served to reiterate the grim picture in the newspaper industry these days:

Most of the 95 editors responding to the August survey said their newsroom staffs had shrunk by more than 10 percent during the past year.

And which population is most affected by these cuts, “workers between 18 and 35 years old” according to the article.

The situation in magazine publishing isn’t any brighter.

I feel bad for recent college graduates, coming out of J-school with their bright and shiny degrees and clips who are now struggling to break into a business that they’ve probably spent years dreaming of entering. Here they thought they were doing everything needed to prepare themselves to be competitive to only find the doors to the industry closed when they were ready to launch their careers.

My journalism program put an emphasis on double majors. They wanted you to have an area of expertise to draw on, to give you more depth. That meant you may have majored in Economics, Spanish, American History, Biology, Environmental Science, or International Relations like I did. I think this has become the norm in most journalism programs throughout the country. Now more than ever, it might be a blessing as unemployed journalists can rely on those other degrees to find work.

But maybe wanna-be journalists should be considering other avenues to break into a career in journalism. Forget the journalism degree entirely. Don’t bother writing for the college paper or interning at your local paper to get clips. Apparently all you need to do these days is get your 17-year old high school girlfriend pregnant. Oh, it helps if she happens to be the daughter of a popular/controversial former governor and vice presidential candidate.

As I scrolled down the Gawker site this afternoon, below the AP article on the dismal situation for journalists between the ages of 18 and 35, I came across an article about one 19-year old budding journalist who seems to have found a way to thrive in these dark times. Levi Johnston, a high school dropout and father to Sarah Palin’s grandson, has done what few journalism graduates have ever managed to do, get an article in Vanity Fair. According to Gawker, Johnston has “written” (I’m highly suspicious of this fact) an article titled “Me and Sarah Palin” for the October issue. Let me just say, I read Vanity Fair. I enjoy its investigative articles and its profiles. Yes, occasionally it is prone to fluff; but for the most part, I consider it well written and feel better informed for reading it. However now, I may just have to cancel my subscription on principle.

What the hell could Johnston really have to say that is of relevance today? Yes, Sarah Palin is still in the news; although, she seems to have shot herself in the foot with her recent resignation. But, what does Johnston add to the story that we haven’t already heard? We all know the story. Admittedly, I haven’t read the article yet. The October issue isn’t available. But I sincerely doubt that his story wouldn’t have been better suited to the a publication like The National Enquirer.

But I digress. What I find horrifying is pages have been wasted on Johnston’s writing when there are plenty of other writers and journalists out there with stories to tell that might actually inform and make a difference in readers’ lives. What an insult to every journalism student who is seriously putting in the time and effort to lay a foundation to a future career in the field. And what an insult to every struggling or unemployed journalist who has labored in this field and who would kill to have a piece published in Vanity Fair.

I’ll take this a step further. We have become a culture that rewards people for stupidity, not for hard work and education. Not only are journalists toiling away to see their words in print, but incredibly gifted authors are struggling to get an agent or publisher to look at their work while reality stars famous for nothing else than being vacuous get 3-book deals with a major publisher because they’ve decided they want to write.

These days, everyone talks about the death of the publishing industry–the death of books, the death of magazines, the death of newspapers. They say the readers and advertisers aren’t there anymore to support the industry. Yes, a cover boasting an article written by Levi Johnston on his relationship with Sarah Palin brings readers and advertisers back to magazines and newspapers like Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair and the likes will live to see another issue. But should they? Maybe they and the rest of the publishing industry should just call it a day if they’re going to sacrifice quality for dollars. And maybe writers should find a field that might actually respect talent and hard work.

…vent over. Thank you for humoring me.




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