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Ask Matt ... if journalism is dying

Q. Given the recent negativity about the news business and with millennials getting their news elsewhere, are fewer people entering the journalism profession?


Yes, but it’s not all bad news. According to the Pew Research Center in 2017 the audience for almost every major sector of the news media fell (except radio). Newspaper circulation dropped by 11 percent. (The newspaper you are reading, we should note, has experienced week over week, month over month paid circulation growth for 6½ years.) The news market is moving to Twitter and Facebook. Pew reports that in 2017, two-thirds of U.S. adults are getting news from social media. Low readership means fewer jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for news reporters will decline by 9 percent from 2014 through the year 2024.
I asked two local teachers about the national trend.
Tanya Ledford, who teaches journalism at North Henderson High, noticed a decline in writing among today’s students. “They do everything in bite-sized pieces,” she said. “It’s disconcerting.” Ledford said that in the schools today there is less emphasis on grammar. She lamented that journalism is changing rapidly because of the digital age. “The art of telling a story in an intriguing way is being lost,” she said. “Writing is an art. It must be practiced.”
Jason Livingston teaches three journalism courses at West Henderson, where he had 114 students last year. “Social media creates a culture where everyone thinks they are a journalist,” he said. “After I saw the movie ‘The Post,’ it brought home the difference. Back in those days there were solid deadlines and you were forced to work to get a quality product.” Livingston said that with the “fake news” stigma, it’s harder to seek the truth. “That’s the battle – get multiple sources. We teach that,” he said. West High’s student publication Wingspan has won numerous awards and Livingston credits his mentor, Brenda Gorsuch, for its continued success.
Now you might think that fewer Henderson County high school students are taking journalism. Not so. County school officials project that 233 students are enrolled this fall, slightly more than two years ago. At our local high schools, student interest in reporting and writing remains high. Many students particularly enjoy working on yearbooks and school newspapers.
At the university level some schools have combined journalism into a broader course of study called mass communications. Here students can take courses such as media ethics, speech, radio and television writing, photojournalism, advertising, and desktop publishing. UNCA’s 30-year old program remains strong. It has enjoyed a 15 percent increase in declared majors in the last five years but few of its graduates are getting jobs with newspapers or television. Michael Gouge, a former Times-News copy desk chief, is a senior lecturer at the UNC Asheville School of Mass Communications, where he has taught for 20 years. “The job market has changed,” Gouge said. “The demand now is for content — much more content — because people are getting their information in other ways.” Examples are radio podcasting and video production, college courses which are popular with his students. Gouge was quick to point out that UNC-Asheville students are taught the value of “trustworthy journalism.” He said that employers with social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook want to avoid public relations disasters or legal challenges. Gouge agreed that the journalism landscape has changed for the worse since he got in the business. “There is a lot of stuff out there that looks like journalism but isn’t,” said Gouge who ended his remarks with a bit of optimism. “Not all our students will be journalists but they will all be media consumers.”

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Send questions to askmattm@gmail.com.