Professional journalism crashing... Columbia to shrink J-school

Traditional media has been on a downward slide for some time now, with cutbacks taking place in newsrooms at papers, magazines and cable television outlets. This makes for a tighter job market for those following the traditional J-school path and that new reality seems to be setting in at Columbia. One of the oldest journalism schools in the nation is downsizing.

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism will reduce its class size and cut about six positions from its staff as the news industry retrenches.

The school will gradually reduce enrollment over several years and has already stopped filling some vacant faculty positions, Steve Coll, dean of the school since 2013, said in an e-mail to students, faculty and staff today.

News organizations around the world are cutting staff and budgets as advertisers and readers have fled traditional media for free online sources and social media sites, such as Twitter. While graduate student applications rose sharply after the recession that began in 2008, the school’s class size is headed back to a lower “historical norm,” Coll said.

“This adjustment will preserve our capacity for hands-on and intensive teaching that is a trademark of the school,” he said in the e-mail.

Keep in mind that this isn’t just any old J-school. This is the 900 pound gorilla of the league, founded by Joseph Pulitzer more than a century ago. And as the name suggests, they’re the ones who hand out the Pulitzer Prizes each year. Assuming one can either cough up the tuition or cobble together some combination of grants and scholarships, the best and brightest hopefuls in the nation should generally be beating each other up with spiked clubs for a chance to get inside the door there. How much has the media landscape changed for these guys to feel the pinch?

I suppose there is a debate over what is sinking the traditional media business faster. On the one hand, new media and instant access to free news on your phone, tablet or laptop the instant something happens has been a slow poison for the old guard. There’s really no arguing that point, though we might debate how “good” that has been for the accurate coverage of current events. But at the same time, social media and citizen journalists have exposed a lot of shortcomings in the old method of doing business which we never would have known about if the traditional gatekeepers were still controlling the entire flow of information. Much of what is killing traditional journalism can honestly be pinned on their bringing it on themselves. The true beginning of the end may have been Dan Rather’s fake but accurate debacle, but the apple cart was already beginning to tip well before then.

In summary, Columbia isn’t going away… at least not for the foreseeable future. But cutting their staff and services is no doubt a sign of the times.

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