The Day Print Journalism Died

25 10 2009


My passion is cultural journalism.  Admittedly, I’ve taken a roundabout approach to actually working in this field, but I’ve always known in the back of my mind I should really be pursuing a career in writing.  Now, knee-deep in this recession with a resumé that doesn’t reflect my ability or potential, I embark on a job search in what some people say is a dying industry.  

Four years ago, classified ads for entry-level editorial gigs looked like this: 

Editorial Assistant

Duties: Copy-editing, fact-checking, some light administrative duties and the opportunity to pitch your ideas to editors. 

Qualifications:  B.A. in English, Journalism, or related field.  Strong written and oral communication skills.  College newspaper experience a plus. 

Compensation: low 30’s

Today, they look more like this:

Editorial Assistant

Duties: Support and expand growing website with online marketing and communications efforts, edit and upload content, including text, images and videos to our page, manage our social networking efforts through Facebook and Twitter, write weekly e-blasts to our subscribers and maintain online database of subscribers.

Qualifications:  B.A. in Communications, Journalism or Marketing (M.A. preferred), at least 2 years experience developing content for a major website,  experience with Quark, InDesign, HTML, Photoshop and CSS web-based content management systems, exceptional oral and written communication skills and a strong social media presence. International work experience a plus.

Salary: $8/hr., no benefits


It’s only been four years since I graduated college, and I already feel outdated.  Magazines and newspapers are steadily laying off, moving online.  Job competition is stiff.  It’s nearly impossible to get an interview in D.C. right now without a connection, and even when you do, the employer will go out of his way to let you know that you are one candidate of many.

A few days ago, I dusted off my suit and trekked up to Rockville for what I thought was going to be a traditional magazine interview.  The staff at a well-respected history magazine with a sophisticated readership had reviewed my resumé and writing samples and wanted to speak with me about an editorial position.  Perfect!, I thought, they’ll focus on my editorial skills instead of my proficiency with Photoshop.

I was mistaken.  After waiting in the cramped “conference” room for half an hour, the editor strolled in, took one look at my resumé and said, “We got a lot of resumés for this position.  How did you get in here?” 

“Well, I have an M.A. and some strong editorial internships.  I also write a daily blog…”

“Most of the other applicants have more relevant experience than you,” he interrupted, “We have people with stronger history backgrounds, more IT experience, more marketing experience…”

“Well, I’ve been working in communications for Island Press, a non-profit book publisher, so that did involve online marketing…”

“Right,” he interrupted.  “My wife used to work there.  I think non-profits like Island Press are just an excuse to raise money.”

I was taken aback.  “Actually, they do put out some great titles,” I countered, “And their mission is noble.”  This was clearly not going well.

“You went to UVA?” he asked.  I nodded my head, and he said, “My wife went there too.  She hated it.” 

I had no response to that, so I just glared at him as he scanned my resumé again.  

“We’re not exactly sure what this position is going to be,” he finally said, breaking the silence.  “It’s kind of editorial, but it is also kind of a marketing position.  And it’s very technical.  It’s actually going to be a huge, important position, if we ever get the money to pay the person a salary.  I mean, I picked a really terrible time to purchase this magazine… print publishing is nearly dead.  We need someone to build us a website, but we don’t really have an online department yet, which is why I’m interviewing candidates myself.  But I’m not sure that you have the right kind of experience.”

“This is a paid internship, right?” I asked, reclining in my chair.


“And… you’re looking for an editorial person with a history background, technical expertise and significant web marketing experience?”

“Yes, ideally,” he said, “And hopefully, if this grant that we just applied for comes through, we’ll be able to pay that person.  Eventually.  I mean, this magazine used to be headquartered at Rockefeller Center.  Now we’re on Rockville Pike.  These are tough times.” 

“Right,” I said.  “Well I’m sure you have a lot of other candidates to interview before you make a decision, and I have to catch a bus to New York at one.  It was nice speaking with you.” 


Magazine 1, Me- 0.  Only during a recession could a nearly bankrupt publication whose primary readership is over the age of 65 find an extremely experienced marketing/editorial/IT savvy historian to build their website for $8/hr and no benefits.  

It’s a crazy world out there for aspiring journalists.  You want to be an administrative assistant at Nursing Home Weekly?  Better have a Twitter account, some web-design experience and a working knowledge of HTML!  (PhD in Systems Engineering preferred…from MIT, if possible, but Harvard would also do.)

Looks like this old-school blogger (oxymoron no longer) is headed back to J-school.




2 responses

26 10 2009


26 10 2009
Geof Boyle

Raises question of nature/nurture. Was this guy born as a full-time asshead, or is the pressure of his job is turning him into one?
Keep living and writing, LB.

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