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Is journalism disappearing? These top educators have a lot to say about that

Leaders of some of America's most well known journalism schools, which include Graciela Mochkofsky, David Ryfe, and Jelani Cobb weigh in on the state of the news industry and how they are making sure students are prepared to enter a turbulent business.
Daniel Mordzinski, David Ryfe, Jelani Cobb
Leaders of some of America's most well known journalism schools, which include Graciela Mochkofsky, David Ryfe, and Jelani Cobb weigh in on the state of the news industry and how they are making sure students are prepared to enter a turbulent business.

As I left my meeting with the head of the journalism department, my fingers were frozen together, a physical phenomenon that happens in times of great stress or happiness.

I had just been offered a chance to redesign a course called Media Management and Entrepreneurship, a class that hadn't been taught at the University of Kentucky in roughly seven years.

Over the following weeks, I jotted down the names of guest speakers I planned to have (Owen Thomas, Drew Curtis and Gabriel Dunn would visit) and the themes I wanted to address. There were three companies I knew I had to expose my students to each semester:

Gawker, BuzzFeed News and Vice.

These were disruptive startups who, a decade ago, thumbed their noses at naysayers and raised the middle finger to hidebound news organizations. These three companies appealed to a coveted younger, internet-obsessed, audience that has long eluded legacy media businesses. Not to mention, all three had habits of hiring young and diverse people.

It was 2014 and I ended each class discussion on these three companies with a link to their job boards showing dozens of open positions at each.

Today, those same hyperlinks from Gawker, BuzzFeed News and Vice are broken, empty, or filled with a small fraction of the open news positions they once had.

The news that Vice would reportedly stop publishing stories on its namesake website was a dour crescendo in the history of these three companies (Gawker's original incarnation shut down in 2016 and BuzzFeed News ceased publication of its Pulitzer Prize-winning website in 2023).

Almost every week in 2024 has featured news of media layoffs (more than 800 so far by one count, which would place the sector on pace for 10,000 jobs lost this year, according to Fast Company) and left many professionals penning eulogies for the news industry while asking hard questions.

Tulika Bose, a senior multimedia editor at Scientific American, posed one such question.

"Is it *ethical* to be teaching journalism right now?" Bose wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Feb. 22 along with other messages on this topic. "I know folks have strong feelings about this, especially journalism profs. Trust me — there's no one who loves journalism as much as me, or someone who is constantly screaming about the blurring lines between *content* and *journalism.* But — I'm coming from a place of concern."

That concern has not gone unnoticed in the halls of higher education.

The news business faces a "disheartening and alarming" reality

The stakes for journalists are sky-high in 2024 as the U.S. awaits a contentious presidential election and watches the wars in Europe and the Middle East in horror.

A world without journalists to cover these crucial events, and a way to educate journalists on how to do the work, is unthinkable to Graciela Mochkofsky, the dean of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Mochkofsky was born in Argentina "right after a very long dictatorship," she told NPR.

"I was trained as a journalist by people who had gone into exile, who had seen their friends being killed because they were journalists," she said. "I was trained as a journalist with this very, very strong, very, very strong sense that journalism is something that is not a given; it's something you fight for every day, just like democracy."

The importance of journalism has not left Mochkofsky or any of her higher-ed peers ignorant to the headwinds America's fourth estate faces.

In interviews with Mochkofsky, David Ryfe, director of the School of Journalism and Media at The University of Texas at Austin, David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jelani Cobb, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, Mark J. Lodato, dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and Charles Seife, director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, each solemnly acknowledged the harsh economic realities plaguing news companies.

"It's disheartening and alarming that we see this kind of collapse. ... That makes it harder for all of us, you know, and makes it harder for the audiences that rely on these organizations for stories, for news, for information," Cobb told NPR.

"The challenges of the industry are unchanged. And they've been unchanged since pretty soon after the advent of the internet. And it's just a slow and crushing change for the industry, over a generation," Seife added.

Bose is part of a new generation of journalists very familiar with crushing change.

As a person of color who received her master's degree in journalism from Columbia in 2018, Bose has worked at new media publications like Upworthy, Vice and NowThis which have all faced layoffs over the past few years.

That experience helped inspire her to ask her question on X in late February.

"I don't think students always know exactly where to go after they graduate," Bose told NPR in an interview. "Because there are shrinking positions available. So people are trying to fit into these positions, but there are more and more and more applicants and they're also being squeezed against people from larger places that have been laid off so I just ethically wonder like, are people being prepared for jobs that no longer exist? That's my biggest question."

This question, and others, were posed to the six journalism school leaders. Their quotes have been edited for clarity and complemented with audio from our interviews.

On teaching journalism while the industry compresses

Graciela Mochkofsky Dean of Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York

Listen to Mochkofsky

David KurpiusDean of the Missouri School of Journalism

Listen to Kurpius

David Ryfe Director of the School of Journalism and Media at The University of Texas at Austin

Listen to Ryfe

Jelani Cobb Dean of the Columbia Journalism School

Hear Cobb

Mark J. Lodato Dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University

Listen to Lodato

Charles Seife Director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University

Listen to Seife

On the cost of j-school and how to help journalism students navigate a tumultuous media landscape

Graciela Mochkofsky Dean of Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York

Hear Mochkofsky

David Ryfe Director of the School of Journalism and Media at The University of Texas at Austin

Hear Ryfe

David KurpiusDean of the Missouri School of Journalism

Hear Kurpius

Jelani Cobb Dean of the Columbia Journalism School

Listen to Cobb

Mark J. Lodato Dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University

Hear Lodato

Charles Seife Director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University

Hear Seife


The last time I taught Media Management and Entrepreneurship was in May 2017.

I'm now in my second semester teaching the course at Morehouse College, though its name has changed to "Digging Deep Into the Business of Media." The class now has an added focus on the inequalities people of color face when raising venture capital funding while also focusing on historic Black-owned companies like Ebony.

My Feb. 26 lecture was coincidentally about Gawker but before educating my students on the Shakespearean demise of Nick Denton's once-brash company, I started that class, as I always do, with a discussion on some media news.

That day's headline, courtesy of CBS News, was "Vice Media to lay off hundreds of workers as digital media outlets implode."

We have yet to reach Vice as a larger point of discussion this semester so I provided a rough overview of why the company was in decline.

"Does anyone have any questions or thoughts on this?" I asked, leaning on the radiator near the window.

One hand shot up.

"It's hard to hear about this. It just seems like the industry I want to join is disappearing," the student said.

A few other students nodded in agreement.

"I can't disagree with you but it's important you're here," I said, while moving to the next slide.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fernando Alfonso III
Fernando Alfonso III is a supervising editor who manages a team of editors and reporters responsible for powering NPR.org.
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