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College Tour: The very young are the future

I recently had the opportunity to visit a number of universities and to attend two conventions for college journalists. This is the second in a four-part series on my experiences. You can see part one here.

My annual college tour is over, and unlike years past, I'm feeling pretty confident about the next generation of journalists.
Certainly the current crop of journalism students isn't perfect. But nor is it as bad as it was just last year.
Something has changed. And I think I know what it is.
College journalists seem to be split into two distinct camps. There are those who understand online media and look forward to a career in digital media. Then there are the delusional others who have their hearts set on a print-based job. (There's also a smaller group of students who have their hearts set on a "television" career rather than a "video" career.")
And as remarkable as it seems to an old guy like me who finds it increasingly difficult to tell at a glance if someone is 16-years old or 26-years old, it is the age of the student that makes all the difference.

As a general rule, I met very few seniors who are ready for the working world. The juniors weren't much better. On the other hand, I found the sophomores and freshmen in today's journalism programs to be a truly remarkable bunch.

It's the very young students -- just 18- to 19-years old in most cases -- who have familiarity with online culture and have mastered new-media storytelling techniques. It's the freshmen and sophomores that understand, accept and celebrate the idea of working and living on the Web.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there's no one worth hiring in the class of 2008. I met three seniors that any publisher would be lucky to have on board. But it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that two of them already have job offers and the third expects an offer from the publication where she works now on a part-time basis.
But those students were the exception.
On the other hand, I met a bunch of seniors who hope to become print designers. They know Quark. They know InDesign. They have printouts of pages that they want you to see. What they don't have are job offers. And what they don't seem to know is that print design jobs grow rarer by the minute.
I also met a bunch of seniors who want to be newspaper reporters. They have clips. They have some basic reporting skills. What they don't have are job offers. And what they don't seem to know is that newspapers are in very tough shape.
The seniors seemed to be stuck in a fantasy about working in a 1970s-style newsroom. While nearly every time I met a kid who was a new-media "superstar," they turned out to be several years away from graduation.
But that's OK.
I'm willing to accept that our profession might have to write off a few years worth of journalism graduates. Because for the first time I feel confident that there is a next generation of journalists coming that will make us all proud.

My friend Rex also had a positive experience earlier this month when he met with a group of college journalists. You can read his thoughts here.
I shouldn't be surprised by the skills of the very young. Just a few months ago I noted that high school kids were doing some interesting work, while established journalists continued to resist change. Now it turns out that the high school publication I mentioned in that post is winning national attention.

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