Barbara Ehrenreich’s message to journalism school (j-school) graduates at UC Berekeley on May 16 2009  is that they’re entering a dying industry.
Yeah, I guess that’s the case if you’re looking for a secure job in the newsroom of the 1950s, but I would actually encourage j-school graduates to look at this as an opportunity. In fact, I would encourage college Freshmen to consider specializing in journalism! Why?Getting a degree in journalism, currently and in my opinion only, is the equivalent of going for a degree in something like English or psychology when I was in college. It can be a general all-purpose, get a good education and most of all learn how to investigate, clarify and express yourself kind of degree. It’s a degree in critical thinking and in communication. In the past it may have been viewed as a professional degree, but everyone’s right, there aren’t many professional journalism jobs any more.
Ehrenreich spends considerable time on the (valid) point that journalists get paid lots less than during the heydays, and that they’re now working-class stiffs.
And she completes her address to the UC Berkeley graduating class with these two paragraphs:
As long as there is a story to be told, an injustice to be exposed, a mystery to be solved, we will find a way to do it. A recession won’t stop us. A dying industry won’t stop us. Even poverty won’t stop us, because we are all on a mission here. That’s the meaning of your journalism degree. Do not consider it a certificate promising some sort of entitlement. Consider it a license to fight.
In the ’70s, it was gonzo journalism. For us right now, it’s guerrilla journalism, and we will not be stopped.
I was a student at Northwestern University, and our Medill School of Journalism was and is a model for journalism education. Medill students were dedicated, and aside from us engineers and computer science geeks, Medill students were often among the geekiest you could find on campus. I had friends who wrote for the daily newspaper, interned at the large dailies in Chicago, ran the university radio station, and reported on all sorts of goings on. I respected what they were doing and their dedication. They were for the most part smart and broad-minded in their interests. I was, I guess, a kindred spirit, since I published a short-lived monthly humor magazine myself while I was there. For today’s Medill viewpoint, you can watch David Standish, a faculty member at Medill, deliver a message similar to Ehrenreich’s. Everyone has to be thinking and talking about this today.
I saw how tight a profession this is, at least in the television area, at the Northern California Regional Emmy Awards last month. The nominees and their supporters were all decked out in their best clothes (black tie), had a really nice dinner together, joked, chatted, applauded, basked in the glory of the awards, and this was certainly a profession where people know each other and respect each others’ work. The equivalent of this kind of professional comraderie, for the online world, will certainly be created over time.
Interestingly, all of the comments (on Ehrenreich’s speech) at SFGate (where it was originally posted online) say essentially “good riddance” to writers and reports. Apparently there’s some built-up hostility here?
 I like to get as close to the original source of information as I can, but in this case the UC Berkeley J-school server was experiencing a failure at the time I looked for the article. So, I used the quote of the graduation address on SFGate.com. Another citation appears on Alternet.org.