Tracking Journalism Grads in a Tough Economy

A student investigative team surveyed alumni of UWM to find out where they ended up


Max Neibaur is a Journalism and Mass Communications undergraduate who graduated near the top tier of his class through the Honors Program at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 2007. He was also the editor-in-chief at the prominent UWM newspaper The Leader while at school. Neibaur is currently 25 years old, living in his parents’ basement, and has a $7 an hour part-time job at Sears where his supervisor is a high-school dropout and Neibaur’s job includes, “putting up signs when stuff goes on sale.”


Neibaur and almost half of all UWM JMC Alumni who were surveyed by a team of Frontpage Milwaukee student journalists agreed they felt UWM did a good job preparing them for the media job market, but with the economy in its current condition in order to find jobs, JMC graduates are diverging from media opportunities centered in “big media” and heading more towards “unconventional” media jobs. And some like Neibaur, aren’t ending up in journalism jobs at all, like working at Guaranty Bank, or Lowe’s in the “plumbing department”.


            Over half of the JMC Alumni who currently hold a media job said they applied for 10 or fewer positions, and 61 percent said they got the job in less than six months after graduating. Although, almost 30 percent said they applied for over 20 different positions or “too many to count” and some (like Neibaur) are still without media jobs.


News coverage of journalism over the last year has put into question where the industry is going. The concern is caused by newspapers cutting down staffs and others going completely online. Now journalism majors all over the country and wondering what the job prospects will look like once out of college.


FrontPage Milwaukee’s Investigative team took an Excel document with the JMC Alumni from 2004 to 2008 at UWM and sent out roughly 600 surveys through emails and Facebook. Over the span of three months, the students gave 94 responses, and the data showed the range of Alumni careers after college.


Other points retrieved from the JMC Alumni Survey:

·    The average hourly wage was $13.48.

·    Almost every respondent highlighted the importance of having an internship during college.

·    Only 5 out of 21 print journalism majors ended up in the traditional print journalism field.

·    Some journalism majors don’t even have a job in a media-related career.

·    19 percent of the print majors are working in advertisement fields

·    44.4 percent of yearly salaries were between $30,000-39,000

·    49 of the survey respondents had an emphasis on Advertisement and Public Relations in the JMC major.


            Many of the Alumni’s media jobs have moved away from traditional formats, even those centered in “big media.” Kayla Bunge, a 2006 UWM Alumni explained that working for the Janesville Gazette has her performing a wide range of tasks including reporting, copy editing, and page designing all at the same time.


            “Well, it makes scheduling difficult,” said Bunge. The reason Bunge has so much on her plate is the fact that her paper lost several staff members and now she’s expected to pick up the slack. She thought she was only taking the duties temporarily, but it became permanent when the paper didn’t hire anyone else for the positions. Bunge is just one of the several JMC Alumni’s the students surveyed from UWM.


            Mark Thiel, another JMC Alumnus from 2007, was fortunate enough to get a job right out of college with the place he was interning at, Kohler Company. He currently works as Associate Web Content Editor for their website.


            “I was looking for any job,” said Thiel. “I wasn’t picky about company size, my status, or wage. I was looking for experience and didn’t expect to make much right out of college. I just needed something for my resume. I was fortunate in landing a job for a big company with good pay.” 


            Thiel admits part of his success goes to the fact that his brother works at Kohler and made sure his resume got into the right hands, but he still needed to have the credentials in order to work there. Thiel’s job isn’t quite what he expected though.


            “When I graduated I imagined myself working for a newspaper and running around trying to make deadlines and writing articles and interviewing people and editing and revising and stuff but I think because I work for a company it’s very different then what I expected,” said Thiel.


            On the other hand, Elizabeth Krumnow, a JMC Alumnus who currently works at Entercom Milwaukee as a radio show co-host, is very pleased with her career. 


            “I’m very lucky,” said Krumnow. “My current job is exactly what I had hoped to be doing.”


UWM—preparing us for the future


                        Mary Rinzel, a 2004 graduate who works as a general assignment reporter for NBC in Eau Claire, feels UWM did an excellent job preparing her for the real world experiences of a broadcast career track.


            “I felt very prepared,” said Rinzel. “I’ve seen reporters come from other markets and I honestly feel no one has been as prepared as I was. I actually knew what I was expected to do and was able to execute it. I feel UWM offers an exceptional broadcast journalism program.”


Like Rinzel, 49 percent of the others surveyed felt prepared by their schooling at UWM. Another 19 percent said they felt “somewhat prepared”, and 32 percent said they “did not feel prepared.”


Another opinion was from 2007 Alumni Meghan Welch, who works at the non-profit organization Bethesda Lutheran Communities. She writes press releases for the company, and was one of the students who didn’t feel prepared enough from UWM.


“I’m not sure classes can prepare you in any real way for working in the industry,” said Welch. “I don’t believe my classes had a direct impact on my job performance, but rather my internship made all the difference.”       


Where are my Interns?


In almost every survey, the importance of an internship while still in school. Most said it provides priceless and much needed experience in the real world market that you can’t find anywhere else. Others regretted not having an internship and feel it might be why they’re struggling now.


“Maybe it was a stupid idea to join a campus organization and get involved with the school newspaper,” said Neibaur. “Perhaps I should have just focused on internships, I don’t know. At the time, professors and advisors told me that clips were the most important thing to have so I joined the newspaper.”


Neibaur said he applied for “dozens upon dozens” of media-related positions over the last tens years without even as much as an interview. He to this day doesn’t understand why he’s so undesirable to media companies.


Others, like 2006 Alumnus Katy Amaya were very thankful for their internships and felt that professors encouraged students to take them.


“The one thing that sticks out is how much the JMC professors stressed how important it was to get internships,” said Amaya. “They basically ingrained it into my brain I ended up graduating with internships with The Milwaukee Bucks, Miller Brewing Company, UWM Athletic Department, Green Bay Packers, and a radio station.” Even with internships, some Alumni didn’t find a career in journalism. Not all people were discouraged or unhappy with their new careers.


Who Needs Journalism?


“If someone told me that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have laughed,” said Steve Ramlet, a 2006 JMC Alumnus who’s working as travel director with Maritz Holdings. “I was always on the planning/P.R. side during school and now I am on the execution side.”


Ramlet, like some other journalism majors, doesn’t have a journalistic career. The survey resulted in finding out many jobs the UWM Alumni were getting were fairly odd for a journalism major, like family service counselor, an account executive, a facilitator at Holiday Home Camp, a Tazo Tea manufacturing partner, and even a stay-at-home mom.


Carla Lemminger shouldn’t be considered just a mother and home caretaker. Lemminger graduated in 2004 and is currently working as an independent consultant at Tastefully Simple.


“I love being a stay-at-home mom and running my own Tastefully Simple business, however, I enjoyed working for a marketing firm and traveling all the time as well as working for GE recruiting for sales positions,” said Lemminger. Alumni who did have journalism jobs (though some had traditional) had somewhat unconventional jobs that wouldn’t be normally considered.


Journalism’s Not Dead, Just Changing


Journalism Alumni are getting all sorts of jobs in the media market. Working in a newsroom is just one of the many options that journalists are now given with all of the new technological mediums and different uses of their particular set of skills. These jobs range from work at Cramer-Krasselt as an art director (developing print, broadcast, and online advertising), a community outreach coordinator for Neurosearch, and Melinda Hileman a 2005 JMC Alumni even started her own company, Hileman Design.


“I provide graphic design, web design, public relations and desktop publishing services,” said Hileman. This wasn’t what she pictured when she got out of college.


“I never thought I’d have my own company,” said Hileman. “I love the freedom to choose my clients, choose my rates, and choose my hours. I can do the work I want to do, and not have to be burned out at the end of the week.”


Katie Qualle, a 2006 JMC Alumnus works from Germany and though she doesn’t have her own company, she’s taken a path not often traveled by Americans, let alone journalists.


Qualle’s a technical writer for BrainLAB AG, in which she writes user manuals and provides online help and other instructional material for medical software. Though it’s a little unorthodox, Qualle loves it.


“It’s better than I could have ever expected,” said Qualle. “It’s an amazing company, the people are great, and I’ve been able to pay off my student loans in less than three years, something I thought would take me at least 20.”


Some JMC Alumni that graduated between the years of the survey went back to school in order to get their masters. One of these JMC Alumni was Greg Walsko, a 2006 JMC Alumni who currently works as a teacher at ITT Technical Institute in Greenfield.


With his head and eyebrows shaved, his seemingly expressionless face was counterbalanced with his upbeat voice and joking personality. His work casual khaki pants and stripped button down shirt didn’t lend his appearance to be a teacher, but he gained the attention of his class when started a discussion of video games. Teaching has become his life; however, he wasn’t always sure about the idea.


“Both my parents were teachers, but I didn’t think that I’d want to be a teacher myself,” said Walsko. He’s now one of the large contributors in ITT’s most popular program.


“I currently help teach the Visual Communications program at ITT,” said Walsko. “It occupies more than half the population of the school.”


The Future of Journalism


Even in the current atmosphere, there are still people in the JMC program who are ready to get out in the real world.


Emily Neibauer is a 21-year-old who’s in broadcast under the JMC major is expected to graduate in May of 2010. She wasn’t worried when she first declared her journalism major, but now she’s not so sure how worried to be now.


“I am and I’m not,” said Neibauer. “I mean, people will retire and I think places will always be looking for new blood. But, I’m worried because I’ve heard a lot of people can’t find them.”


Her dream job would be working for a local television station and when she’s older and more experienced she’d hope to work for a national television news outlet.


Neibauer like most of the other JMC majors from our survey believes UWM did a great job in preparing her for the future.


“Well, I think UWM has a lot of resources for helping students to get a job,” said Neibauer. “In the broadcast program I feel pretty prepared. But, the broadcast program lacks relevant hard news writing. I learned most of my writing in print classes.”


Amie Lander, a 22-year-old JMC student who’s graduating at the end of this semester, agrees with Neibauer on her preparedness.


“I think a lot of the teachers at UWM have greatly prepared me for the job market,” said Lander. “I have taken some truly life preparing classes!”


            Lander is in the media studies section of the JMC major. She has plans to work and write for a fashion magazine in her future.


            Her parents were somewhat concerned with her entering into the journalism field, but she said she was confident that it’s what she wanted.


            “They’re accepting and happy in whatever I choose to do,” said Lander.


            When Lander graduates she has plans to move to Israel for a few years and experience their culture, but when she gets back there will only be one thing on her mind.


            “I need to find a job,” said Lander.


            Finding a job might be hard, but maybe not as hard and Lander thinks. Kevin Overbury is a Journalism and PR lecturer at the University of Sunderland in the UK, and he feels this year might be difficult, but there seems to be a positive outlook for the future.


            “There’s no denying the papers aren’t going to come back to where they were, but I think that the jobs will be there in online journalism which is why we’re increasingly teaching more and more online journalism,” said Overbury.


            You can watch the full story here in an online video.


There are a lot of changes taking place in the news media and journalism as a culture. The UWM Alumni from over the past four years that took the survey have either struggled to find a relative media job, or have flourished in a journalistic career track that isn’t traditional. With fresh journalism classes graduating from colleges all across the country this upcoming spring, they’ll be considering some of the unconventional journalism jobs instead of the big media that still seems to be struggling in the current economic climate.  


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