The golden age of journalism — for millennial reporters, that is

When it comes to jobs for young reporters these days, there is an embarrassment of riches — well, at least options.

BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Vice and others of their ilk are flooding the market with new jobs, most of which are aimed at young digital-savvy reporters. They’re also in demand at legacy media companies, which are desperate to infuse their own ranks with more digital talent. The likes of The Huffington Post, Politico and 28 other major digital news organizations created over 5,000 full-time editorial jobs, according to Pew’s 2014 State of the News Media report.

That job growth represents a rare bright spot for media. Between job cuts and buyouts at legacy media organizations, the employment picture hasn’t been pretty, especially for older reporters and editors. Blame the economics: Younger reporters are inherently cheaper than older ones, and also easier to convince to work long hours. The result at many news organizations is large bodies of young reporters at the bottom ranks with a thin layer of editorial oversight at the top.

“The market right now provides a lot more opportunity for young journalists to look around and see who is doing something that’s exciting to them,” said Alex Koppelman, 32, Vocativ’s editorial director. He should know: he’s had four jobs in the past six years before coming to Vocativ, including The Guardian US and The New Yorker. “It makes up for the outlets that are no longer thriving like they used to.”

With more opportunities comes more job hopping. In contrast with the last few decades, where there was a stigma against rapidly moving from place to place, it’s not unusual today to see young reporters move from job to job in search for the next big gig or salary bump. There is a parallel phenomenon at play in the agency world.

“Job hopping used to be a dirty word, but that’s changed now that companies are not guaranteeing lifetime membership as they have in the past,” said Julie Hartenstein, associate dean for career services at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “It’s not looked down upon quite as much to jump around for the next opportunity.”

The result is plenty of healthy competition for affordable young writers among media companies, which are pulling out all the stops in an effort to court them.

“If anything, this has and should drive wages up to a living wage compared to the $25,000 salary people made 20 years ago when they first broke in,” said Slade Sohmer, director of editorial strategy at Mic, a news site for millennials, where the average age on the editorial side is 27. He said that today is in many ways a golden age for talented young reporters, who have no shortage of options for places at which to do the kind of work they want.

Beyond salary expectations, young reporters are also calling the shots when it comes to their work-life balance. Sohmer said that young reporters seek more flexibility than their older counterparts, like the ability to work from home. “It’s as much about quality of life as it is basic things like compensation and health benefits,” he said. “In the old days, you didn’t have that flexibility.”

Editorial autonomy is also high up on the list. Young reporters today are precious about covering what they’re passionate about, and more publishers want to give them that chance. Thirty percent of millennials polled by Devry University said that “meaningful work” was the important factor in their career success. (High pay came up second).

It’s a significant departure from a generation ago, when young reporters cut their teeth covering high school volleyball or local council meetings for more fully-staffed local newspapers. Today, a 25-year-old can reasonably expect an entry-level job that lets them cover big stories about topics such as gender politics or national government policies — while also reaching a wide audience.

The flipside, of course, is that many of these “reporting” gigs at publishers are more about aggregation than actual reporting. A big chunk are also underpaid. ViralNova told New York magazine that it was pleasantly surprised at how little money New York writers were willing to work for. “We can find so many people. Writers are actually very affordable in New York, which is very nice,” said ViralNova CEO Sean Beckner.

“Young reporters are looking to do real journalism, but can be disappointed when they’re only called upon to churn out 10 stories a day and aggregate content,” said Hartenstein. “Also, it’s not much of a golden age if you can’t pay your bills.”

Photo: Craig Howell/Flickr

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