Research (Vol. 51): I’ve graduated… now what?

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An outlook of employment opportunities in the mass communication industry

By Kyle J. Miller
Dr. Charles A. Lubbers
University of South Dakota

The employment outlook in any field is dictated by the balance of supply and demand. However, the available supply of college graduates and the demand for the graduates to fill a particular job category in a field can vary greatly.

Table1_DegreesAccording to a 2012 study by Becker, Vlad and Kalpen, 51,784 bachelor’s degrees were granted in the U.S. in 2011, and that number was only slightly larger than the year before.  They also noted that during 2011, 203,561 students were enrolled in bachelor’s programs, a decline of .05 percent from the year before.

Undergraduate students are studying a growing number of specializations within the mass communication field. This reflects changes in the terms used to describe the specializations, as well as a growth in those areas as a result of newer technologies.  As noted in Table 1, journalism, once the dominant specialization in the field, now accounts for slightly less than 30 percent of the students.  The next largest group of students is located in strategic communication programs. Students studying radio/television generally made up 4.9 percent.  Clearly the concentration of students is located in the areas of journalism and strategic communications, with significantly smaller numbers in the telecommunications field.


Becker, Vlad and Kalpen’s study also found that while the number of students and graduates at the bachelor’s level remains strong, graduates in some specializations are struggling to find work after graduation.  They noted that 72.5 percent of the 2011 graduates reported having a “job offer or solid prospect on graduation.

“On average, the 2011 graduate reported having 1.4 job offers or prospects in hand, up from the 1.2 average of a year ago. The gain is small, but statistically significant, that is, unlikely to be due to chance,” they added.

While nearly three-quarters of graduates have strong prospects at graduation, the outlook varies for the myriad of occupations open to mass communication graduates.  A comparison of the employment outlook figures for the major specializations in mass communication quickly demonstrates that demand for majors will vary dramatically.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Employment Outlook Handbook (see Table 2), the outlook for the various careers in mass communication will vary considerably.  For example, the fastest growth from 2010 to 2020 will be for public relations specialists, where the number of people employed is expected to grow 23 percent. That rate is faster than the average for all occupations.

The outlook handbook also states that future growth will come from the traditional role of public relations specialists serving as the communication agents for organizations. That increase will also be fueled by the growth of new technologies and social media.

Table2_JobsRegarding advertising, the bureau stated that students going into advertising sales can anticipate a 13 percent growth rate from 2010 to 2020. That number is about the average rate for all occupations.  Fewer positions will be available in newspapers, but those losses will be offset by increases in online and television advertising.

The employment outlook for those interested in journalism varies a great deal.  The overall prediction for media reporters and correspondents is for employment to drop eight percent between 2010 and 2020. However, the bureau believes demand for broadcast news analysts is expected to increase 10 percent. This is due to demand from news agencies for reporters to analyze news rather than just commentating or reporting it. According to John Morris, a radio and television instructor at the University of Southern Indiana, careers in most facets of media are increasing.

“I am seeing more broadcast jobs than in the past few years…in some cases, many more jobs,” he said. “The same can be said for PR. As for journalism, on the TV side there are openings.

Regarding the newspaper industry, Morris concluded, “As we all know, newspaper journalism is going through many changes, but there are jobs in small markets.”

As with public relations and broadcast news, the bureau’s outlook for job growth in the radio industry regarding announcers is increasing—for now. Projected growth currently is at 7 percent, although that is a slower rate than other media professions as well as the national average. The main culprit for this slow growth is the use of voicetracking and prerecording segments.

Through voicetracking, an announcer can provide an on-air presence without actually being in the radio station. In some cases, voicetracking is done at a studio hundreds of miles away. Thus, the use of such technology eliminates the need for disc jockeys at a station 24 hours a day and, therefore, eliminates employment opportunities.

However, the bureau noted that the influence of local radio stations may contradict this data. With the advent of satellite and national radio networks, local radio stations may include more locally-based on-air talent to provide community news and information.

Essentially, the radio industry is at a crossroads. On one path, advances in voicetracking and technology have almost eliminated the need for locally-based talent. Radio stations can preserve revenue by not paying someone to sit in a studio for an entire day. Another path suggests that the more local radio stations emphasize localized, community-based information, the more appeal and influence those stations will have with an audience as a source of news and community events. The future of the radio industry and the radio profession will depend on which path ownership and management steer their stations toward.

While the rate of growth for various mass communication specializations will vary, none of them are likely to disappear any time soon.  Students need to actively prepare for the employment search. Students can bolster their chances of obtaining a job in the mass communication field by creating a marketable, well-rounded body of work to present during the interview.

In a 2012 Poynter article, Matt Thompson cited 10 key factors that can help or hinder a student’s chances of working in the media industry. One factor is that students should not take job descriptions at face value. They must have a keen eye for key words and phrases that may give insight to additional details about a job opening or employer.

Regarding social media, Thompson said students should be aware that some employers may do searches for their work or to gauge background information and social media behavior about the applicant during the hiring process.

In conclusion, although supply and demand determines the availability of employment opportunities in all aspects of the media industry, it is up to the students themselves—through well-rounded, professional experience—to create the opportunity for employment in the media field.


mk-Kyle Miller
Kyle Miller

Kyle Miller is finishing his M.A. in Communication Studies at the University of South Dakota. He will begin PhD school at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication in August 2013 as a graduate teaching assistant. At USD, he is a graduate assistant with the Department of Contemporary Media and Journalism and serves as the advisor of KAOR-FM, the USD campus radio station. He also works as an in-studio technician with KLGA Radio in Algona, Iowa.

Charles Lubbers

Charles (Chuck) Lubbers, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Contemporary Media and Journalism at the University of South Dakota.  Prior to his move to USD in July of 2005, he was the Assistant Director of the A. Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University in charge of graduate education and research.

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