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Columbia Spectator Staff

While the economic downturn and speculations on the death of print journalism are leaving many prospective reporters anxious, Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism is crystallizing its plans for the Tow Center for New Media. The center will be funded by the $5-million donation from the Tow Foundation to the School of Journalism's endowment, which was promised early last year on the condition that the school raises twice the amount by this September. Plans for the center have emerged during a bad spell for the newspaper industry, as newspaper share values, advertising sales, and circulations continue to plummet drastically. Last September the Audit Bureau of Circulations announced that newspaper circulation in the United States had decreased by approximately 5 percent over six months, while Newsosaur reported that share values dropped on average by 83.3 percent last year. Experts have partially blamed this nightmarish decline on the mass migration of readers to online news sources. The Journalism School's initiative may be interpreted as a response to this crisis, but recruiters are hesitant to say that an M.A. in journalism—regardless of an individual's knowledge of new media—is enough to guarantee a job. William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at the School of Journalism and former managing editor at, said that the development of digital media is an inevitable challenge that should be tackled head-on. "The question is how we make [the digital media industry] as strong as possible, rather than how we can try to wring our hands and complain about how things aren't as good as they used to be," Grueskin said. The primary task at hand is to gather $10 million, a prospect that leaves Grueskin optimistic. According to Grueskin, administrators are fleshing out details of "how that center will exist in the school, and how the relationship will be in terms of structure and research." He is hopeful that the formation of the center will bring more expertise to the school. Some students see the school's investment in new media as an appropriate response to journalism's shifting nature. Owen Kibenge, JS '09, who is specializing in new media, said he wants to be a reporter who can tell stories effectively using multimedia, and that writing for the web requires a particularly different set of skills. "You are writing knowing that there are elements competing with the text edition," Kibenge said, adding that his "socks were knocked off" when he heard of the Tow donation. So how much of a leg up will graduates have in the job market with the upgraded new-media education? Grueskin made the case that professional journalism education has become all the more crucial with the development of digital media. "Many news organizations are not that well-equipped to train young journalists with new media skills," he said. Xavier Williams, who is a senior human resources administrator at the Associated Press, agreed that new media education has made journalism school more necessary. Although clarifying that hiring decisions are based more on years of experience than education, he said journalism school graduates "seem more seasoned, and are more likely to have prior working experience" than non-graduates. But Randy Hagihara, the senior editor for recruitment at the LA Times, said that the LA Times offers a variety of training courses for entry-level positions, and that not everyone needs to acquire new media skills. "If we need technicians for, sure. For entry-level reporters, knowing JavaScript is not as important," he said. Like Hagihara, Michael Silberman, the Web site general manager at New York Magazine, did not see new media skills as a prerequisite to clinching the dream job. "New media skills are nice to have, but not essential," Silberman said. Andjela Milic, JS '09, who is specializing in newspaper reporting, said that she will probably never use new media skills, but it is still a good idea to learn them. "You learn math in school—do you ever use calculus?" she said, laughing.

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