Journalists Don’t Understand Fair Use & Signs of an improving journalism job market

I’m just back from the 2012 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference in Chicago. It was a whirlwind four days of presenting research, listening to panel discussions and networking with other journalism educators. Among the most fascinating panels I attended was a discussion about fair use hosted by American University’s Center for Social Media. The center earlier this year released a code of best practices in fair use.

A hot topic of discussion at the conference panel on fair use was the recently released paper by American University researchers about journalists’ understanding — or lack thereof – of fair use. Interviews with 80 journalists revealed “significant evidence of delays, decisions to limit coverage and failure to disseminate on the basis of insecurity and misinformation about fair use.” In other words, journalists often self-censor and do the public a disservice by not knowing the basics of fair use.

Fair use rules are intentionally vague because the idea is to weigh the facts on a case-by-case basis. It’s difficult to explain the specifics of fair use in the classroom, as I’ve done many times to students in journalism courses. And it’s easy for journalists to assume that someone else in the news room (maybe the lawyer turned reporter?) will be the expert on fair use. But this is a wake-up call for everyone to inform themselves about a topic that isn’t going away.

Another report released — this one at the conference — revealed that the journalism job market for recent graduates is on the upswing. This is, of course, welcome news, even if it comes with the caveat that “gains in the job market were modest, the researchers said, and 2011 graduates faced job prospects still much more limited than did graduates four years earlier.”

Still, good news is good news when it comes to getting students into actual paid positions in the field they want to be in. Among the main findings from the University of Georgia report:

  • The level of bachelor’s degree recipients’ full-time employment was 53.3%, up more than three percentage points from the same date in 2010.
  • The percentage of journalism and mass communication bachelor’s degree recipients who found a full-time job in communications increased slightly, from 52% in 2010 to 54.8% in 2011.
  • More than seven out of 10 of 2011 bachelor’s degree recipients reported that they had the skill when they completed their studies to write for the web, edit for the web, use and create blogs, and use the social media professionally.

Lots of other interesting nuggets from the report, which is required reading for current students and educators preparing students for the workforce.

 

 

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