Watching the Magazine Biz, and My Life Plans, Crumble

    Exactly one year and two months from now, I’m slated to graduate early from UCSD, in the shortest period that I could possibly have finished my laundry list of Eleanor Roosevelt College general-education requirements. People rarely understand why I’m so impatient to leave California’s crown jewel of sunshine and sandy shores. “But college is the best four years of your life!” they say.

    Maybe for some. As for me, I’ve had more than enough of my zero-practicality communication classes. I’m tired of riding the shuttle to and from and around our exhaustingly huge campus. I’m through with the socially sluggish weekends. A couple quarters in, and I just wanted to get the hell out. My greatest joy on this campus was Cafe V. carrot cake, and the last seven times I checked, they don’t even sell it anymore.

    I had it all figured out: Complete several internships by the start of my senior year. Informational interview like there was no tomorrow. Secure some solid freelancing gigs. Apply for open positions during the summer months. I was determined that by December 2009, I would not be “that college graduate” — you know, the one whose descent from the commencement stage is accompanied by the realization that she has no solidified plans for the future? That she’ll likely be living under her mother’s roof paying $200-per-month “rent” as she fulfills the roles of alarm clock, chef and housekeeper?

    Yeah, not me.

    On my road map of postcollegiate life, I had the brilliantly unique notion that I’d move to New York City, official breeding ground for us pretentious writer types, who consider ourselves original in our rejection of corporate America and the status quo. Sure, my sodium intake would be off the nutritional-facts charts from all that ramen, but at least I’d have the seedlings of a career in place, and after a few years, I’d be financially OK. I had a game plan for making it in the magazine world, and it was going swimmingly well.

    Of course, that’s before the economy started to unravel. Before already weak ad sales plummeted further. Before — nobody lose it now — CosmoGIRL! magazine folded last week.

    I was devastated. In many ways, CosmoGIRL! is everything that my future profession stands for. Some little girls obsessively plan their wedding day and imagine walking down the aisle. I obsessively laid out my career and envisioned my very own “Devil Wears Prada” lifestyle. (I know, I know. I’m a walking cliche.)

    Don’t get me wrong — certainly, “What Your Handwriting Says About You” quizzes and Q&A sessions with the Jonas Brothers do not hard journalism make. It’s not the loss of Cosmopolitan’s little sister in particular that I mourn. The demise of that once top-selling publication that made a monthly appearance through my tween years prefaces the demise of something bigger and better: print media.

    The setbacks the print industry has been experiencing are ones that even Brangelina offspring and the most jaw-dropping Heidi Montag cover lines can’t salvage. Big names have folded right and left: Jane, Quick & Simple, Elle Girl, Teen People. Just last week, the New York Times laid its Metro section to rest.

    While reporters have been notoriously underpaid throughout history, there has, at the very least, been a consistent need for writers who, for lack of better words, know their shit. We’ve always needed reporters who will dig unflinchingly for a story, advocate the consistency of AP style and demonstrate their allegiance to the inverted pyramid. As print media heads obediently to the graveyard, however, many of those standards — and the jobs they call for — follow suit.

    The point is — in the current state of things, my prospects of becoming a magazine journalist are looking pretty slim. Call me naive, but in my mind, graduating with a degree from a top university once translated into job security and a livable income. Far too quickly, that one-time safeguarded bridge between academia and the professional world has begun to fall apart. (Whatever happened to quality assurance?)

    In a most prominent example, one of my magazine-intern friends graduated with a journalism degree from Pace University this past June. Despite being located in New York City, the media capital, and having back-to-back internships throughout her four years in school, she just isn’t faring well in the real world. As she wrote on my Facebook wall yesterday: “With the market this year, no one is really hiring me. I have the experience of an intern but can’t even get an internship because I’m not eligible for college credit. I work at Red Mango in the mean. It’s a Korean frozen yogurt place.”

    I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or hide in a hole hoping the industry would experience an upturn. (Then again, I suppose if one must be poor, one ought to be poor with access to unlimited frozen yogurt.)

    For these past few months, I’d reasoned that there was in fact no reason to prolong my undergraduate studies once I’d finished my required classes. I’d been all too ready to dive into the deep end, to toss the course readers and WebCT printouts aside and to search for my professional niche in the big city. But suddenly, even a date 14 months away seems a little too close for comfort.

    There’s no guarantee that the market will look any different after a few more quarters — but why expedite my educational studies? Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with taking my time here to rediscover a couple more months as Unemployed Student before attempting to take on Trailblazing Careerist full-time. As I wade around in the shallow San Diego waters, I start to think: Maybe the kiddie pool isn’t so bad after all.

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