For Journalists Considering a Move to Teaching
What You Need to Know Before You Start
A time comes for many journalists when they think, “I’ve had a good run in this career, and now maybe I should transition to full-time teaching at a university.” Journalism schools and programs definitely need experienced journalists as teachers — but universities have been changing, and requirements for hiring are not what they were 20 or even 10 years ago.
This article will cover salary, education requirements, and workload. At the end, you’ll find a list of common terms used in academic job ads and a few links to academic job listings in journalism and communication.
The dream is that you’ll have the same salary or higher while working only nine months a year. University salaries are lower than you probably imagine, so you might need to sprinkle some reality on that dream — especially if you’re currently working in a big city and have 20 years’ experience.
It can be hard to get information about the salary before you’re selected for an interview. Don’t expect more than $60,000/year to start unless you have unusual qualifications and can negotiate a special deal with the dean or director of the school. Smaller schools pay less. Larger schools don’t always pay more.
A very small number of positions have an endowment attached to them. The salary for those can be significantly higher, but particular experience or achievements will be required to qualify.
Salaries for professors in other fields such as law and medicine are higher than those for journalism professors at the same institution.
Pay raises do not typically exceed cost-of-living increases, so many academics see a notable increase only when they receive a promotion.
Many positions nowadays require you to have a Ph.D. If the job ad says “Ph.D. required,” don’t bother applying unless you have one. The school or department doesn’t have an option to waive the requirement, which is set at the university level. There are some journalism teaching positions that require only a master’s degree (and more rarely, not even that), and the ad will say so clearly if that’s the case.
You might be thinking about getting a master’s degree to make yourself eligible for j-school teaching positions. You’ll need to consider what I’ve said about salaries. It won’t be cheap to get a master’s degree — even online. Even if you land a fellowship with a tuition waiver and a stipend, your student living expenses will almost certainly exceed the total of the stipend. Some master’s programs require more than one year to complete. Some require your full-time attendance (no part-time options).
If you’re thinking about pursuing a Ph.D., the time commitment will be greater. Expect to spend a minimum of three years, and more likely four, full-time. Expect to learn a lot about research methods and communication theory, because that’s the content of a doctoral program in communications, media studies, etc. The point of getting a Ph.D. is to become a scholar, a researcher.
Most important, research and scholarship will be expected if you manage to land a job that requires a Ph.D. The degree is not a teaching credential. It is an indicator that you have successfully completed a particular type of training that enables you to design and conduct original research projects of sufficient quality to be published in competitive, peer-reviewed academic journals.
To get an idea what kind of research is done in this academic discipline, look at the contents of any of these journals:
- Journalism Studies
- Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
- Journalism Practice
- New Media & Society
You can read articles’ titles and abstracts without access to a university library. To read a complete article, try contacting the author and requesting a copy.
Preparing lectures, writing quizzes, and grading student work all take more time than anyone expects. It’s a great idea to teach a regular three-credit course at a college or university to find out how you like it. (Giving a guest lecture is nothing like teaching a full course.)
A common misperception is that a professor who teaches two courses each semester is only working six hours a week. You might be lecturing in front of a classroom for only six hours, but how long do you think it takes to grade 40 assignments? (And it could be more than 40.)
Preparing one 50-minute lecture can take hours. Some courses will need updating every time you teach them.
The number of courses you’ll teach will depend on the individual position. Some lecturers teach five courses each semester.
Another myth is that all professors have teaching assistants who grade the students’ work. Such assistance is not the norm in most journalism and communication departments. You’ll be grading all those assignments yourself.
Factor in the amount of time you’ll spend serving on faculty committees and attending meetings. This varies from school to school, and from year to year, but at some point it will be your turn to take on a heavy lift, with additional hours of work. Committees are part of the required service component of every academic position.
In short, teaching is not a 40-hour-a-week job any more than reporting is. The upside is that in most departments, you’ll have a lot of freedom around when you do your work, so you can make your own schedule.
Common Terms in Academic Job Ads
Adjunct (or sessional): Part-time work with no benefits, little support, and often not even a shared office on campus. Pay is per course and tends to be in the range of $2,000–$3,000 for a full three-credit course, one semester. The amount may be lower.
Course load: How many courses a full-time professor or instructor teaches per academic year. “2/2” means two in the fall and two in the spring. That is a light teaching load, usually associated with an equal requirement for research productivity. See also Research expectation.
“Creative work”: A faculty member without a doctorate might be expected to produce non-scholarly work in her field as part of her job requirements. For a career journalist, this might be reported articles published in regular journalism outlets. The amount of work per year and the measures of quality should be spelled out in your letter of offer. See also Research expectation.
Full time: A permanent, regular job, usually nine months per year (but see Semester vs. quarter).
Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty: Job titles that are different from professor. Usually not tenure-track positions. These positions generally do not require a doctorate. See Rank.
Letter of offer: Academics have standard annual employment contracts in which the terms are the same for everyone. Whatever you’ve been told or promised during the hiring process should be written out explicitly in a letter to you signed by the dean of your college (or relevant hiring authority). Do not accept the job until you’ve got all the terms in that signed letter, in your possession.
“Master’s degree or equivalent professional experience”: When this appears in a job ad, what constitutes equivalent experience is entirely up to the people offering the job. In most cases, it would need to be at minimum five years of full-time, indisputably relevant, paid work.
Nine-month vs. 12-month: Some academic appointments are 12-month (such as department chair). Some schools have 10-month appointments. Most have nine-month appointments, and a nine-month teaching job is full-time. The three months off are yours to do as you like.
Open rank: When this appears in a job ad, the school is free to offer you an entry-level appointment (such as assistant professor) or a higher level, depending on your qualifications. When the job ad specifies a rank, usually the school has no leeway to alter that for the person they hire.
Professor of practice: See Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty.
Rank of assistant, associate, or full professor: The traditional ranks for regular tenure-track faculty begin with assistant professor, which is most often a person who has just completed a Ph.D. and has not had a previous appointment. Associate professor is a promotion, most often awarded after six years as an assistant professor. Professor is the highest regular rank (the word “full” is not part of the title). Many academics are never promoted to full professor, as the criteria are stringent. See also Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty.
Research expectation: For faculty members who have an earned doctorate, usually their yearly research output is equal to their yearly teaching work. The expectation might be expressed as “45% teaching, 45% research, 10% service.” The proportions might vary; at some institutions, the research expectation might be much lower. For some positions, such as lecturer, the research expectation might be zero. Research output is typically measured as the number of published articles in scholarly journals.
Semester vs. quarter: Semesters in North America are fall and spring, with 15 weeks being the standard length for each. Quarters are fall, winter, and spring, with 10 weeks being the standard length. Spring classes on the quarter system might end in early June. On the semester system, spring classes might end as early as late April.
Tenure track: Not all colleges and universities offer tenure, and at those that do, not all positions are eligible for tenure. Tenure is often described as “a job for life,” although it is possible to dismiss a tenured professor for cause. If a position is on the tenure track, requirements exist for gaining tenure and promotion within a specified time period. Many people outside the academy don’t realize that tenure is a two-edged sword: assistant professors who do not meet the requirements for tenure lose their jobs. They are required to leave the university (there may be a one-year grace period). Assistant professors who do meet the requirements are usually promoted to associate professor at the same time they get tenure.
Visiting professor: Not a permanent position. There is rarely any possibility for the school to keep the visiting professor after the specified time.
In North America, the majority of academic jobs will be advertised September–December. The number of job ads will be much smaller the rest of the year.
AEJMC is the largest academic professional organization with journalism in its name: the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Read their job listings here:
The National Communication Association (NCA) publishes job listings online (use journalism as a search keyword):
NCA also publishes relevant statistics about salaries and other aspects of higher-ed jobs:
The Online News Association posts jobs here (use professor or lecturer as a search keyword):
The Society of Professional Journalists provides links to many other sites that publish journalism job listings, including minority journalist associations such as the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association:
This article is published under a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. The name of the creator is Mindy McAdams. The original publication date is July 2021.