Is Journalism School Necessary?

Journalism school is a lot like chicken soup, someone once said. It can't hurt. But it's also a big investment of time, energy and money. So, you want to be 100 percent sure before you enroll (and that goes for any graduate school program).
If you've already finished college and have no journalism experience, but one day decide that you want to be a reporter, then going to journalism school might be necessary. Journalism schools are full of former lawyers, teachers, Iraq War veterans and other professionals who wanted a career switch.
Alternatively, you could try breaking into the profession by just reading books and freelancing. But that will probably only get you so far. To land a full-time journalism job, you'll likely need more substantive training.schools of journalism A good journalism master's degree program, even if it's just one year long -- as many are -- will provide that. Before you make the commitment, consider first taking a journalism course at your local university or community college -- just to make sure you like it.
In some cases, it also makes sense for people with a journalism degree and some reporting experience to go to a graduate program of journalism. The rule of thumb is: "Can you get a journalism job you want with your current credentials?" If the answer is no, consider going back to school for additional training.
It will make you more marketable. Instead of starting at a small media outlet in the middle of nowhere covering school science fairs, you might be able to land a job with a more prestigious beat at a bigger media outlet. Of course, even with a degree from the best j-school in hand, there are no guarantees of employment, especially in a skittish economy.

Choosing the right journalism program

If you decide to go to journalism school, look for a modern program that provides a hands-on education from veteran journalists.
Some journalism programs are more theory-based and pedantic in their approach to journalism. Their faculty tends to consist of communication Ph.D.s, many of whom have never worked in the media. They're more interested in researching obscure media-related issues, such as "The Western Media's Portrayal of Dowry Practices in Papa New Guinea," than doing actual journalism.
Sure, such programs may offer courses like Newswriting and Copy Editing. But imagine learning how to write a lead from someone who's never had a newspaper byline? It's silly.
Journalism is like a skill or a trade; you learn it by doing it. That's why the top journalism programs tend to be run by former practitioners (many of whom are still very active in practicing journalism). Their professors usually don't have Ph.D.s, and some of them may have only a bachelor's degree. But they know journalism and you will learn a lot. They'll give you hands-on assignments and provide lots of feedback, so you can rapidly improve your reporting skills.
They have connections to editors, news directors and recruiters at major media outlets all over the country. Their recommendations carry a lot of weight. Such programs also usually have their own career services office, or at least a career services person, dedicated to finding journalism students internships and jobs. Berkeley's and Columbia's journalism schools are such programs.journalism school There are many others.
Second, be sure to find a program that's strong in new media/multimedia journalism. Many journalism students are woefully prepared for the real world because their programs do not teach them the latest skills they need. In addition, some programs are using very outdated equipment.
With the growing popularity of the Internet, gone are the days of print-only or TV-only newsrooms. Media companies no longer have to wait for the evening broadcast or tomorrow's edition to report the news. Almost all media outlets are breaking stories on their websites, and the news cycle has become 24/7.
Journalists need to change, as well. Instead of thinking of themselves as only print journalists or only broadcast journalists, they need to think of themselves as journalists, period. They must be able to report the news in publication, online and in front of a microphone.
City University of New York has a new journalism school with a wonderful multimedia curriculum. And, because it's a public university, it's relatively affordable. Too many journalism schools, including some of the well-known ones, however, are stuck in 1999. They aren't teaching students the new media skills they need, such as web design, podcasting and video editing.

Don't fear the future of journalism

If you decide to pursue a career in journalism, be prepared for significant changes. But don't be afraid of what the future may bring. The media is in a state of flux right now. That's nothing new.
The history of journalism is a history of technological change. Don't be scared away from the field by doomsayers who predict newspapers and network TV will soon die. Sure, the way journalists do their jobs may change, but there will always be journalism and a need for journalists.
And, you can always use your journalism degree to do something else. The skills you learn as a journalist (researching, efficient writing, listening and observing, interpersonal communication, critical thinking, etc.) are easily transferable to and valued by many other professions.


Blogger Paul Chimera said...

The biggest issue for any new journalist is fundamental writing skills. You can talk until the proverbial cows come home about new media, multi-media, convergence and all the rest. But what consistently matters most is the ability to write a cohesive, grammatically-correct sentence -- a skill woefully lacking among an astoundingly large percentage of students today, no matter what their major.

I'm an independent journalist and adjunct professor of media-writing, and I spend a frankly ridiculous amount of time literally explaining to college communication majors the difference among "there," "their," and "they're." Very sad.

J-school education needs to emphasize good, solid writing skills before anything else. Also, "old-fashioned" note-taking. Voice recorders are fine, but batteries fail and mechanical devices get screwed-up. Beginning journalists need to develop a good, reliable system of taking notes with the time-honored reporter's notebook and pen.

August 20, 2011 at 9:57 AM  

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