Friday, January 27, 2012

journalism vs. j-school.

One of the most underrated arenas of campus life is the field of college journalism. The most challenging obstacle it faces is the belief that it doesn't need to be taken seriously. In my opinion, college journalism is one of the best launching pads for young journalists. You can take risks, cover a smaller environment in-depth, and you can learn the ins and outs of ethics, leadership and creativity. The way I see it, college journalism is a microcosm of the "real world," and if you want to be a "real journalist"...well, take advantage of the opportunity. Your four (or five, or six...) years as an undergraduate will shape your work ethic, and those years are important in creating the kind of journalist and writer you want to be.

But what about grad school, then? Is journalism school necessary?

In a 1993 article for The New Republic, Michael Lewis ventures into the hallowed halls of the Columbia School of Journalism to find the answer for himself. He sits through classes, talks with professors and students, and talks to working journalists as well:
“Whenever I hear someone went to journalism school I immediately assume they are inferior in one way or another,” says Joel Achenbach, who writes the “Why Things Are” column for The Washington Post. “All we do is ask questions and type and occasionally turn a phrase. Why do you need to go to school for that?”  
Post editor Katherine Boo agrees. “It's just a huge hoax,” she says. “I think how you become a journalist is that you write. You don't see any correlation between journalistic education and an ability to write a story. When you get a great piece, and you call the person to see who he is, he never says, 'Oh I just came from journalism school.'”
What strikes me about those comments is the similar ones I heard while at NPR--and this is about eight years after Lewis's article. Multiple senior editors and producers all shared the same belief: j-school is not necessary. It doesn't guarantee you a job. What guarantees you a job is the motivation to pursue the profession and an ability to really write and get to the heart of a story. Experience matters, not a graduate degree.

J-school students will disagree, and they're entitled to their opinions. But I strongly recommend Lewis's article. Hands-on experience matters, especially in our current age of growing technology. You could sit through two, three, four years of j-school learning things, but in a week, something new will pop up and you'll have to learn it all over again.

Gather your years of experience as a journalist and a forward thinker in your 18-22 years. Be bold, take risks, find your voice. Then once you flip that tassel and have that diploma in your hand, get ready to plunge into the workforce. It's an exciting world with a lot of news to cover, so don't spend your time waffling at school. If you want to be a journalist, be one.

1 comment:

  1. I have 6 months of experience in a tiny circle world of automotive journalism that contradicts everything you wrote here. Not saying you're wrong, just in my environment, and in my experience, what you and Lewis wrote is not true.

    Let's talk! :)