What I would say to someone starting to study journalism today

One of my former classmates sent out a query, asking what we’d tell someone who was thinking about studying journalism today. Predictably, a lot of people wrote “Don’t do it!” or “Newspapers aren’t hiring anyone,” or something similar. I never had time to change careers; my IT career essentially started a week after I started taking journalism classes and I was working full-time in IT a good three months before the dean of the school shook my hand and gave me my diploma.

Although I’ve had to explain my education virtually every time I’ve been interviewed for a job, I don’t regret it.

I’m at the point in my career now where I spend a large chunk of my time in meetings. I changed job titles in September or October, depending on how you count, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the words “there’s no policy on that” are a favored roadblock in these meetings. And since there’s never been anyone willing to write policies at those meetings, it’s been a very effective roadblock.

In October I was sitting in one of these meetings with my new boss and someone played the no-existing-policy card on us. And then a light bulb went on. Someone just said that to two guys with journalism degrees. I turned to him and muttered, “We can write that.” He nodded. We hashed out something the next day. It took us about 30 minutes.

He has a CISM, and I’m a CISSP candidate. In a room full of CISMs, CISSPs, and similar certifications, our journalism degrees are what set us apart. We understand risk assessments and mitigations and that the words “subject” and “object” probably mean something very different to people outside that room than inside it. But we’re also the two people in the room who don’t see the prospect of having to write more than a couple of paragraphs as something more painful and dreadful than filing a long-form tax return.

To those guys, the no-existing-policy card is an effective roadblock. To us, it’s an opportunity. We write the proposal, we present it at the first available opportunity, and we get stuff done.

As a profession, journalism faces a lot of challenges right now. There aren’t a lot of jobs, and the jobs that do exist generally don’t pay well. But as a field of study, it’s still extremely useful. Knowing how to write clearly and persuasively is a skill not a lot of people possess. For that matter, knowing how to think like a news reporter seems to make me better at searching Google than some of my peers, for that matter.

There’s just one other thing I’d say to someone thinking about studying journalism today: Choose your minor carefully. Choose something in a field that’s growing, because you may need it.

One thought on “What I would say to someone starting to study journalism today

  • February 5, 2012 at 11:33 am
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    Like you, I work in IT and have a degree in Journalism. I think that background comes in handy for a few reasons. First, simply having a command of the English language has opened several doors for me. Second, the ability to write and document processes is something that a lot of technical people don’t seem able to do. And third, I think the processes and methods taught in investigating reporting really help when it comes to troubleshooting networks.

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