Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Value of Media Education

Someone circulated a link to a Mediabistro article, "If Your Journalism School Says It Knows What's Best For You, Check It Out," on my department's mailing list. As someone who will be graduating from journalism school this year, I read the article with interest.

Article writer Greg Lindsay argues the following:

You [2005 j-school graduate] thought you were buying a set of skills, credentials, and quality time with the placement office. And you did. But your professors also sold you a mindset, a worldview, an ideology -- one in which newspapers are God's work, bloggers are pagans, and your career trajectory is a long, steep, but ultimately meritocratic climb to a heavenly desk at The New York Times or 60 Minutes. ...

Because journalism as we know it and j-schools are themselves caught up in a larger struggle for relevance. ... You are the only hope for the future they've got; they're desperate to make believers out of you.

Lindsay concludes that j-school professors should acknowledge what they do and do not teach. Are they teaching students to accept Journalism or are they teaching them to be aware of opportunities?

This past school year, my department brought in many established journalists to speak to me and my classmates. The majority had not studied journalism in school. They had degrees, bachelor's and advanced degrees, in areas like English and philosophy. They got involved in journalism because they liked to write, they knew how to get and how to tell a story, and they were persistent.

I decided to go to j-school -- despite warnings from a few people about the usefulness of such a move -- because I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of journalism. I knew I wasn't going to get that anywhere else, not at my age.

I think the days of internships or entry-level positions where one learned on the job are over. I thought I wouldn't be able to get an internship without any journalism experience, and I think my difficulties in finding an internship, even now with j-school experience, attests to how competitive the field is.

So do I regret going to j-school? Maybe I'll feel differently once I graduate and have to start paying off my loans.

At this point, there are certain aspects of school that I'm dissatisfied with. I agree with Lindsay that j-school sometimes struggles to be relevant. For example, there's a magazine production class in the fall. The class that teaches students how to be entrepreneurs -- how to conceive of and develop a new magazine -- is only offered this summer when most students are gone.

At the same time, I'm treating j-school as an experience like any other. There were times when I wasn't happy with my undergraduate experience, but I took out of it what I could. There were times when I wasn't happy with where I used to work, but I took out of it what I could. As with the other institutions I've been a part of, I've treated j-school with a degree of skepticism. So what that I haven't been entirely happy there? I've learned by now that I always have options.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think going to j-school or business school for that matter is partly about branding yourself for the job market. As more people opt for careers in the service industry, market forces inevitably decide on parameters to thin the crowd. So someone with a degree in journalism or business administration will (initially at least) be at an advantage as compared to someone who doesn't. Which is ironic since one would expect that individual creativity would matter more than a degree in such areas.

5:26 PM  
Blogger mlliu said...

That's what I believe, though some people seem to think that a j-school degree can work against you. I guess the thinking is that an editor, in particular one who worked up through the ranks and learned on the job, would think that a j-school degree holder is too snooty or just dumb if he or she had to go to school to learn journalism. But I don't know how prevalent that thinking is among employers.

If one is a freelance journalist, then it's more about one's ideas, one's clips and who one knows because freelancers don't submit their resumes to publications. So I guess in that sense, individual creativity counts the most. I've heard that publications will work with a freelancer, even if he or she does not have much experience, if the freelancer has a fantastic idea.

9:40 PM  

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