Last week an article appeared on student journalism site Kettle, where final year magazine journalism student Vicky Finn reflected on her four years at university, coming to the ultimate conclusion that her degree was a pointless waste of time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it provoked a storm of debate on twitter, with student journos all over the country arguing for (and against) their studies. Finding myself sat at home in my room in Devon, I couldn't help but wade into the debate and asked to write a retaliation argument, which you can read below. I'd be really interested to see what you all think of both arguments, seeing as you're all students of journalism yourself!
If someone asks me what I do with myself, I tell them that I’m a journalist. If they push me a little further I’ll tell them that that I run my own successful media company, write freelance for a few places and am in the second year of a journalism degree. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was the latter of these things that helped me land the first two and that it will be the key element in landing me a job when I graduate next year.
Journalism degrees have always been a contentious subject. Are they a meaningful qualification or a useless pile of mumbo jumbo? Should you just take a good degree in humanities and do a masters or an NCTJ short course after? Do you even need a degree at all? It’s fair to say that taking a journalism degree isn’t the most historically conventional route. Most people in the industry will have trained on the job or got a solid degree first.
But times have changed and a journalism degree is a perfectly legitimate route into the profession.
That’s not to say a journalism degree is all you need to get your foot on the ladder. If you’re looking at it as in easy in then that’s your first mistake. Spending three years getting drunk and not much else, whatever your degree, is not going to do you any favours. Sure, there’s a good percentage of nights I’ve lost to the gin monkey (ask anyone who knows me and you’ll discover that my name is almost synonymous with the stuff), but it never was the defining part of my university experience. I came to university to be journalist. It’s the reason I still wake up for 9am lectures when my head is banging like a bongo drum and the reason I’ll take voluntary social exile for as long as necessary to get the grades.
Good journalism degrees don’t pretend to be all you need to land a job—they work alongside a bucket-tonne of work experience and NCTJ qualifications to give you an extra advantage above everyone else.
So what’s the point then, you may ask, if you need all these other things anyway? But that’s a bit like saying you’re only going to do one work experience placement because you can maybe get away without doing the extra work of two. It works, but only if you’ve got the motivation and drive to make it work.
Studying journalism is about more than learning how to sharpen your copy and produce something meaningful when you wave a camera around. It’s also about gaining a deeper academic understanding of how the media works, with all the historical background, ethics, politics and law that comes to boot. Of course you can’t teach someone to be interested in journalism, but neither can you “teach” someone to be interested in literature, science or any other degree for that matter. What you can do, however, is teach them how to best use that interest. That way when they do carry out a stint in industry it’ll mean much more than learning who likes sugar and milk in their tea.