Monthly Archives: July 2011

In Defense of The Journalism Degree

The Journalism degree is under attack. The Daily Beast ranked the number one most useless degree. The University of Colorado closed its Journalism school this year. Huffington Post Columnist Richard Sine compares graduate journalism degrees to majoring in blacksmithing or bloodletting.

For me, journalism was the right thing to do, and I landed a job right out of college. But that comes with a disclaimer: I studied a lot of other areas, too. I think a journalism degree alone would have been too easy for me. Even with my extra studies, it took editing a publication and holding three journalism-related jobs to keep me busy by my senior year. Also, in my particular situation, money wasn’t a concern. My jobs paid for all of my housing and living expenses, and a mix between a fund my grandparents had set up for me and scholarships covered school.

The arguments of those calling the journalism degree useless are valid on a systemic level. There aren’t a lot of jobs. There are too many graduates. And, outside of a situation like mine, the degree can be a huge debt.

But here’s my argument: these conditions have combined to make journalism a meritocracy.

The industry has come a long way from the days when, as Jack Shafer pointed out in a recent Slate column, journalists had to be from an Ivy to get a job. Are there still benefits to being well connected? Of course (ahem, Meghan McCain’s Newsweek Internship). But the best way to get a journalism degree these days is to work your ass off. I like that. And that’s what the journalism program at Michigan State University pushed on me. It wasn’t “go through our program and you’re good,” it was “get some internships under your belt and clips in your portfolio and you’re on solid footing.”

Like it or not, we’re in a day and age where you can pay for a top-slot internship. But you can’t pay for a job. Times are tough, and media organizations seek talented reporters, or people whose skills can be cultivated at their organization. In this economy, they can’t afford to hire somebody that’s not already on top of their game.

So it’s probably easier to get a job with an engineering degree, regardless of your GPA, any extracurricular experience or how hard you worked in college. Great. With journalism, as in any tight employment market, you’ve got to work harder or innovate. That doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. And in my opinion, that doesn’t mean the degree itself is useless.

I wouldn’t argue with anybody who said getting a journalism degree was easy. It was. I won’t argue with anybody who said that my degree alone isn’t what landed me a job. It wasn’t. But those who say a journalism degree necessarily equates to a lifetime of poverty and unemployment are wrong.

This is a time of innovation and transition of traditional newspaper models. It’s a time to experiment with paywalls and hyperlocalism and online platforms. It’s a time to cut down on staff, maybe. But it isn’t a time to give up on teaching people basic journalistic principles.

Day 10 – Lessons Learned

This post could alternately be titled “large-scale policy reccomendations being sent to naught but the blogoshepere.” After biking nearly 500 miles in Michigan (disclosure: we got rained/tornadowarninged/thunderstormed out of the race and quit in St. John) there a a few things I’d like to see changed.

1) Driver’s attitudes. I think it’s appalling how many people honk as they’re passing you, give you the middle finger, yell at you or stop their car to confront you. I think a statewide education campaign with the message “bikes have the same rights as cars” would do some good.

The lock from my third stolen bike, cut by SWIPERS.

2) Theft prevention. I’ve had three bikes stolen in East Lansing and not recovered any. That’s ridiculous. Registering bikes by city is a decent idea, but most of those registration stickers get torn off before people post their stolen goods on Craigslist, I’d imagine. I think that cities should consider microchipping bikes, if not create a statewide theft prevention system. Locks of all kinds are easily cut, and now I live in fear of leaving my more-expensive-than-me bike unattended.

5) Infrastructure. Ok, they passed complete streets legislation. But the fact is, we went 70 miles before hitting our first bike lane in Grand Rapids. And the map program we used routed us toward bike lanes if they were available. They’re not widespread, and sometimes roads aren’t built with shoulders.

4) Hand signals. If you’re like me, you look at this picture and think “what the hell?” What’s more scary is that when I used these signals on the road drivers were thinking the same thing. I am a firm believer in the fact that everybody knows you’re going right if you point right. And I refuse to do the real right signal, which is just raising your left hand. I think drivers are more likely to call on me a la second grade than know which direction I’m going.

5) Lazy levels. I’m guilty of driving to my work, a 3.5 mile trip. But I try to bike at least once a week, because I love the environment and the 5lbs of leg muscle I gained on this trip. It was hard to — literally — get back in the saddle after living on a bike for so long, but doing it felt good. My new residence will be about a mile from work, and I plan on biking really frequently.

So there you have it folks, Emily’s recommendations on the official. Biking has been an awesome addition to my lifestyle, and I’ll never regret the 500 miles. Indeed, I hope it’s not my last.