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.