Posted on April 3, 2008
Advice to journalism students: Forget grad school!
While my internships post is still relatively fresh, I’d like to offer something else to journalism students who are really keen on becoming journalists — and maybe some of you in the newsrooms will weigh in as well.
This post is for your mom and dad, who are pressuring you to go to grad school immediately after undergrad.
I don’t know why your parents think that’s a good idea. Maybe in whatever field they’re in, it’s what people do. Like law. Like medicine. But not in journalism. Not usually.
Inside the university, we have seen a new student groupthink in the past few years — that groupthink is: “I must go to school for two more years after I get my bachelor’s degree, so I can get my master’s degree right away.”
This is sheer frickin’ madness if your undergrad is journalism — unless you DON’T want to be a journalist. If you want to be a lawyer, heck, sure, get out of here and go to law school. But if you want to DO JOURNALISM as your career, your calling, your mission in life — then GO GET A JOB. The sooner, the better.
If you did your undergrad in English, or basket weaving, or political science — then maybe you would benefit from two years in a professional journalism master’s program. That is, the kind of master’s program that is really a lot like the undergrad journalism programs. But if your undergrad is already in journalism, let me wise you up about grad school. You and your parents. Please.
Grad school programs in mass communication come in two flavors. One is a traditional scholarly program. Most people who want to become a journalist totally HATE this kind of program. And they make pretty poor students too, because they HATE their classes. A traditional master’s program is about scholarly research and statistics and mass communication theory. It is not, in fact, about how to be a journalist.
The other flavor of master’s degree program is the professional program. And guess what? It’s very, very similar to most undergrad journalism programs in North America. So you would be, duh, taking the same classes AGAIN. How boring would that be? You would be wasting two years of your life not learning anything new. For what? For a degree?
Let’s talk about how highly editors in newsrooms (print, online and broadcast) value that master’s degree.
Not. One. Bit.
Go ahead, make your mom and dad call some people who know some people. Ask a few real live editors what they look for when they want to hire a new, entry level person. This is the list: Skills, internships, clips, URLs. That’s what they want to see. That is the whole list.
What’s not on the list? Your GPA. No one in any newsroom anywhere will EVER ask you what your grades were. NO ONE CARES out there in the world. (No one except the grad school admissions people, that is.)
And guess what? Salary-wise, that master’s degree will make absolutely no difference in any journalism job. In fact, the other 24-year-olds will be making more money than you — yes, you, the dolt who stayed in school for two extra years.
Grad school has value in other situations. For example, after you have worked in journalism for five or 10 years, you might actually know what you what to study next — maybe political science, sociology, criminology, database design, public health, international policy, or another subject area that would make you a better journalist in a specialization. It takes a while to discover what you like in journalism. Most 21-year-olds don’t know yet. They might think they know (and some do), but give them five years and then ask them.
(I went back to school for a master’s degree when I was 30, and it was fantastic. I took six credits in computer animation, learned about guerrilla documentary video, studied human-computer interface design, and read British media studies scholars and French deconstructionists. I would have hated most of that stuff when I was 21, believe me! But everything’s totally different when you’re 30 — my whole approach to school was different.)
I know you love your parents, and they’ve taken good care of you all these years. But this time, they’re wrong. They’re wrong because they have not spoken to any TV news directors or newspaper editors or online managing editors or producers. If they had, they would be hearing what I just told you (and them): No one in a newsroom will respect your master’s degree, and what’s more, there is no reward at all for having it. So why do you want it? Now, when it won’t do you a bit of good? Later, when it would mean something, you won’t want to go back and get a second one.
Journalism is not rocket science. You don’t need a master’s degree to know how to do it, and you won’t do it well until you haul yourself out of school and into a working newsroom. Journalism is learned on the job, and if you’re not prepared to go out and do it after four years in undergrad, maybe you should just give up on it — and go to law school instead.