I often tell people I’m so crazy that I have two journalism degrees. A lot is said how journalism degrees don’t bring much in today’s media landscape. Even back when I was an undergraduate I was told how journalism degrees were not necessary, and that was in 1999.
Maybe my experiences are different, but I think both of my journalism school experiences were great. They fit me and what I needed.
I attended American University for my undergraduate degree back in the late 1990s. I had a lot of fantastic professors who were working in the industry still or had great connections to it. But the best part was going to college in Washington. The city was my classroom. I got to cover Congressional hearings as a student and there were fantastic internship opportunities available to me. I had a great experience working a semester at the Student Press Law Center as a media intern where I covered all types of student press issues.
I graduated college at a time when it was easier to find a job working at a newspaper, and I had a job before Memorial Day. In fact, I only interviewed for one job and it’s the one I landed. And I was prepared well to take on my role as the editor of my hometown weekly newspaper. Plus my experiences at American is the foundation for everything I’ve done in my career.
I went to Quinnipiac University for my graduate degree in 2005, which was at a much different time in my career. I felt like I was spinning my wheels and the media landscape was quickly changing. I needed to adapt and retool myself to take on the new media world in order to move forward. That’s why I went to graduate school, and Quinnipiac was a great fit for me.
While I had required courses to take, I was able to “place out” of many basic courses because of my professional experiences and even create my own course of study. My professors and adviser (who remains a good friend in the industry) allowed me to adapt my program of study to my needs rather than saying I had to fit a square into a circle. The result was I left graduate school with new perspectives and new skills, and it’s been a big part of the foundation of where I’ve been able to push my career in the years since.
I certainly don’t think journalism school is perfect. I had a discussion a few years ago with my Quinnipiac adviser about how we train journalists. We have students write one story a week, maybe two. But the real world is they’ll be asked to write multiple stories in a day while balancing longer term projects. And that doesn’t include the social media responsibilities and multimedia work they’ll need to do.
We had thought a world where the class was ongoing where students were given rolling assignments was a better fit — real assignments that would be published somewhere. Classes could be part lecture, workshop and news meeting. And connecting classes together where students created longer stories and multimedia projects at the same time associated with what they’re learning with their reporting class, you are creating a much more realistic environment for journalism students. And somewhere social media would need to fit in there too.
It’s just brainstorming without really thinking out the full details of how to make it work. Some colleges are thinking how to create those types of experiences for their students so it’s more like the real world.
And that’s what journalism education needs to be. It needs to allow for students to have the real-world experience they’ll need, not living in a box that’s not like a real newsroom. That can happen in a lot of ways, whether it’s in the classroom or it’s based on location like I had with my experiences in Washington. And journalism education certainly needs to be flexible to each student, like I had as a graduate student. Sure, students need to have the basic skills, but maybe they have other interests that can help them in journalism. Students shouldn’t have to do outside studying or work to try to get where they want to be.
I think all of us have someone in our lives who was helpful to us when we were students. It was that professor or adviser or internship coordinator who helped us be our best. And that’s the thing about journalism, many of us want to pay it forward. It’s why I enjoy teaching and mentoring. I want others to be as blessed as I have been not only with my educational experiences but also on the job.
Though it is a strange experience to go from mentee to mentor. But that’s another discussion for another post.