7.17.2009

Richard Sine: "Close the J-Schools"


Richard Sine over at Huffington Post made a bold statement on his blog today: all journalism schools should close their doors. Hmmm...interesting. Let's read on. 
Shocking news from the halls of academia: Forbes reported earlier this year that enrollment in graduate journalism schools is booming. These kids are paying upwards of $70,000 (the cost of Columbia's J-School, including living expenses) for a ghost's chance of landing a job, at pitiful pay, in an industry that is rapidly collapsing. What's going to be the next hot field in graduate study? Blacksmithing? Bloodletting? Steamship design?

I don't meant to offend anyone from the noble field of steamship design, where there is actually a lot to learn. Journalism is not a profession like engineering, medicine or even law. You can pick up most media skills on the job, or with a few hours of instruction. If you screw up, nobody dies, and nothing collapses. This is why so many — perhaps most — journalism pros have built successful careers without touching J-school, and why many of them considered a J-degree a dubious credential even in the field's heyday.
OK, fair enough. I completely agree that journalism graduate school is not always worth it. I can't think of anything with journalism that I would want to do that would require me to go get a master's degree other than than boost my ego. Journalism is a skilled based industry: either you know how to write, report, edit, take pictures and design pages, or you don't. The end. 
But I think Sine's argument is a little too vague and alarmist. First, journalism school doesn't imply graduate school. I have a bachelor's degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Sine makes it sound like the only way to get a degree in journalism is to pay $70,000 to go to graduate school. Not true. I went to a state college and got a great liberal arts education that was focused around journalism. I don't feel like I wasted a bit of my (and my parents) money. 
Is it possible that I could have skipped journalism school and been just as good of a writer? Maybe. But there are definitely perks to getting the education. As Sine said, much of what journalists learn can be picked up in the field. But does anyone really want to hire someone who is going to have to learn on the job? That means mistakes, corrections to publish, possible libel suits and possible damage to the publication's reputation. Why do you think you need a journalism degree to even get in the door?
UNC-CH has a very experience-based J-school. I had classes where I covered a beat, created and designed a magazine, wrote columns and published an online newspaper. This gave me the chance to make mistakes and learn from them without having to worry about whether I would keep my job or how much ad revenue the publication was going to lose. All I had to worry about was my grade. 
I also learned a lot from talking with my professors, who Sine described as "old-media refugees who made the desperate leap onto J-school faculties in response to buyouts or layoffs." Sure, this is true for many professors. But does that mean that the wisdom they've gained and the experiences they've had won't help me when I'm looking for a job or working at a paper? Sine says that these "old-media refugees" can't even help students get connections in the journalism world. I beg to differ. In my job search, my most promising leads have come from former professors who hear about job openings around the state. They're still well connected. 
Also, Columbia University doesn't exactly represent the average journalism graduate program. The University of California-Berkeley offers their graduate program for exactly $0.00 for in-state students. For out-0f-state students, a whopping $14,694. My alma mater? An unbelievable $4,198 for in-state and $10,417 for out-of-state. Sine should do a little more research before he starts throwing out wild claims. 
Finally, I'm tired of the alarmist doomsday statements that many journalists are making about the industry ("...an industry that is rapidly collapsing. What's going to be the next hot field in graduate study? Blacksmithing? Bloodletting? Steamship design?") I've said it many times before and I'll say it again: journalism is not dying, it's changing. Major newspapers are dying, huge media corporations are dying, but the industry is not. My guess is that journalism is going to move to a more community focus and/or online. I especially think it's interesting that he would claim journalism is dying on HuffPo, a new media giant that might as well be the poster boy for the future of journalism. 
Journalism schools are preparing for the shift in the industry. Everyone's not just sitting back praying that newspapers will just start thriving again. I took a blogging and social media class on top of creating an online newspaper while in school. Many new classes are being offered that aim to teach students about new media or new skills that could become valuable in this new era of journalism. Anyone interested in getting into journalism would be much better off with this type of education.

2 comments:

Kelsey said...

I think you hit on a lot of excellent points. I learned a lot about journalism from internships, but without the J-school I wouldn't have the skills to get started at those jobs. And as far as the argument about washed up journalists turned professors-doesn't every degree have professors like that? I had some excellent professors, many of whom worked freelance outside of teaching. I totally agree that journalism is changing, not dying. Journalists nowadays just have to be savvy with online and print tools like social media, videos, etc. I say long live the J-Schools!

Corey said...

Exactly, Kelsey. You can't even get your foot in the door without going to school and it's because you're more prepared.
And you're right, most schools have washed up professionals that come back as teachers. UNC's J-school has plenty of professors that are still doing good journalism work.