After reading this New Republic article by Michael Lewis, I was struck by how much the journalism industry has changed since Lewis wrote in 1993.
In his article, Lewis accuses j-school (or at least the Columbia School of Journalism, where he gathered material for his story) of being a disseminator of jargon and false promises, a waste of money for aspiring reporters hoping to break into the industry. He quotes news editors who insist that j-school does not make a difference in hiring new talent, and in fact sometimes detracts from the applicants that list j-school programs on their resumes.
I can see how, in 1993, j-school perhaps wasn’t necessary for most aspiring journalists. Real experience counts for a lot, and if a writer could land an internship or job out of college, they could slowly begin to build their career. Plus, it’s tough to teach good writing (even at Columbia) if a student doesn’t have the knack for it. I get that. However, I also can’t help but wonder how much Lewis draws upon his own experience to inform his opinion of j-school. After all, he graduated from Princeton in 1982 with a degree in Art History and went on to become a journalist and a writer. No j-school degree helped him achieve his success.
But the industry has changed, and so has the economy. Now, having other skills besides reporting and writing makes journalists much more attractive in the job market. And for students like me, who were unable to major in Journalism during their undergraduate careers and did not gather a ton of clips, enrolling in a graduate j-school program seems like the perfect way to gather the additional skills and experience needed to find a job. At Syracuse, I will be learning some graphic design skills, which will enable me to understand typography and basic design principles of print layouts (and help me make a fancy resume). I’ll also take a formal class on ethics - rather than just winging it, which can lead to trouble - and I’ll learn how to use social media effectively as a tool to publicize my writing, crowdsource for research, and maximize the visibility of my employer or publication’s work on the Web. J-school is no longer just about learning some fancy jargon, obsessing over proper grammar and spelling, and writing weekly articles on topics that don’t matter. J-school - or, at least, Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications - provides journalists with the experience and skills needed to keep them afloat in the tumultuous, mashup, print-digital-iPad industry that will continue to evolve and change after graduation next year. And when I leave Syracuse in July 2013, I’m excited to know that I’ll be prepared to meet the demands of this brave new world - and contribute my own unique perspective to it, using the knowledge of graphic design, social media, writing, and editing that I’ve gained during my time at j-school.