Sunday, April 4, 2010

Degrees of journalism

IN HIS FRIDAY BLOG, former Baltimore Sun copy editor John McIntyre goes off on a tweet on Twitter. The tweeter — Mr. McIntyre might call him a twit — said that a media person wasn't a journalist without a journalism degree.

Mr. McIntyre disagrees. He had a 30-year copy-editing career without benefit of a J-school degree. His school? Apprenticeship. He learned from established and talented copy editors.

Some newspapers smile kindly on a job candidate bearing a journalism degree, and, yes, I got a J-school degree for that reason. Did it get me my first job, or any job after that? No one ever said. But from what I've noticed, I agree with Mr. McIntyre. I've met some wonderful newspapermen who learned on the job without the benefit of a journalism degree. In fact, I learned early from a woman who had two arts degrees and a man who boasted a geology degree.

While I was in college, I worked at the Radford (Va.) College school newspaper, the interestingly-named Grapurchat (named reportedly because the school's original colors were purple and gray and the first editor was chatty). And I worked at the Radford College Office of Information and Publications. I learned a ton more there than I did in class.

Looking back, I might have double majored in journalism and something else I liked (perhaps choral singing) or minored in journalism. In the end, the work was more important in my growth than classes. Let me amend that: I loved Charles Milsaps' classes (boy, I hope I spelled his last name right; it's been a long time), and I learned a lot. Charles was a little like Ducky on NCIS; he even looked a bit like David McCallum. But he was amazed by how much I had improved in two years, and that's attributable to me working at the college newspaper and in the college information office.

Here's some free advice: You get out of college what you put into it, and a journalism degree can be useful at a lot of places other than a newspaper (or magazine) office or a radio or TV station.

And if you really want to be a copy editor or sports writer, don't let a philosophy degree (or an animal husbandry degree) get in your way.

But remember: Newspapers are laying off copy editors and reporters by the thousands. It's a tough business nowadays.

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1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... If only I could learn on the job. Now, there's a thought! Finishing an AS in criminal justice right now but wanted to go back and start a journalism degree. I looked at the classes I'd need, the time it would take going part-time, and being a single mother at 40, it would take way too long! At least I know you can get into the world of journalism without a degree in journalism. Seems to good to be true though, lol...