What journalism school is really like
12:13 PM |

It struck me today that we have never been formally introduced. We know names and places, but what comes next in the standard procedure introduction.

“What do you do, are you in school?”
“Yes, actually I just finished my journalism degree last week and I graduate this spring.”
“Well, congratulations, was that at Carleton?”
“Yes it was.”
“Wow, that’s a tough program to get into, and they’re quite well known for their journalism aren’t they?”
“Yes, and it’s every bit as tough as it’s cracked up to be.”

But now that we’ve gone through what every relative, coworker and acquaintance and I have gone through, let me tell you what journalism school is really like.

First of all, many of the reporters you see on TV and whose byline you read in print do not have journalism degrees. I agree: you totally don’t need one. Today’s college programs and one’s independently acquired journalistic aptitude are fine tools to be equipped with when harassing a news agency for a job. My brain is best suited to learning in an academic environment, so I chose to go the university route to learn more about law, history and alcohol consumption en masse.

My journalism class started with something like 250 avid note-taking, newspaper reading keeners who scored some of the top grades in their high school. At our graduation ceremony this spring, something like 75 will receive journalism degrees. Many dropped out, many more were kicked out for not maintaining the requisite grade cutoffs. We went through news quizzes that ask questions like, “What is the name of the Colombian government rep in town this week?” and “Who is the Sens’ goalie?”

Reading newspapers and watching newscasts was a requirement, we were told at the beginning of every semester.
“Read six papers a day, listen to CBC radio every morning, memorize the CP style guide like it’s the Bible.”
This never happens. Yes, I read the news online and sometimes put on the 24 news channel. But it wasn’t until I developed and honed a curiosity, a need to have my questions answered, that I was motivated to meet my prescribed news absorbing quota. (The New York Times and BBC online are my favourites)

I did something different than many of my fellow J-Schoolers. I worked in media. I interned at the Hill newspaper and developed a love affair with federal politics, Hill gossip and poll results. I freelanced to city papers and earned a few dollars. More importantly, I learned how many more people were willing to answer questions when you prefaced them with, “I’m from the Sun,” as opposed to, “I’m calling from Carleton journalism school…” (Which inevitably leaves one ready to poke one’s eyes out when no one calls back and a deadline is looming.)

I got national coverage for stories, I informed people, I became a mini-expert in a few topics for short periods of time. When discussing current events with older family members, I gloriously became the authority who could say, “Well, I was there and…” or “Actually, I talked to the former prime minister, and he said…”
I went to journalism class with confidence to know not just how to make phone calls but how to make phone calls that reach the right people and warrant interview results.

Some of my classmates competitively clawed their way to the top. I was too happy to stay in the middle, make friends, cooperate, ask questions when I didn’t understand, because it meant I didn’t want to shoot myself with stress overloads. There was enough inherent stress in the program’s tight deadline structure and balancing requirements with other classes and real jobs to meet my personal quota, thankyouverymuch.

Now, I’m on the other side of the program, done the degree. I found passion in writing about seemingly mundane things. I have developed a trained eye for the engaging and the ultra boring stories. I genuinely am thrilled to tell people about what I find out via my exclusive pass as a reporter, and appreciate the responsibility inherent in said pass for explaining things fully and without my own two cents stuck in there.

This program has given me an appreciation for what can be done in a compressed amount of time, what I can possibly learn about an issue when I actively seek out the information for myself, a complex about proper grammar use bordering on insanity, and the pride at looking back at what I can achieve when I work really, really hard.

“So what are you going to do now?”

This question is attacking all of us journalism graduates from all fronts. For part II of this conversation, hold tight, I’m still working on my answer to that one.

Labels: , ,