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What NCEW members said: from the NCEW listerv beginning August 4, 2003.

ROD DREHER, Dallas Morning News: A friend is concerned about her daughter's journalism education. Her daughter is in a J-school program at a university, but my friend is not impressed by the content of what her child is learning. My friend's view is that her daughter would make a better journalist if she minored in journalism and took a major in something like economics, biology, political science, history, etc.--something that would provide an intellectual foundation for understanding the world.

On the other hand, without a B.A. in journalism, I wouldn't have been able to get my foot in the door in newspapers when I graduated (1989), So I really had no choice in the matter; it was either get a journalism degree or forget working as a professional journalist. Is it still that way in our business? Would a college graduate Who holds a bachelor's degree in (say) economics and a strong clip file from her college paper be able to get on with the business section of a newspaper? Would she have a worse chance than a competitor who holds a journalism degree, but no college training in economics? I really have no idea where our industry is on this issue, but I promised my friend I would inquire. This is not an abstract issue for her and her family.

FRANK PARTSCH, retired (Omaha World-Herald): When I studied journalism at the University of Nebraska under Bill Hall and Neale Copple in the 1960s, I felt that the study of journalism by implication included a great deal of intellectual foundation in understanding the world. Neale and Bill were journalists in the Compleat sense of the term, teachers who knew and taught that journalists must be generalists. The important thing isn't getting a major in history, they would teach, but being a lover of history.

Having a mind curious enough to report accurately on nuclear fission and (they would have said) DNA. This is not to say that I am going to argue for a journalism degree, even though I have two of them. I have found that some of the most important aspects of my formal education were the physics, chemistry, and zoology courses I took as a pre-med major before my work on the campus newspaper persuaded me that I had been born with a journalistic orientation that could not be turned. We all can name some of our most admired colleagues and discover that they never darkened the door of a journalism program. And we can find others who did.

TERENCE SMITH, Soginow News: Friends and colleagues ... The quick answer is no. As a J-school grad, I offer two (or three, depending on how you count) words: H.L. Mencken. His idiosyncrasies wouldn't fly today. He was from the engage, enlighten, and impugn school. But we need thinkers who can write. J-schools, if they are doing their job, can teach the writing part. But the thinking is another matter. My J-school experience was fine (Michigan State), but the weird classes I took--weird according to my college mates--have helped me in the long run.

DAN RADMACHER, Herald-Tribune, Sarasota, Florida: I minored in journalism with a B.S. in psychology, then went on and got a graduate degree in journalism. I'm not sure that was totally necessary, though it did give me the editorial writing experience at a young age that led me into this field. Journalists, even more than everyone else, benefit from a broad liberal arts education. Your friend's daughter will be "trained" in the skills of a journalist on her college newspaper and her first job or two. What she should strive to get from her college education is a good grounding in all the basics--literature, science, economics, etc.-and a love of learning that will motivate her to keep reading, keep listening, keep seeking out knowledgeable people for the rest of her life. Then she'll be a good journalist.

J.R LABBE, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: As the recruiting editor at the Star-Telegram, I can say that a degree is almost mandatory; a degree in journalism less so. But that's at the level of a Star-Telegram, where we rarely hire recent college graduates (unless they have stellar internships). What will be important for your friend's daughter's career opportunities is the work she does on her college newspaper (I'm assuming print medium, and that may not be the case), not the work she does in her J-school classes. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, show me the clips.

JOHN MCCLELLAND, journalism professor at Roosevelt University, Chicago: Major? minor? neither? campus publication? internship? Yes, depending .... The overall education matters most. Good colleges strive for balance between majors and general education. We are typical: at least two-thirds of the bachelor's degree must be out of the major. At one point, an accrediting standard was 90 (of 120-plus) hours, but with a lot of weasel room. Some of us encourage double majors.

The quality of the journalism preparation matters more than the amount. That's one reason Northwestern's Meditl School, Columbia (NY) and several others (including us) offer master's programs for people with unrelated bachelor's degrees. And it's why people say it's so important to have school publication work, a good internship, or both. Blanket requirements tend to overlook realities. The editor who insists on a J-degree may miss the best prospect at any given time. The one who presumes that J-schools teach bad habits may miss the graduates who somehow magically got good habits.

The proportion of early-in-the-career jobs requiring some sort of college degree is way up. The proportion of entry-level hires involving a J-major is up, too, but (appropriately) only about half. Trying to step aside from my institution's interests, I think it a blessing that new hires generally are a mix of backgrounds. Perhaps the industry and society would be better served by an even more diverse mix.

We see industry leaders saying things like "Give us people who think and read, who can write, and who know enough to respect journalistic principles like truth; they can learn details on the job" And then we see their working editors place numerous ads that seem to ignore these things and say things like "Quark [or Dreamweaver] experience required" How sadly short-sighted.

LAN NY KELLER, Baton Rouge Advocate: I'd throw out another point: Is the argument about liberal arts or science education better for editorial writers than it would be for the daily grind of reporting? I've had great luck hiring good people with both kinds of degrees, but the editorial page I'd suggest is one place that really benefits from the broadest possible education v. technical training. In today's "convergence" world, though, is J-school training in broadcast/Net forms better for the future? Don't know the answer yet.

JEFF WlNBUSH: Gee, I hope not. I majored in Political Science and minored in Journalism and left college before getting a degree in either. For the longest time I thought not having a degree in journalism made me a fraud, but once I started freelancing I began to realize that wasn't the case. J-schools are important and they can be an invaluable aid in learning how to write. However, if you don't have your heart and soul committed to this work, all the journalism schools in the world can't make you a journalist. I don't have a degree, but I do know how to write a clear, accurate, and coherent story, hit my deadlines, and do my job. I'd probably be further along if I had the degree, but if I didn't love what I do that piece of paper would be worthless.

FRED FISKE, Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York: My daughter Molly (of whom I am rather proud, in case you don't notice), graduated with a degree in social studies and got a job right out of college at the Palm Beach Post. (She's now at the Raleigh News and Observer.) How? She did news internships for four consecutive summers (Schenectady, Miami, Boston, Raleigh) and worked for her college paper until she was mandatorily booted off in her senior year, as an executive editor.

So she had a clip file with legs, a network of journalism veterans for references, and tots of news-writing experience. Her old dad, by contrast, majored in history and emerged with few marketable skills (other than his sparkling personality). He labored in obscurity for a couple of years, then went to graduate school and got a quick MS Journalism. That opened the doors, so that he could continue to work in obscurity, this time in journalism. I think my daughter's experience shows that you don't need a journalism degree to get a newsPaper job-as long as you are a canny go-getter who takes advantage of every opportunity to get real-world experience.

PAUL HYDE, Greenville News, South Carolina: I'd like to second Fred's idea of being a "canny go-getter." A J-degree may open some doors but a strong clip file may be even more helpful at the start of a career. I would urge a young person to seize opportunity, even though I'm sounding frighteningly like my Dad as I say that. During college, while majoring in English and music history, I worked for free at the college newspaper and a number of arts and alter native publications to develop a clip file. I also worked as a copy messenger at the Houston Post (where a guy named Charley Reinken was an editorial writer) and I bugged the reporting staff until they let me write something. I used these clips to get a paid job as a photographer and reporter at a weekly. From there, it was a slow slither up the rocky path of opportunity.

By the way, at some point I connected with a group called NCEW, where I was mentored by a couple of helpful pros, including an editorial writer/piano player named Fred Fiske. I would tell a young person to seek out professional groups for advice and constructive feedback.

MIKE SWEENEY, Greenwich Time, Connecticut: Journalism degrees are fine, but knowledge and experience are more important. My undergraduate degree in communication arts was broad-based, giving me understanding of broadcasting, theater and film, as well as written journalism. I got it in 1972, having worked as a part-time commercial radio reporter for three years and a commercial, not student, newspaper reporter for the last semester. I went back for a master's degree in political science (American politics concentration) to help me understand the dynamics involved in what I was covering. The schooling was good, but what I learned working in broadcast and print journalism turned out to be the foundation. When I have been hiring for editing positions, I have not limited candidates for the jobs to people with journalism degrees. Some of my best hires were "unconventional" that way.

That said, I would never discriminate against someone with a journalism degree. But I would urge anyone in college who wants a career in that discipline also to learn about history, sociology, political science, and literature. Otherwise, his or her education will be more narrow than it should be for a reporter/copy editor.

LINDA SEEBACH, Rocky Mountain News, Denver: master's in math, 1962; I apprenticed at the Minnesota Daily 1989-92 while working on a master's degree in linguistics (which I never finished) and went from there to the editorial page of the Los Angeles Daily News. Daily staff got excellent intern ships without regard to their majors--in fact, the J-school students rarely shone at the Daily.

Best bet is to get an education in a real subject.

RON DZWONKOWSKI, Detroit Free Press: I'm with J.R. A minor in journalism is adequate; getting all the experience one can acquire, college paper, freelancing, being well-traveled, etc., matters more.

DAVID KUBISSA, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York: Your advice to your friend is sound. I have a B.A. in English education and an M.A. in journalism and found about 60 percent of the masters courses to be useful in my journalism career. As an undergrad, I shortchanged myself by not taking enough poli sci, econ, and history courses. BTW, some of our best hires here have been people with non-J degrees and a good internship or a stint on their college paper.

MARK MAHONEY, The Post-Star, Glen Falls, New York: We're a paper that's just above the level of accepting kids right out of college. A college degree is absolutely necessary for us, preferably in some form of communications (journalism, TV-R). But English and social science majors are welcome. The key for us is having some form of experience and a pile of good clips, either from the college paper, an internship, or an entry-level job at a weekly or a small daily.

MITCH OLSZAK, New Castle News, Pennsylvania: As someone with a degree in political science, I would respond that a journalism degree is not necessary. But as Rod observes, the degree represents that foot in the door and without it, an applicant may not get a second glance amid a batch of resumes. I've been in this business for 23 years. When I started (at a very small paper) a journalism degree probably wasn't as significant. I actually became a journalist in college, joining the newspaper staff, mainly in an effort to hone my writing skills. It was there that journalism became a calling and I eventually became an editor on the college paper's staff. I wrote a lot and covered a lot of different topics for the school paper. These clips and my practical newswriting and editing experiences are what allowed me to become a real journalist after I graduated. I took one journalism class; I found it to be a waste of time compared to the practical experience of working for the paper.

Today, however, competition for news positions is fierce. I suspect there are more J-school graduates. I would probably have more difficulty finding employment in this field, at least as a beginner.

An aside: I recently attended a state press seminar in Harrisburg where one of the people presenting the program complained about the general obsession of newspapers insisting on J-school graduates. He argued this tended to create bland, sanitized, cookie-cutter newspapers and writing, as well as an elitist view of journalism. I'm not prepared to go that far, but I confess to looking back fondly to the days when I could drink a beer in the newsroom after being up all night covering the local elections. It was indeed a different time and things have changed, not always for the better.

JAY AMBROSE, Scripps-Howard Washington Bureau: There are still a lot of us out there who took no journalism courses in college. I am not opposed to journalism courses, but it seems to me more important for a prospective journalist to devote most classroom hours to such things as history, economics, philosophy, literature, and the sciences. I like the idea of a master's degree in journalism after the bachelor's degree, but understand not everyone can afford it. A good small paper can provide lots of journalism education. I do think it's true that most editors like that J-school degree.

CHARLES REINKEN, Omaha World-Herald: I am a maverick in such matters. I would far rather hire someone with brains and a good grounding in a specialty who had taken some journalism--whether a full-fledged minor or not. This is closer to the British model than to the American variety. But my unscientific estimate is that for most editors, the J-degree remains a sine qua non. Internships might soften their resistance to a non-J-major, though. (Fair warning: I am painting with a broad brush here. Situations vary widely.) I don't know where your friend's daughter is in school, but there has been an encouraging trend in the last decade or more toward J-schools requiring less journalism and more "other." It sounds as if this may not have happened at her school. Is it a possibility for her to take an extra year in school and work toward a double major?

HARRY OVERDUIN, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana: Here are the latest research findings on education and journalists: (You can find the whole thing at Poynter: The American Journalist Survey; Journalists Are More Likely to Be College Graduates: The percentage of journalists with at least a college bachelor's degree continues to increase. It's clear that the four-year bachelor's degree has become the minimum qualification necessary for being hired as a full-time journalist.... Of those with a degree, 36.2 percent were journalism majors in college, a slight drop from 39.4 percent in 1992 and 39.8 percent in 1982. When those who majored in radio-TV, telecommunication, mass communication, or communication are added, the percentage increases significantly to 49.5 percent in 2002, about what it was in 1992. In other words, about half of all U.S. journalists with college degrees have majored in journalism or communication. The largest proportion of journalism majors is found in daily newspapers (43.2 percent), followed by the wire services (36.2 percent), weekly newspapers (32 percent), television (30.6 percent), radio (22.4 percent), and newsmagazines (19.4 percent). U.S. journalists are much more likely to have earned college degrees than the overall adult population in the United States (89.3 percent vs. 25.6 percent) and the overall U.S. civilian labor force (30.4 percent).
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Author:Hyde, Paul
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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