Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beginning an Education in Journalism

I am nearing the end of my fourth week at U of O. Halfway through my first term I am struggling to process all of the information I have gleaned, and each tidbit seems to lead to a plethora of new questions.

I am currently taking two pre-journalism courses: Grammar for Journalists and Journalism Transfer Seminar.

Perhaps the most notable thing I have discovered in my grammar class is that there is a great deal that I don't know about grammar. A lot of my fellow students seem to dislike the class, and it certainly has its problems (there are 160 students in the class, which meets for 50 minutes three times a week, which does not leave enough time for discussion or answering questions). I, however, find it fascinating. I've always been interested in language, and am excited to gain a better understanding of it.

The seminar consists largely of visits from staff members who speak about the industry and the school's program. One of the recurring themes is "the future of journalism." The program is in the process of changing in order to try to prepare students for the new and different jobs in the field. There's certainly a lot to keep up with, and it must be a daunting task for the faculty and staff.

Last weekend I attended the Society of Professional Journalists' conference Building a Better Journalist. I went to panels on political reporting (this panel included former senatorial candidate Steve Novick, of whom I am a fan), freelancing,the future of the news business, deadline writing, and blogging. Again the major focus seemed to be the tremendous changes that are occurring in the industry. Something else that came up a number of times was the debate over the significance or usefulness of having a journalism degree. Many of the speakers who are arguably successful in the industry did not have journalism degrees, and a number did not have degrees at all. Hank Stern, the news editor of Portland's Willamette Week, who moderated some of the panels at the conference said that whether or not someone has a journalism degree does not make much difference to him when he's making hiring decisions. When I went to the social hour after the conference I spoke with some working journalists from Portland and was repeatedly given two pieces of advice: "double major" and "get an internship ASAP," the points being that specialization and on-the-job experience are of great significance in the industry. Probably more-so than having a degree in journalism.

That said, I do not think that this program is a waste of my time. Even in the pre-journalism classes that I've taken so far I have learned a great deal, and feel much more prepared for a future in journalism. The degree alone may not make much difference when I am job-hunting, but I suspect that the skills I learn, the advice I get, and the connections I make will be of great value. I hope I am right.

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