No degree for me

Lately, media news has been dominated by whatever it is that journalists have done wrong this week. I think it’s important to talk about the future as part of that that discussion – how we make sure that reporters have more tools to combat the attacks that they’re facing, and also how we improve the craft so that those attacks happen less often.

The changes we make will be put to the test by the latest generation of reporters, young men and women who are working at their first county paper or who are still fresh-faced journalism students.

Except, they may not have studied journalism at all.

As print readership is decreasing and young readers become increasingly hard to grab, getting a job at a paper or magazine is harder than ever. But some say a degree may not be the only or best way to stay competitive.

Lilly O’Donnell is a young journalist lucky enough to be working – and at the Huffington Post of all places – but she is unsure that her Columbia Journalism School education was the best financial move.

Higher education is looking less like an investment and more like a pyramid scheme.

O’Donnell’s debt may not have been necessary. Bill Cotterell, a recently retired Florida reporter said that intelligence and curiosity matter much more than a B.A. or M.A. On the job training is key:

The easy college credits were nice. But I learned more as a copyboy at the Miami Herald from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

At some widely-read publications, staff may not even have reporting experience, let alone a degree.

Atlantic Magazine has added web developers and doctors to their staff as bloggers and editors, according to a post by the magazine’s digital editor, Bob Cohn. Cohn explains that a journalist’s talent is less about their background than the sort of innate skills they possess:

The best hires possess a kind of creativity and entrepreneurialism that my peers and I surely didn’t have at that age. Today’s young web journalists are learning to frame and write stories in innovative ways. And as smart at they are, they’re also playful, ready to bring some fun to the game.

Cohn juggles a lot as an editor.

This is all encouraging news, perhaps, because those college credits are getting harder to find. Emory University just announced that it would end its journalism program, part of an ongoing trend of closures.

If On the Media really cares about NPR’s liberal bias or fact-checking, it would be smart to look forward, at how and where new journalists are being incubated. Does a diversity of perspectives and more on the job training lead to more sound reporting, or is there something indispensible being taught at school that gives journalists the skills to monitor themselves? Maybe it doesn’t make a difference, but it’s worth investigating in this week’s edition.

Cohn and O’Donnell would be excellent guests on the program. Cohn has a lot to say about the changing landscape and O’Donnell is part of the generation that he’s talking about.


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