Friday, May 19, 2006

Defending J-School

My copyedited version of an OpinionJournal comment.

"A four-year undergraduate education can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000."

In the high, wildly over priced private sector, sure. But not so in public universities like my alma mater Cal State-Northridge, where it it didn't cost me anything to get the highest quality journalism education. While Mr. Last does a good job outlining the upper echelon of sample coursework, he misses the context of a Bachelor's program in anything. And this is, at least 90 semester hours are in the field of general education both upper and lower division that run the gamut of required area subjects. Yes, Hume and Locke for me. End of that, "they don't take a history class" myth. We did. Moreover, we had to have either a minor or a collateral field in another major besides journalism. Mine is in environmental biology, a current and past profession so out of the 130 units for the BA degree only 30 are actual journalism courses in news reporting, mass comm, one in diversity, article writing, editing, graphics and international journalism, plus a required stint at the school paper the Daily Sundial.

The problem of course, is all those high priced graduates, and a handful low low wage jobs. I haven't been able to get one, so a degree in journalism, as you've illustrated adeptly, is no key to anything except ridicule and insult, even from editors if my experience is any indication, which it is for me.

All you have to do is figure out how to live in high falutin America ca. 2006 on 18 to 23K a year if you can get it. These days that's like the chances of an ice cube in the Sahara; or Alaska.

Then again, some of the lucky get jobs without graduating at all, so there you have it.

4 Comments:

Blogger Holly Godarkly said...

Not all j-jobs are so miserly. The big metro dailies, like the Times, pay a living middle-class wage. Unfortunately, those elite jobs are a very small section of the media pool. And, they seem all but unavailable to Cal State grads, based on what I've observed. Despite the high quality of journalism instruction at CSUN (I went there myself), you need one of those high-priced degrees, preferably from a big J-school in the Midwest or East, to even think about making a career at a big paper nowadays.

I think it was easier back in the 1970s-80s for reporters to work their way up, regardless of background. Of the five people I remember who moved up to big media careers over the past decade, not one went to a college with "state" in the title. This is despite the fact that most of the reporters I worked with were state-schoolers. Every once in a blue moon, I saw a state-school grad get hired for a daily beat at an outlying bureau of a big paper (after several years as a small-paper beat reporter), but they were always gone in a couple years.

On the bright side, Cal-staters were at least three-fourths of the newsroom at all the non-metro-dailies I worked on. If a small paper is what you want, you'll have plenty of company there.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for the report Holly. I always get to everything after it's too late. Right now I'd settle for the Livingston Enterprise or the Bozeman Chronicle, but even small dailies seem out of reach. One thing is certain: if you can't get a first job without having a first job you can't move up. You can't get in at all.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Holly Godarkly said...

Hmmm. Bitter though I am, I hate to see anyone prematurely give up hope. Much of my information is a few years old, but I know that small dailies still hire people fresh out of J-school. Usually, you need some real-paper (not student-paper) news clips to be considered, and usually, you have to have gotten those clips via unpaid internships.

However, I've seen dailies hire people who don't even have that, simply because there was an opening, and they had to take the best that came through the door. Non-metro-dailies have high turnover rates. Sure, they'd love someone with lots of experience. Often, the market does not give them what they want. It may just be a matter of spreading your resume and clips far and wide enough that they're present when the opening comes up.

Are you willing to move, say, to northern L.A. County, or the eastern counties like Riverside/San Bernardino? How about the Central Valley? Smaller papers in unfashionable areas are often begging for reporters. Used to be, reporters accepted low pay and sweatshop conditions at small-medium papers believing they were a stepping-stone to bigger and better. It was just a matter of paying dues. Nowadays, many people have clued in that these small media jobs are terminal, unless you've got already got tight contacts in the big-media world. Most of the people who end up in the big-time start out there.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I've cast a wide net and want to get out of California as I've applied to every paper in the state with no luck for three years. I have one clip I earned at a job interview in Idaho Falls last summer. I wrote the story in the afternoon and it was in the morning paper. They paid me $50. I was to be an environment reporter. Keep in mind I'm a seasonal government biologist with a collateral field in environmental biology on my BA. I didn't get the job at $22K. I turn 53 mext week.

I hate to throw this in but they're not exactly trying to recruit 53-year-old white males these days. That tends to be the demographic running the papers. Nevertheless, I expect to land one eventually, the same way I expect my books to eventually sell.

5:04 PM  

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