It won’t hurt but you can probably make it without one
Degree or no journalism degree both pathways can lead to success but many professionals I talked about their journies into the profession said the degree was secondary.
I was shocked by a recent comment from a colleague of mine who pursued a journalism masters. She said it was expensive, grew her network but she wouldn’t do it again.
TNW's tech journalist Matthew Hughes said “he’s never worked alongside someone with a journalism degree” in a recent article outlining the home truths about breaking into tech journalism.
I have a bachelors in journalism but added a master's in international studies to make my pursuit for journalism more attractive. The bachelor’s got me internships but no jobs and I felt like I needed a specialism.
I wouldn’t say specialism is the key but it certainly helped.
The days of working a local newspaper, learning the craft on the job and getting moderate pay are far and few between but not impossible. There’s a growing call for more locally-based journalism to create the necessary glue to keep democracy alive at a local level and both philanthropists and tech companies are putting money towards the cause.
The time might be right to pursue the local avenue.
Generally, I agree with Hughes that to make it in journalism (not just tech, in his case) you need:
*financial resources to keep you afloat while you build your portfolio
*a person that takes a gamble on you although you’re inexperienced
*a passion for a meta-topic like economics, culture or technology
That constellation is mostly luck - like someone taking a gamble on you and having money under the mattress - but it's also in your control. If you’re not lucky enough to have parents to help you out while you intern and build a portfolio, you’ll need a job that pays the bills while you work journalism gigs on the side. You choose the meta-topic you want to tackle, you can take steps to go out an meet people that might help you along.
If you’re still floating around and don’t know what you want to write about, find a focus. A lot of journalists I know were engineers, science majors or came out left field and put their knowledge to work writing on these topics. I picked international law, peacekeeping and the political economy.
This begs the question: do you even need a degree in journalism to be a journalist? The simple answer is, probably not, but it helps. Journalism is a vocation and a theoretical understanding of libel, defamation, ethics and media production and possibly even the dying art of rapid writing known as shorthand, will show that you are committed.
I cared enough about the field to study it as an undergrad and cemented the belief that I was serious about doing it. I failed at shorthand and didn’t write a single article for my student newspaper while studying my masters and still somehow managed to get a job as a journalist. So can you.
Supportive parents and a lucky break from a person who believed in me helped me set sail. I was deficient in many areas but journalism is a vocation and you’ll learn on the job, so don't wait 10 years like I did before before getting your second article in print!
Do you think you’re moving in the right direction? Are you unsure about your next move? Let me know as I'd be happy to help you sort through the tough decisions you face.
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