by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Liz Wolfe writes for the Martin Center a warning directed to college students considering the pursuit of journalism studies.
The incentives of school are fundamentally mismatched to the incentives of the workplace: school incentivizes obedience and compliance, but workplaces (or at least good workplaces) prize ingenuity, creativity, and anticipating organizational needs and the needs of supervisors. Of course, some aspects of school are aligned with aspects of the workforce—the ability to meet deadlines is crucial in the journalism industry and will earn you respect from editors. School teaches that skill, but at the end of the day, a good self-starter can learn that discipline on their own.
There’s some value of the critical thinking skills undoubtedly fostered in the college environment—but at what price do those skills come? Again, a good self-starter will learn how to contextualize a story, how to connect the dots, and how to write about different beats on their own.
There is also the opportunity cost component too often neglected by too many: spending four years in school means losing out on—or trading in—hours and hours of productive time. That time could be used learning more about grammar and editing (memorizing the AP Stylebook, for example), tracking down sources and learning how to interview people, and getting internships where you can generate clips.
As a journalist, your clips are a hundred times more valuable than your degree—or, God forbid, your GPA. Your clips indicate to editors what you will be like as a staff writer. Your GPA indicates how bored or entranced you were by your classes, and how well you can follow instructions. In the journalism field, you absolutely need to be a competent instruction-follower (at least from your editor), but having an inquisitive mind, a healthy dose of skepticism, and the persistence of a Bloodhound on the scent helps you excel when talking to sources. A lot of journalism skills are learned on the job. …