Question of the week: Going to journalism school – yes or no?

For this week’s discussion question, I’d like to hear about the academic preparation OJR readers had for their career.

Obviously, being housed and paid for by the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California, OJR’s not exactly a neutral forum for this question. One might suspect that we’d have a larger-than-expected number of j-school folk hanging around here. But we do get a fair number of readers who did not come up through the traditional journalism ranks. So perhaps that will even things out a bit.

When answering this week’s question, go ahead and consider yourself a journalism school graduate if your college or university did not have a separate school of journalism, and you majored in journalism within some other school.

Finally, in the comments, we’d love to hear your thoughts on journalism school. Let’s give some advice to the students, and prospective students, reading OJR. Is a j-school degree necessary, or even helpful, to writing or publishing online? If you don’t have a j-school degree, do you wish you did? And if you do, do you now wish you’d majored in something else?

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. FWIW, I did go to graduate journalism school, at Indiana. I went to Northwestern as an undergrad, but not to Medill.

    Personally, my graduate j-school instruction didn’t do much to prepare me directly for online journalism. I went between 1990-92, so the Internet was not a factor for me, save the e-mails I sent to friends at other schools. But my grad school stint did lead me to get a summer internship in radio news, and I think that did more to help me prepare for online news writing than anything else I’d done before I got online. And I also spent most of my time on campus working at the local daily, which helped me learn how to report, and live, on fast-food wages, something quite handy when starting your own website. 😉

  2. I hold two communications degrees. My B.A. was in Broadcast Communications, with an emphasis on radio as I had started in that business back in high school. My M.A. was for Organizational Communication, focusing on employer-employee communication dynamics. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a useless degree … until I got into journalism.

    After working in radio for 14 years, I spent five years as an administrative assistant in a health insurance related company. A friend of a friend learned of the opening at my newspaper and urged me to apply. I got the job, have been there ever since and have no plans to leave (small town newspapers make that possible).

    So, my path was a bit different. Do I regret not having a journalism degree. No; but there are some things journalism students learn that I didn’t that might have proved useful. At the same time, I suspect there are things I wish journalism faculties taught their students that I don’t think get adequately covered, which I won’t get into here.

    Bottom line: *any* college degree is extremely helpful, if not mandatory, to teach students the discipline of research and meeting deadlines. I would be hard pressed to recommend to my editor (I’m her assistant) to hire someone without a degree. If someone feels strongly that a journalism degree will help them be a better journalist, then, by all means, go for it. If, on the other hand, you have a passion for something else — history, political science, sociology — then do that. I think you’ll find that gaining the experience that goes with earning a degree and the specialized knowledge you take in will go a long way to furthering your career in journalism.

    Good luck, all!

  3. I had originally majored in Journalism during my undergrad work (PR/Journalism double emphasis). However, I worked full time, went to school full time and had a part time internship in athletics communications at the school.

    The semester before I was going to take the Journalism class (working for the paper), I came to an understanding with the sports editor to be able to cover sports for the paper and not have to attend all of the meetings since I worked at the time of the meetings.

    Right before the semester, however, I spoke with the new advisor for the paper (who had just taken over) and he went on and on about me having to make a sacrifice to be in this business, and that if I wanted to be – I should quit my job to do the paper, since he wouldn’t allow the agreement with the sports editor to stand.

    The next day, I figured out that 90 percent of my credits would work just as well for a PR/Interpersonal degree, and I switched.

    I would have liked to have experienced some of the work in that class, but the advisor refused to work with me. So, I just worked around him.

  4. says:

    I recently graduated from college with a self-designed major in cultural journalism. I was originally a journalism major but took a different approach because I didn’t find the program at my university well-rounded at the time that I began my college career. I would like to pose a couple of questions about journalism education to the journalists and journalism educators who read OJR:
    1. Why are various types of media–alternative, advocacy, etc.–ignored in j-schools? It seems like that whole area gets a cursory nod in the history of journalism, which maybe lasts an eighth of a semester at most. That was one thing I found particularly frustrating and tried to educate myself on because I didn’t feel like I could have a full understanding of journalism unless I could see the entire playing field.
    2. Do other schools teach about current journalists and what made their work so important? Again, something my school didn’t dwell on, but I always felt that understanding why today’s journalists are recognized by their peers would impart something of value. If you do teach about other journalists, why do you teach about their work and how do you determine who you will include?

  5. says:

    What I always say when I’m asked this: “I don’t regret going at ALL! But if I had the choice again, I wouldn’t.”

  6. says:

    I doubled majored as an undergrad – in history and journalism and very much valued having the kind of standard ‘liberal arts’ major alongside my j-school credentials. My reason for going through a masters program (Syracuse) was to get more hands-on experience. I was a college athlete as an undergrad and could just not fit in the internships that might have given me more experience coming out with a BA – so for me it was great. I would actually like to see more schools move toward offering professional degrees for journalism that are intended to follow liberal arts undergrad degrees – similar to MD, or JD — or even now many Ed. degrees.

  7. I got both graduate and undergraduate degrees in Mass Communications/Journalism.

    I don’t consider myself an especially bright person naturally, so I’ve really appreciated my journalism training; it has helped me with many of the successes in my life. These days, as a college journalism professor, I have the pleasure of introducing journalism skill sets to others.

    Of course, online journalism was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye when I was going through school, but the preparation, again, has served me well for understanding new trends faster than most of my colleagues. So, yes, in that respect my journalism education prepared me for the transition to online journalism.

  8. says:

    When I worked for the AP just before going into academe in the late 1980s, I was the only individual working the bureau of 10 with a journalism degree. The joke was that a journalism education had ruined me for a career in journalism

  9. says:

    Hey folks, I’m going to CUNY’s new J-School in the fall. Chose that over Columbia because of cost but also because it reeks of ‘newness.’ New media/cross-platform journalism is integral to the curriculum. I’m really looking forward to it.

    On a side note, J-school grads always told me I didn’t need it… I disagree. More than envying their alumni contacts, I really envied the mentor relationships that they’d built with J-school profs who continued to guide them throughout their careers.

  10. says:

    As a very recent graduate (’07) of two different universities, I must say my most valuable education came from internships, part time jobs and my minor in business. I majored in communications, transferred to do the same at another school; both schools gave me a solid understanding of the theory and importance of communication but not an education I could put to use in the real world. Nothing contributed more towards my current job as a national network production coordinator/writer than my internships, jobs and the competitive nature of securing them. Practice makes perfect so writing for websites on my own time, pitching stories while working as a network intern and volunteering to coordinate press for non profits is what impressed people in interviews. Not to be discounted: the degree was the prerequesite for the interview. In that same vein, a business minor helped me understand what stories make money vs what stories make news. Knowing how news is run as a business is just as important as knowing the news itself.

  11. says:

    I majored in English, but I’m probably going to get a graduate degree in journalism.