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It has often been said that journalism is the first draft of history. No matter what type of journalism you practice you'll have a hand in shaping the ways historical events are depicted and remembered.

The question of whether or not journalism can be taught has been thrown around for years. Reporting is a skill that is developed over time and is mastered by practice, not studying and testing. The great journalists have cultivated their skills through hard work and determination. As you research schools, pay attention to the types of courses they offer: the more fieldwork, the better.

Schools offer a variety of programs designed for both new and working journalists. It is not required that you have an undergraduate degree in journalism--in fact sometimes it’s better that you don’t—but you may be required to take some introductory courses for non-graduate credit.

Graduates of these programs will work towards a master's degree while those interested in university teaching, academia, consulting and research will want a doctoral degree. In order to apply for a doctorate, you must have experience in the field.

Is there a difference between a degree in journalism and one in mass communications? For the most part there is no difference. Some communications schools do, however, stress communications theory while others schools focus strictly on journalistic technique. Departments are broken into newspaper, magazine, film, photo and sometimes Internet reporting. A few schools even offer programs for more specific types of journalism like business or environmental reporting. Joint degrees are always an option for those looking for specialization.

Unlike other professions, journalism requires you to be constantly actively engaged in the world around you. You’ll be required to have a working knowledge of history, politics, economics, the arts, education and a plethora of other areas. For the most part these are things that you will have learned as an undergrad, but naturally you’ll be expected to have extensive knowledge of current events.

As they say in Hollywood, "location, location, location." Schools in the middle of Idaho are not going to give you many opportunities to cover items of national news firsthand, at least not news on a sizable scale. In order to get into the guts of reporting you are going to have to go to the news—after all, it’s not going to come to you. Keep this in mind when looking at schools.

Degree Information

A master’s degree in journalism will typically take two to three years to complete. Some programs offer combined B.A./M.A. programs in which qualified undergraduate journalism students begin their graduate work following their junior year of college. A master’s thesis is usually required.

A Ph.D. in Journalism or Communications will take anywhere between five to seven years to earn, and usually involves a dissertation and (sometimes) multiple exams.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Who are the faculty members, and what experience do they have in journalism? (Hint: look for their bylines.) Where have they worked? What do they study or write about?
  • Is the program’s focus more on news reporting, cultural journalism, business reporting, or new media? Does this match my interest?
  • With which other departments does the journalism school cooperate? (If you are interested in business reporting, a journalism school that lets you cross-register with the university’s business school might be perfect.)
  • What are the alumni doing now? Any famous graduates of the program come to mind?
  • Will I have the opportunity to intern in my field of choice?
  • What sort of assistantships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities are available?

Career Overview

With the advent of the internet, the field of journalism is becoming ever more vast and varied. But one thing, at least, remains true for anyone looking to go into a career in journalism: long and unpredictable hours are a given. Careers in consulting are, as always, a possibility. Students who have completed journalism or communications degrees have gone on to do governmental research, work for private businesses, and sit on advisory boards.

But if straight journalism is the path you’ve chosen, remember, whether you end up as a freelancer (making your own hours and forgoing corporate health insurance) or a staffer (often longer hours but more reliable income), what remains essential for success is an inquiring mind and a lust for the truth. Question everything, and bear in mind the classic mantra of journalists everywhere: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Career/Licensing Requirements

There are no specific licensing requirements for a career in Journalism.

Salary Information

Those entering the field of journalism are rarely doing it for the money. Salaries of journalists often depend more on the experience of the individual than on the degrees obtained—only about ten percent of journalists working in the United States hold a graduate degree. Someone starting out could look to make anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, though the median salary for journalists in 2001 was approximately $44,000.

Related Links

The Associated Press
The AP is the momma bear of all journalistic agencies.

The Poynter Institute
Its motto, "Everything you need to be a better journalist," says it all.

American Society of Magazine Editors
The American Society of Magazine Editors is the professional organization for print and online magazine editors. Its website lists jobs, hosts discussion boards, and offers courses for junior editors, among other things.


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