**I was asked by an acquaintance about what it takes to go to school and pursue a career in Journalism. Here was my response, which of course is my personal opinion on the matter because I am in no way a highly experienced professional but this is what I have learned since pursuing a career as a journalist/photojournalist:
I’m going to give you the hard reality of my profession.
1. Deadlines always matter and life should not become cluttered in the process if a person is efficient and prioritizes properly.
2. Don’t do journalism unless you are willing to make minimal money for the first few years and be constantly on call while working for any daily publication or news source such as radio, TV, social media. Just because you are sleeping does not mean news has stopped happening.
3. The job market is exactly the same for someone who has a Bachelor in Journalism versus a Diploma in Journalism or someone who has had more field experience than your entire age. Granted field experience in my opinion is the number one way to get hired. Yes those fancy classes look oh so pretty on a transcript, but don’t think this is going to get you a job right off.
4. No one cares you know a photoshop system or video editing software backwards and forwards unless that’s all you will be doing. Wrong. As a journalist your job will be everything short of speaking the words of the person you are interviewing. Print journalism is a dying art and news media companies such as Post Media (look them up) have their hand in more than one media cookie jar. What does this mean for the journalist? Let me tell you. It means we need to know radio (recording to editing), TV (recording to editing to writing up the ‘script’), print (everything under the sun), social media (know your shit or you will fail), html coding (sometimes they want you to be a web page editor and/or designer so you MUST know what the backdoor coding means and how to create it), photoshop (this shit will save some very shitty photos), indesign editing, microsoft, all adobe softwares that could somehow pertain to our job in the most minuscule way. You name it and most journalists will know it. The only exception to this are the older than dirt people who have been working this industry way before degrees mattered.
5. Journalism is never a one-stop shop. You need to be up on every social media platform. If you go into a job interview and name Facebook and Twitter as the only sites you know how to use…don’t expect a call back. Go ahead and get the degree but don’t for one instant think a job is waiting on the doorstep of graduation. The media world is much smaller, tight knit and cut throat than most people know. If you fuck up once during school and it gets published somehow or a professor realizes you’re not cut out for this field, don’t expect a shining recommendation.
6. THE MOST IMPORTANT fact is that all professors in the program are also industry professionals. My photojournalism prof worked for Canadian Press, my Mastery Reporting prof had been with us since year one and she works for the Edmonton Journal and my radio prof had been all over the country with various news stations. If they don’t like you or think you treat some part of this as a joke and you might as well write that prof off as ever recommending you. They are the people who you will have to keep in contact with after graduation and they could very well find you a job in media. Word of mouth and opinions matter the most.
7. Excuse me while I blatantly laugh at the thought of having achieved my media goals. My doe-eyed goal was and still is to work as a photojournalist for a magazine travelling the world. I’m 21 and definitely not ready to settle down into a job where a cubicle is my work world for 8 hours a day. You have got to work bloody hard to get a job in media. Sure you can get an entry-level position as either an unpaid intern or possibly paid but with no job security, but don’t bank on the dream job right off. Smaller publications such as community newspapers are sometimes easier to get into because there isn’t as much competition. Not many people want to live outside of the city and write about Suzie’s prize puppy winning first at the local fair.
8. If you think you will ‘get off’ on just reporting and writing to stay afloat (not sure what you meant entirely by that) you are sorely mistaken. I never wrote for a publication that paid me until a year after I graduated. You can try if you are good and can balance school with some media publication but the most you will probably get is freelance work. I paid for my schooling and living expenses by having two jobs during school and three jobs in the summer. I also worked for the website our class ran called West Edmonton Local but it was a requirement of the program. We created the content and maintained the website as one of our classes. This doesn’t mean we got class time to go out and find stories. Nope. We had to go out on our own time and interview the people, write the story, upload to the website and manage the content. Every week someone else had the job of monitoring the entire website. So good luck on having things like that and trying to make money writing and reporting. Also, all news publications in the city will know you are a student which means they won’t give you the exciting stories while you are in school because they know your attention is split between school and side-work. I call it side work because taking journalism is like having a full-time job. You could be like every other student in university and get out of your 3-hour class and have a beer or hang out. However, after 3 hours of class in journalism you still have to go out and get that story while other assignments pile up as well.
9. What to expect:
*not a lot of appreciation for your work unless it is outstanding
*multiple assignments that sometimes overlap if two prof’s feel it would be a good learning *experience to take video of a story and then not only edit it for the assignment but also tweet *about the story while taking video and interviewing Joe Schmoe
*the requirement that you MUST buy a MacBook Pro laptop and the latest version of whatever *Adobe software they stipulate ($approx. 2500.00)
*recommendation to also buy a voice recorder, camera and whatever else that would ‘aid you *further’ (we have a technology library but it is on a first come, first serve basis for everything unless there is an assignment that requires a specific piece of equipment)
*brain overloads on a regular basis
*all classes have required attendance
*prof’s are not lying when they say you will be 3 classes behind if you miss one day
*other student’s don’t understand the amount of different work this field requires (It is like taking a technical degree at NAIT because everything is real world and applied to reality on a regular basis)
10. The new program (ie: Communications Degree) So, I graduated in two years with a journalism diploma. Now, the four years is made into what is essentially Professional Writing, Journalism and probably Public Relations as well. However, this means half your class will not be in the same field as you. Year one and two are general studies classes with maybe one or two specific to degree classes. Year three and four is when the students split off into their respective fields and enrol in purely degree based classes. I’m not sure how great the new program is because I was never in it. However, this is what my prof’s told me: “These first couple years are the guinea-pig phase,” meaning everything is new and being tested out to see what classes should be kept for students to enrol in and what ones should be scrapped due to not applying enough yatta yatta yatta. They advised me to wait until three to five years down the road if I wanted to come back and enrol because by that time the kinks in the degree program would be worked out. People in the program I have talked to have mixed reviews. Some hate it. Some love it. The ones who hate it are usually the students who were already in the two year program and decided to continue on for a degree instead of a diploma. The ones who love it or tolerate it are those who are fresh and don’t know how the old system ran. As a program, professional writing and journalism both used to run out of the Fine Arts and Communications Campus on the west end of Edmonton but now everyone is in the City Center Campus. Mixed reviews about that as well. However, the new arts and communications building should be built by 2015 right by Grant MacEwan Residence so that would be a better place to be for the students to learn and not have to put up with the business and nursing people who sometimes don’t want to play nice.
So that in a nutshell is my experience as a Journalism graduate. I should also add I took a year of Open Studies to further my education which overall helped me keep a well-rounded view of the whole rigmarole of being in an intense but great program that offers a lot of potential for growth. I know the bulk of my response was negative, but after three years of school and the hassle of knowing I would not have a guaranteed job, the reality sets in that journalism is a freaking insanely tough field to stay in. I’m sure the Communications Degree is much more in-depth but yet again does not promise a career at the end of it unless you shine like a sparkly unicorn during school and maybe one of your prof’s will snatch you up to go work at their news publication. I would advise you to also take a look at Public Relations because I took a class in it and it was truly an eye-opening time where I was able to expand my thoughts on what it means to be a media career person. Really great class to take as well if it is offered in the Communications degree.
To add a note after this email was sent, I would like to reaffirm what I stand for and what I think about my career. Yes, communications is a hard field to become successful in. Yes, there may not always be reward for your work besides a pay check. However, I feel empowered. I enjoy being challenged every day. My job is never boring even during cubicle hours. I absolutely love the opportunities I have encountered along the way and the people I have met. If there was ever a way to make me believe in humanity it is through my job. I have a front row seat to witness change and also have the power to become part of the change. Communications and Journalism is a field full of potential and has a multitude of positions to be in within one single career. I can be a photographer one day and a writer the next; but I am never simply one or the other but a collage of all of the things I have learned. Journalism is a great field to be in. Honestly. I will always be able to say my job is interesting and never boring.