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Is it a good idea to get a journalism degree if you're not so sure you want to be a journalist?

My college has a great journalism major, but I'm not sure yet if I want to stick with journalism as my career path. I know I want to do something writing-related, but that could include newspapers, magazines, scripts, blogging, publishing, editing, even copyediting is something I'm interested in.
My school also offers a major in literary studies with a concentration in writing, and from there I can focus on poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. I could do non-fiction and have a much broader major but I'm worried that this major will emphasize the "literary" aspect and not so much the "writing" since it's just a concentration.
So is it common for people with journalism degrees to have writing jobs that aren't in journalism? Would a degree in literary studies look okay on a resume for a writing intensive job that has nothing to do with literature? #journalism #writing #writer

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Subject: Career question for you

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David’s Answer

Hope y'all had a good Memorial Day (excuse my colloquialism). Today, I'll try to answer Liya C., about a question she posed a few days ago. In effect, she does not know if she should major in "Journalism," not knowing if she really wants to become a full time journalist. What a real dilemma that must be for Liya, not knowing what the future might bring, or worse, working in a job that she might come to hate. I dig it, my young friend, for a long time ago, I, too, was wearing the hat of uncertainty, skeptical about the future, and did not trust people's opinions about what career "I" should pursue - do you know what I mean, Liya?


Yeah, not much of anything, those friendly advisors might have said, or suggested, brushed me in the right way. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to make up my mind, concerning my career goals, like for instance, should I major in "Physics," else, become what my natural inclinations were telling me: "Yup kiddo, you can really write up a storm." And so the years passed me by, one, two, then three, and on the fourth year, I chose, in retrospect wrongly, to become a physicist. To my chagrin, a few years later, while working for an Orlando, Florida, Aerospace & Missiles Company, the Soviet Union collapses, goes belly up, economically and otherwise, and "bang," no more job, in fact, one which I came to dislike, and it was not the Physics! Well, shot me dead! What on God's Earth will I do now, for these engineering/physics jobs disappeared, never to resurface again, at least for me.


Luckily, thanks to circumstances that I could control, for I produced out of the blue, a formal, twenty piece, large format, photography project, which I submitted to the faculty of fine arts, Concordia University, in Montreal. To my surprise, I got in, and after a time, the opportunity came up to join their film school, for these movie folks, writers, cinematographers, ... , accepted me into their "flock," doing so with great enthusiasm. What kind of project do you think got me into film? Righto! Liya, it was "Writing." But, now, more so, then, I was with a different breed of "Birds," feathered friends of the film arts business, all of whom wrote on a daily basis, or nearly so, as the "film writing" business was their job. Things got extremely serious, and very fast too; for again, my skepticism percolated from within me, surfacing with questions of competency, intensity, and consistency. Indeed, I asked myself: "Who am I to think that I could become a good writer, in such fields as fictional narrative filmmaking, documentary journalism, and even "English Literature," one of my favorite subjects of study.


In retrospect, I should have decided right off the bat and a long time ago, that is, to become a writer of stories, real life events, even imaginative fantasies, such as dreams, personal wishes, ..., as oppose to, one who writes (and calculates) about physical laws, formulations based on natural principles, ones which help us, you and I, understand the driving forces that created the universe. In fact, today, I write about both these fields, physics and narrative film; indeed, I write about anything and everything, almost as a daily routine, especially with this "blogging" thing that I do (hopefully, well, or well enough). I now live to write, write to live, for the hand that writes, writes me!


If you recognize yourself, Liya, in my strange and sometimes "Wild Wilde Wilderness," a poem to my friend Louis ("Offscreen.com" August 2012, Vol. 16, Issue 8), my belated advice to you, Liya, is to go do what you do best, and best comes from the heart, mind, and soul, with every grain of energy you can muster. If the "naturalism" of writing exists within you, well, you'll know it, for it has been there, maybe hidden, from that day when you were born! Best of luck, Liya!

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Susan E.’s Answer

I say it better to take few journalism classes FIRST to make sure that this is the field you want to get into and if you're serious about it. A basic journalism 101 class will give you a taste of what you'll encounter in the field. If you like it, then pursuit. If not, at least you know it wasn't for you and you have another interest.

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Alex’s Answer

I've often told young journalists that, even if they don't remain in the field, their experience and skills at crafting the written word on a deadline will serve them in just about any professional career. I also think that, despite the delight people seem to take in criticizing the 'main stream media,' most intelligent people realize that having 'journalist' on your resume means a lot of good things: writing ability, research experience, truth & integrity, a stickler for the facts, someone who can work quickly and accurately, someone who's not afraid to ask questions, etc.


So while I can't say for sure in your case if the J-school degree is the best path, I do think there are a lot of career options outside journalism that require many of those skills. Compared to, say, a 17th Century French Literature degree, journalism is a fairly practical degree that should help you get a job in the real world.

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Simeon’s Answer

I'd say to stick with the journalism track since it goes into a variety of careers while there aren't many jobs you can line up with a writing degree. I'd recommend majoring in journalism and taking as many classes as you can in writing. Also, if you can develop your own blog and online presence as soon as possible, it'll give you more opportunities to find the job you're looking for as it'll prove your capacity to command an audience to potential employers and publishers.
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Emani’s Answer

All throughout your college career you will change your mind and goals about what it is you want to do with the rest of your life. The MOST important thing is that you focus in on what YOU want to do and go with your instincts. Realize what your strengths and weaknesses are.


Use your first year to figure that out and it's okay if it takes longer to decide. For most universities, the first year is just your basic courses. Take a few journalism and writing courses to see what you like and don't like. If you truly like writing, go ahead and sign-up for your school's newspaper, yearbook staff or organizations to get experience to see if you are truly interested.


To your other question, you do not have to EXACTLY get a journalism degree just to become a journalist. The beauty of the field is that it has a wide range of areas that your skills and experience during your college years will speak more volume than your degree. If you are truly into writing you can get a degree in something like technical writing or literary studies and have courses or even a minor in journalism or vice versa.


At the end of the day, it's all in what you do outside of the degree and the connections you make to become successful in the career you want.

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