Best of both worlds

UCB, Berkeley, school of journalism

Originally uploaded by bobcrazybear.

Last week’s A-level results signalled the start of the annual clamour for university places. But the shortage of university places this year and the growing burden of debt on students has led some to question whether it is worth going to university at all.

One area that has been singled out for particular criticism is vocational courses, which includes journalism. As I said in my last post, I did not do a journalism post-graduate qualification. I did not do a journalism degree either.

While I am pleased I opted for a more academic BA programme (Modern History and Politics), I can see three advantages of a journalism degree:

1. You don’t have to pay the hefty fees for a masters or a post graduate journalism qualification.

2. If you apply through the official channels for some of the most hotly contested work experience opportunities, you often get turned down if you’re not on a journalism course.

3. As David Mitchell notes in his Observer column (hat tip to Andy Dickinson) it gives you some space to work out exactly what you want to do. Although, it has to be said, so would any degree.

Dickinson, a lecturer at UCLAN, blogs in defence of journalism qualifications. For him, Mitchell’s view that a degree offers students space to find themselves is a big selling point for a journalism qualification. And while media organisations continue to limit training opportunities, it may be one of the best ways of getting students prepared for the newsroom.

But I found myself nodding when reading many of the comments posted in response to the blog. Dean Gallagher admits to “the nagging doubt”, that all the worthwhile content from his degree could have been taught within a year. He is backed up by fellow UCLAN student James who feels that the course didn’t really get going until year three.

The most interesting point is made by Kerry, who touches on something I have thought myself. He says that his journalism course felt a bit “stretched” and could have been more intensive.

Kerry suggests that option models in journalism (she mentions international journalism) should be substituted with electives in subjects like history and politics. He has a point, but I would go further.

I studied dual honours – I see no reason why the vocational elements of journalism could be combined with politics or economics in a dual honours programme. Indeed during the recession of the early 1990s some newspapers recruited economics graduates directly from Oxbridge, such was the shortage of  journalists with an economics background.

And there are many other potentially useful combinations. Perhaps a science and journalism dual would keep Ben Goldacre quiet and surely a foreign language would be an asset for graduates considering international journalism?

It may be that joint honours are not for everyone. But by offering them as an option, universities will allow students to combine their vocational studies with some traditional academic modules.

I realise that there are some universities that do this already. Indeed over on the Wannabe Hacks blog (another interesting post – this time a debate on journalism degrees) gregnewcombe mentions that he started off by studying English with Journalism at Kingston. He ended up so enthused by journalism that he dropped English, but at least he had the option.

I suspect that one of the reasons that universities persist in offering single honours with academic journalism modules may be partly due to funding. But as Dickinson and Ed Walker both rightly mention, those who enrol on a journalism course must not expect their degree to be the magic bullet that will get them paid work in a newsroom. Instead it should be seen as a passport to work experience opportunities  in newsrooms that along with blogging and student media, will allow students to acquire the skills that editors want.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on dual honours in journalism.

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2 thoughts on “Best of both worlds

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks for the link Rosie. I enjoyed the post.

    I agree that mixing and matching may be an good way to balance the broad benefits of a degree with some vocational focus. Ultimately that means that prospective students need to be more savvy consumers and really get to grips with the options that they have in the choice of university.

    There are always going to be loads of different routes in to journalism but one thing is clear. It’s no longer a profession you ‘drift in to’. However we got here, getting in to journalism is a much more serious game.

    Just for the record. Kerry is a he.

  2. rosieniven says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your response. As you say, I think it is much more difficult to drift into journalism. Maybe a 21 year-old graduate can persuade an editor to hire them without a journalism qualification, but I’m not convinced a 31-year-old career changer could enter the profession now without doing a journalism qualification first. There will be exceptions to this rule of course.

    Also, thanks for putting me right on Kerry’s name. I have changed it now.

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