I want to work at a newspaper. Should I study journalism?
Anyone who thinks about a career in newspapers quite naturally thinks about journalism school. Every state has at least one journalism program—some are quite good—and newspapers count on them to get students ready for the newsroom. Scores of newspapers make campus visits a regular part of their recruiting effort and many newspaper journalists teach in J-schools. But a J-degree alone is not enough to get you off to a good start in newspapering, and experience on a campus paper is no substitute for working in a professional newsroom. Do not listen to people who tell you that excelling in school—or on the student paper—is sufficient. The key academic question in the mind of most student journalists is whether they must earn a journalism degree. The answer is no. A J-degree can help, and it can be fun, but it is not required.
Journalism law, ethics, and economics are better learned within an academic context, rather than on a case-by-case basis. Reporting, writing, photography, editing, design, and graphics
skills are mastered under real-world, deadline conditions—provided you have good editors.
A journalism degree is an option, not a requirement.
Keep in mind that many reporters did not study journalism and some of the best universities in the country do not offer journalism degrees, but newspapers will hire from them anyway. many journalists deliberately major in areas they could specialize in as journalists.
So if I don’t study journalism, what should I study?
Good majors for journalists include political science, history, languages, English (especially for copy editors), criminal justice, law, education, business, finance, technology, the arts, and sociology. Because so many journalists avoid math and the sciences, it’s good to find the exceptional journalists who know something about those areas, too. If you decide not to major in journalism, that’s fine. Be prepared to answer editors who ask how your non-journalism major contributes to good newspapering. And take some classes about ethics and law.
The rest of the newsroom:
This advice comes directly from my book Breaking In. It contains everything I know about landing and acing your journalism internship. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and spent nearly 20 years recruiting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. For more tips and strategies for landing journalism internships and jobs, check out these resources: