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Q: If you don’t need a degree in journalism to be a reporter or fact-checker, why do people study journalism in school?

Jonathan O'Beirne of CNN talks with Professor McCarthy's Hunter News Now staff in 2019

A:

Studying journalism in school can expedite your career, allowing you to acquire certain skills in the classroom that others who didn’t study journalism have to learn on the job. It can also give you access to professional practitioners that you might never meet otherwise, such as Jonathan O’Beirne of CNN, pictured above working with Professor Sissel McCarthy’s Hunter News Now team.

It also makes you a more competitive candidate for top internships that want to see a proven dedication to the field, rather than someone who might just be trying it out.

And finally, studying journalism allows you to develop a portfolio of professional writing that will serve you well in the early stages of your career, even in fields other than journalism.

Let’s look at each one in order:

  1. Expediting your career. If you’ve acquired foundational communication skills, whether in video or print, by the time you graduate from college, you will be far better equipped to hit the ground running when you start working than someone who may not have been held to the same standards of clarity, precision, factual accuracy and accessibility. Many students graduate from college having learned only academic writing. Studying journalism gives you an edge.
  2. Becoming a more competitive candidate. Internships have become almost essential in developing a career in the media. It’s a highly competitive industry, and employers want to see candidates who have shown both interest in and dedication to their field from an early age, and for our purposes that means college. And because internships have also become increasingly competitive, the strongest applicants tend to be those who can show they’ve already begun their careers in the classroom.
  3. Developing a portfolio. Even English majors don’t necessarily graduate from college with anything resembling a professional writing sample. They may be excellent at analyzing literature and can write strong academic papers, but in the professional world outside of academia and research institutions (like think tanks), academic papers don’t pay the bills. Journalism students learn to think about how to best engage their audience(s), how to tailor their message to different groups, and how to write in a clear, concise, and factually accurate manner — all essential to everything from journalism to public relations to business development. In other words, just about any industry requires good writing, with “good” meaning those qualities listed above. After taking several journalism classes, any student should have solid writing samples to prove his or her proficiency.