Advice Goddess Amy Alkon recently tried to hire an assistant. She got a recent journalism school graduate. As a journalism graduate myself, she has my sympathies.
So…the girl was a journalism student, and her clips were okay, but I
learned (when it was too late) that she apparently studied only
journalism in college — and learned nothing about politics,
literature, history, philosophy, science, critical thinking, or really
anything but how to put a lede
together. (This is akin going to college to become a construction
worker, but with letters and punctuation marks instead of steel
beams…which isn't to say I lack respect for construction workers,
just that this job entails a little more conceptual thinking.) Ugh.
It's been hell.
And I thought I was the only one to ever compare majoring in journalism with a trade school. You go, and you learn the hows of putting together an article, and emerge with no real expertise, or focus for your writing. Sure, most journalists sign up for the city council beat at the local paper, but having another area you've studied to back you up is the real key to success. I enjoyed my years at Boston University, but not necessarily so much for the academics. This was a school that didn't want me to officially, in class, get my hands on any equipment — I was a broadcast journalism major — until I was a junior. Fortunately, I'd found a local cable access news program on campus, Neighborhood Network News, and transferred my work study assignment to them. My first day there I was running the TelePrompTer, by the time I was a sophomore I was directing about once a week. My first official class at BU where we were doing something other than learning how to put together a news story (which I'd learned in 10th grade) I was allowed to direct. No one else in the class ever did that, throughout the whole course — the teacher did it each week. And it's not as though I was some kind of super genius; I'd just been doing it already.
Journalism should be a minor, or a double-major only. A major should be in History, Poly Sci, something that provides grounding. Required courses should include statistics, logic — and there should be a whole course on how to conduct an interview. I don't think I ever mastered logic, and I'm still hazy on statistics, to my detriment. The interviewing I picked up along the way, the hard way, while freelancing.
No wonder Amy can't get a good assistant: With a journalism degree you're trained to write a lede and that's just about it. Four years should get you a whole lot more.