The Corner

Education

Is Journalism School Worth It?

The New York Times building in New York City. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Clarence Darrow dropped out of law school after just a year, figuring that he would learn what he needed to know about legal practice faster if he were actually doing it than sitting in classrooms. (Today, that wouldn’t be possible, thanks to licensing requirements.)

The same thing is true in other fields — those who want to do the work often waste years of their lives, not to mention mountains of money, studying it in college. In today’s Martin Center article, writer Liz Wolfe, who has written for USA Today, Reason, the Daily Beast, and other publications, reflects on the wasted years of her undergrad years. Wolfe writes,

In journalism school, you’re not necessarily learning the skills that will help you in the day-to-day. You’re still at the whims of your professors, some of whom are veteran journalists, and others who have never been in the field at all — or haven’t been in it for 20 years.

The main problem as Wolfe sees it is that journalism schools don’t have the right incentives. Profs get paid whether the students learn anything valuable or not. As she puts it,

The incentives of school are fundamentally mismatched to the incentives of the workplace: school incentivizes obedience and compliance, but workplaces (or at least good workplaces) prize ingenuity, creativity, and anticipating organizational needs and the needs of supervisors. Of course, some aspects of school are aligned with aspects of the workforce — the ability to meet deadlines is crucial in the journalism industry and will earn you respect from editors. School teaches that skill, but at the end of the day, a good self-starter can learn that discipline on their own.

Fortunately, we don’t have any licensing requirements for writers (yet, anyway), so aspiring journalists are free to avoid the expense of all this college “training” if they want to. Wolfe thinks they should.

Her conclusion: “A more entrepreneurial approach might not be the course for everyone, but with the field of options for entry into journalism constantly expanding, I highly recommend taking the scrappy approach and seeing what comes of it.”

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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