Breaking Outside the Box

Dear general public: Journalism is not a “useless” major that limits one to working in one type of career. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Before spring break, I interviewed journalism professor Charles Davis, who will be leaving MU at the end of the academic year to become dean of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. (How ’bout them Dawgs?)

Sure, it was nice to talk about our beloved home state and The Varsity (an Atlanta and Athens landmark that serves delicious F.O.s — Frosted Orange shakes — and other American-style food), but that’s not what I liked the most about our conversation. I asked him what he thought students should be learning in journalism schools, and I was surprised by how much his answer stuck with me.

He didn’t mention anything about a newsroom, or a magazine office, or an advertising agency. He didn’t talk about this ambiguous term of “convergence” (for you non-journalists, that’s the combination of photos, video footage and text stories into one package for the audience) that’s discussed as a possible future of journalism. He didn’t talk about how print newspapers are dying, how people in the industry need to experiment with how to make a profit and survive online, blah blah blah blah blah (insert additional industry chatter here).

He said students should learn to multitask.

He said students should gain the often undervalued ability to take unsynthesized information and condense and translate it so that it makes sense to the general public.

He said students should graduate with the ability to think and move and write fast while maintaining professional standards.

These tangible skill sets, he said, can plug into lots of different workplaces.

Not newsrooms. Not magazine offices. Not TV and radio stations. Not public relations firms. Not advertising agencies. Workplaces.

Many people put journalism majors in career boxes. Oh, you write? You’ll be at a newspaper or magazine — maybe starting out as a reporter before working your way to a Pulitzer or an editorial position. Oh, you like public speaking? I bet I’ll see you on CNN in a few years, right?

Even the journalism school promotes these boxes by forcing students to choose one of about 40 “emphasis areas” (or students can create their own) that are supposed to train students in very specific areas to perform very specific tasks.

Last fall, I had a really hard time choosing which emphasis area I wanted, and honestly, I ended up choosing the news editing emphasis because I thought the skills I would learn would be the most versatile. In my opinion, good communicators should know how to write, edit, design and — what’s increasingly becoming important — interact with audiences online, particularly through social media. And that’s exactly the training required of a news editing major.

Sure, I could see myself editing at a newspaper — I admire its role as a servant to democracy, obligated to accurately report situations to the public and act as a watchdog over the government, and I think it’d be cool to be a part of it.

But I could also see myself at a nonprofit, communicating to others the importance of the cause and getting others excited about it.

Or at a publishing company, overseeing the production and drafts of works of literature.

Or at a school, sharing my love of grammar and journalism with others and helping instill that love in others.

And with the skills I’m learning here, I feel that by graduation, I will be qualified for any of these jobs because I will be a good communicator.

Last year, while working on a project for The Maneater about the value of higher education, I examined the results of a post-graduation survey. I was shocked to find only about half of journalism school graduates worked in the specific field in which they were trained.

Now, however, it all makes sense. Maybe they’re working in another area of communication, or even another career area entirely. Whatever they’re doing, I’m sure they’re successful because they know how to accurately, effectively and efficiently communicate with others, which is not as common of a skill as one might think in this increasingly interconnected society.

%d bloggers like this: