J-School: What's the point?

Close the J-Schools, writes Richard Sine on Huffington Post. He’s got a point.

Shocking news from the halls of academia: Forbes reported earlier this year that enrollment in graduate journalism schools is booming. These kids are paying upwards of $70,000 (the cost of Columbia’s J-School, including living expenses) for a ghost’s chance of landing a job, at pitiful pay, in an industry that is rapidly collapsing. What’s going to be the next hot field in graduate study? Blacksmithing?

. . . Journalism is not a profession like engineering, medicine or even law. You can pick up most media skills on the job, or with a few hours of instruction. If you screw up, nobody dies, and nothing collapses. This is why so many — perhaps most — journalism pros have built successful careers without touching J-school, and why many of them considered a J-degree a dubious credential even in the field’s heyday.

True, true, true.

J-school enrollees think they’ll make contacts that will help them get jobs. But the schools are staffed with  “old-media refugees who made the desperate leap onto J-school faculties in response to buyouts or layoffs,” Sine writes. They don’t know anybody to call who’s still got a job. And they don’t know much about online media, which is the future — if there is one — for young journalism grads.

Many of my former San Jose Mercury News colleagues are teaching journalism courses; one is a j-school dean. I’ve wondered: What do you tell students about their job prospects?  The reality is: Dim and dimmer.

Blacksmithing is a better bet.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    This is part of a bigger problem. Post-high school institutions are not terribly honest in their marketing. They exaggerate the return on a college diploma–the oft-cited $1 million extra has no basis in recent statistics. And graduate schools almost never let students know how bad the odds are of them working in their chosen fields (kind of like college athletic recruiters).

  2. We call blacksmiths farriers these days, and they are always in demand. The work is hard, but they make good money. It is an apprentice trade, however.

    A set of four plain shoes goes for about $150 — about an hour of work. It goes up from there for speciality shoeing; you might recall all the stuff the farrier was doing for Big Brown to hold his quarter cracks together during the Triple Crown races. A horse will need its shoes reset, on average, every 6 weeks. Even if you don’t shoe your horse, they need to be trimmed up on the same schedule at about $40 a pop.

    How much does a journalist make for an hour of work?

    FWIW, I went in to school to work on setting up my online stuff for my classes and we did have a conversation about the high school journalism program and what the point of it was anymore. They do a great job and win a lot of awards, and the news they publish is good, but our local newspaper is about ready to shrivel up and disapear.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Maybe they figure the forgery classes will be useful someplace.
    A friend told us the Maytag guy gets $85 for knocking on your door. ‘course, they mostly stay around the office, but still….
    Had some plumbing work done, with complications. Probably ten hours’ work. Maybe $500 bill.
    A contractor we know can’t take on any more work until the fall, and we’re in Michigan where 85% of the jobs have been saved or created in the last six months.
    Joe the Plumber, the threat to zero, was prosperous enough to have his own house and support a family, and as his credentials and time in the job increase, he will do better, unless something happens to the economy.
    Anybody got a table of compound interest? Take the middling cost of a college education and instead compound it for forty years at, say, 5%. $100k goes to $1.6 mill from age twenty to age 66.

  4. I too have wondered, as the yearbook adviser, how much longer can yearbook and journalism continue? Because I also teach multimedia, I know it can all be put online, for a whole lot less money.

  5. One of our sons started in print media, and now specializes in web articles for a variety of sources. He’s been on Forbes, Yahoo, and many other sites. (And on top of it, he got a decent paying job, 50% above the typical college grad.)

    It’s possible, but not likely. He did it by a combination of writing skills, work ethic, attention to detail and a couple of contacts.

    He did not attend J-school, and considered most of those he met, both faculty and students, to be rather clueless about where media is headed.

    There is a definite style to web writing that is not taught at the J-schools.

  6. Then what is the attraction of the J-schools right now? Young people aren’t idiots — they can see traditional media disapearing as well as we can.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Young people, some of them, have the smarts in terms of IQ. Judgment…?
    Maybe that Watergate movie has been playing late at night on television.

  8. Dick Eagleson says:

    Young people aren’t idiots

    In general, no. Some, though, however unfortunately, are idiots. If the embarrassingly semi-literate writing on display in my local community college’s campus newspaper is any indication, the idiot fraction is seriously overrepresented in the ranks of would-be journos.

  9. So you are answering my question with the assertion that the J schools are simply attracting all the idiots (in “booming” numbers)?

  10. BadaBing says:

    There is only one requisite for getting a job as a journalist, and you don’t need to go to J-school to get it. You don’t have to do anything. You have to be a watermelon. Green on the outside, hard left statist on the inside. Some J-prof somewhere once said that journalists by definition are liberals. A willingness to suppress anything (including facts) that contradicts the party line, a working and ever-expanding PC vocabulary, and an activist mentality will get you in. If you can’t write, that’s what editors are for.

  11. Roger Sweeny says:

    Lightly Seasoned,

    American education is suffused with the idea that the more schooling you have, the better you will do financially. And also that it will make you a better person. So it’s hardly surprising that a lot of students about to graduate with uncertain prospects choose to extend their schooling.

    J schools also tell prospective students that no matter what happens to the news business, the skills that they acquire in j school will always be in demand (somewhere, somehow).

    And a lot of j school students are like college athletes. They know intellectually that most of the people they go to school with won’t make the big leagues. But they figure they’ll be the exception.

  12. The skills of journalism–asking the right questions, doing the research, compiling that information into an easy-to-understand summary–are valuable for much more than a daily paper. The ability to write well is worth acquiring and maintaining as it is the ability to be the one whose voice is heard when the administrators ask for suggestions via email. Good clear writing is a valued skill whether someone works at a newspaper, an advertising agency, a car dealership, some lab that needs grant money, a non-profit agency, and even government.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:


    If it’s that important, you really shouldn’t have to wait until year 17 of your education to get it.

  14. Roger Sweeny says:

    Or year 12 for that matter.