Educating a journalist: Is J-school worth it?

Tables of free food lined the lobby of USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The food was an edible advertisement -- but not for current students like me but for newly-admitted students who had a decision to make.

The bruschetta and cheese, pasta salad, and mushroom skewers looked too tantalizing. And as professors talked up the name-tagged folks holding USC promo packets, I slyly took a plate of appetizers. (With the amount of tuition I was paying, I figured the school at least owed me this.)

If these young hopefuls do decide to attend the University of Southern California's J-school, they will be the last round of students to do so over a two-year course of study.

Journalism is changing, and so are journalism schools. Some "experts" argue that J-schools need to be more digital: Be more like teaching hospitals because right now they're graduating students into an industry that's all but died.

As a response, one of the most expensive journalism schools in the country, USC, will try a different tactic to lure customers: A 9-month classroom/newsroom hybrid. Lauren Ingeno's piece for Inside Higher Ed quotes Michael Parks, the director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, on the reasons behind the shift:

The shorter program will have a greater emphasis on multimedia reporting and will "connect the classroom more directly with the newsroom," Parks said. In the past, students were given assignments and expected to hand them in the following week, Parks said. Now, along with weekly classes, students will simultaneously be assigned shifts in the “converged newsroom" for immediate reporting.

As a current student, who has yet to finish her second year, this "past" the dean is talking about isn't history at all -- but is, in fact, my present experience.

I am on track to graduate in 2014, the same year the school rolls out it's one-year program and a new massive 80,000 sq. ft. building that houses a "state of the art, integrated news room."

And here, I've been taught by USC faculty that newsrooms were shrinking!



Throughout my first year, it has felt like the school is in a constant state of flux: Professors and deans are leaving their posts.

For students, the idea was ... just do everything and anything. Go out, interview, take pictures, tweet, and, oh, by the way, code this news app while you're at it. (Though there were many nervous breakdowns, I'd have to admit, it was pretty exhilarating.)

Despite many criticisms regarding J-school, I wouldn't be where I am without it. Primarily and honestly, there's a value to meeting people who can get you a job. Buying connections, they say. (Albeit, very expensive connections. Connections I've had to take out loans and worked two jobs for.)

But, what I find important in J-school is the value of time. Giving yourself the time to learn the history and value of the craft. The time to learn clear and effective writing, and the time for ethical questioning and the law. The rush to graduate in a year will be cheaper. But at what cost?

Graduate school at Annenberg costs roughly $54,000 per year. And according to Poynter an average J-school grad's salary can range from $30,000 - $82,000:

"[W]here you work matters when looking at calculations like this — the more competition there is for your services, the better your chance of a higher paycheck."

So if I could tell those prospective journalism students something, I'd say how viable you are, how hard you work and the connections you make depends on the time you're willing to put into the program.  But cutting the program down to one year just might make breaking into the industry just a little bit harder.

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