Saturday, October 26, 2013
Should I go to J-school? This is a question I hear a lot. It’s like that other eternal question: “Should I go to film school?”. I wrote an answer to that years ago, and my feelings haven’t really changed on the subject now that I’m more involved in journalistic and documentary pursuits than in narrative feature production.
In the old days, back before there was television, few people went to journalism school; instead, they used their contacts, or their parents contacts, or someone’s contacts to get themselves a job in a newsroom or a radio station. Those days are long past, though, and it’s much more traditional to go to school for a few years if one wants to be a journalist. At least it used to be, back to that in a bit.
So, j-school, these days? It depends. On what? Various things. For example, How old are you? Are you at the start or the middle of your career? How much money do you have or how much can you get? Do you have the time? And perhaps most important of all: Of what benefit would going to journalism school be to you?
I’m a bit older now, and though I’ve taken various journalism classes (online, and in person), plus I did a short College certificate in print journalism in the evenings over the course of a year, but I’ve only recently attended a full-time journalism program. I studied New Media Journalism at Sheridan College in Oakville, Canada for one jam-packed year. It was a post-graduate program, and they packed two years into one year. I used the part-time certificate program to pave my way into the full-time diploma program.
It wasn’t a cake walk. Some stuff, I already knew before I went. I’d either taught myself, learned it in a course, or through on-job-experience. Other stuff was quite eye-opening and challenging. Not mention the experience of being back at school as a starving student in a fast-paced environment with students significantly younger than me, and instructors somewhat near to my age. Luckily, I look very young for my years, so I was able to do a fairly good job of blending in, and not worry about that angle at least.
It was a bit expensive, but I was lucky enough to score a grant which paid for the whole thing. I’d done a lot of research, and jumped through a lot of hoops to get it, but it was well worth it since it was actually in the form of a non-repayable bursary. Between tuition ($8,000), living/transportation expenses ($250/week), and required equipment ($2500), money was incredibly tight, but I was able to get manage the cost which was close to twenty grand. As a result, finances were another worry I was able to set aside so that I could concentrate on my studies.
So, after all this time, and experience, why did I decide to go to journalism school? I wanted to upgrade my skills, learn new ones, get mentorship, and develop contacts. As simple as that. When it comes to professional level programs, who you meet there, is critical, have no doubt about that. And who they know is critical too. For example, in my program, all the instructors had a long careers in journalism, mostly in television. Quite a few only taught on a part-time basis because they were still working for various networks news departments. When it came time for the students to find internships, the instructors were able to make calls and send emails to help find placements, and at some very amazing places.
Although it was a ‘new media’ program, most of my classmates were interested in pursuing television careers, so these connections were very helpful. Myself, I was much more interested in online. I came from print, specifically magazines, but I’d done a lot of work with and on websites, including teaching how to make them. As far as I was concerned, the internet and mobile was the future of news, so that’s where I concentrated my efforts although I was an editor a print magazine project. With this approach, I was able to marry new knowledge with previous skills, and pursue an enhanced career.
Now, what if you can’t afford to go to school? Or you don’t have the time, or simply don’t want to attend college or university for two to four years, or even one? There are alternatives, some viable, some not. Professional quality equipment is available at incredibly low prices, these days. You can get a decent broadcast or near-broadcast camera for $750.00 to 2500.00, a very good laptop with very audio and video editing software for about the same. And of course, you can make do with less to start, and upgrade as you go.
You can take individual classes at your local community college, most will last seven to fourteen weeks per topic, and cost a few hundred dollars each. You can go online and watch videos, and do tutorials specifically related to journalism. Some lessons will be free, others will cost $50 to $500 dollars.
And then, like anything else, you practice, and you practice, and then you practice some more. You work on your portfolio. And you work on making connections. With social media, it’s not as hard as you might think when you start out. Plus, keep upgrading your knowledge and skills as it’s very easy to do online, these days.
In the end, it’s your work, and your passion which will speak for you.
Some learning resources I’ve utilized: George Brown College, print journalism certificate program (part-time). Sheridan College, new media journalism program (full-time). Poynter Institutue, free and low-cost online training - here and here. KDMC, free online training