Who Says Journalism Degrees Are A Lie?


In a recent extract from her new book, published in The Age, journalist, author and former journalism academic Rachel Buchanan claimed that journalism degrees are built on a lie. They provide “vocational training that was implied in the literature and the mantra of preparing young people for jobs that did not yet exist," she wrote.

Buchanan’s arguments have been made many times before and are now to a large extent obsolete.

Based on the dire job numbers in the journalism industry (which she lists in her article) most journalism programs in Australia should be dead. Yet, as Buchannan points out, the trend is the opposite. Based on my 15 years of experience in journalism teaching and research programs I can see five possible explanations for this trend.

First, journalism is more exciting than ever because it’s engaging with the wider society like never before. The old media’s gatekeeping functions of what and who makes the news are breaking down. Journalism has entered a time of on-going transition – a constant flux. This poses both new challenges and new opportunities. Challenges insofar as there are now fewer jobs in mainstream media, more jobs in startups; opportunities in that the barriers to publish have never been lower. A laptop, recording equipment, a connection to the web and you’re away.

Second, while Buchanan may not agree with the argument that journalism degrees are now a version of the general arts degree, the evidence clearly shows that they are. Feedback from journalism graduates shows that they end up in a wide variety of jobs in numerous fields. These include public servants (often as researchers), public and corporate communication officers, policy advisors, and indeed journalists.

Most journalism programs strongly encourage double degrees and double majors. Our graduates have degrees in Science and Journalism, Law and Journalism, Business and Journalism, Sustainability and Journalism, and others making them better qualified than ever to report on an increasingly complex society or to land jobs outside the journalism industry.

Third, Journalism is now far more than just a vocation. Strong command of language will always be essential. But to really cut it you need proper media literacy so you understand the media landscape and can anticipate where it’s going next. You need strong critical thinking skills built on the core of the liberal arts degree: philosophy, history, and politics. You get all that AND the vocational production skills, in all media formats, in a journalism degree.

Fourth, according to the 2012 Graduate Careers Australia survey, 64 per cent of law graduates from one of the 31 Australian Law Schools don’t practice law. However, the law degree is still considered valuable. We’re seeing a similar trend with journalism graduates and this understanding is growing among prospective students and parents.

Fifth, if the journalism schools were unable to produce graduates with job ready skills, why are we attracting record enrolments? Surely the incoming students and parents are savvy enough to figure out if a journalism degree is worth the money and effort?

Let me finish with a story from Monash University’s open day 2013. In the six hours I staffed the journalism program stall, I spoke to hundreds of parents and prospective students. For the first time in my 15 years teaching journalism the questions were different. Instead of “but will I get a job in journalism”, the questions centred on how journalism at Monash was different to the other universities, what you learn and how the double degree system works. My time at open day finished with a lecture to a packed 300-seat theatre on the future or journalism. In my view this is not the sign of a dying and useless degree.

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