I've followed Mises.org for a long time, but I've never gotten involved in the forums. I had a question about college education, and considering how thoughtful the members of the Mises community are, I figured the forums must be full of insight that I could benefit from.
My brother went to college once years ago and flunked out. He was bored and just didn't care. However, he is a smart guy and now a few years later he has settled down, gotten married, and wants to finish his degree.
His love is writing, specifically journalism. He wants to get an associate degree in journalism, then perhaps a bachelors. Having seen many articles here about how higher education is in a bubble and generally not a good investment, I have warned him to consider alternatives. Here's my question:
If my brother is set on becoming a journalist, am I right in dissuading him from going to college? Is there another better route? Who can I ask these questions?
Thanks for your opinions.
Why do you need a degree in Journalism to be a journalist?
It really depends on what kind of journalism he wants to do, but in general, yes, he's much better off saving his money. For TV journalism the best thing he can do is start doing grunt work at a local affiliate. Sometimes you can get lucky and land a production assistant's assistant kind of thing at a bigger station if you live in the area. Get a mentor and soak up as much as you can and take every opportunity to do something new that you can and hope to get noticed. Learn who the right people are and make yourself available for them and offer to pick up tasks that need to get done. That kind of stuff.
Print journalism you might actually need some kind of degree, but again, it's possible to get by without it. The most important thing is knowing how to write and what makes a good story, etc. And for a lot of people, they need prep for that. Not that journalism school teaches you anything about what a good story is or how the business works, but it's practice and a famliliarity that is better than nothing.
In both cases, these days you can actually get pretty far by starting off in the Internet world. Sites are always looking for bloggers, and there are plenty of online news outfits like The Young Turks, Reason.tv, and organizations that have news departments and produce content for the web. That's the kind of thing that would be the most valuable...not only in terms of education, but also in career advancement. Unfortunately a lot of that depends on where you live, and if you're not in one of the major areas, it's a pretty tought going at it. And with a wife and kid already, he's not going to have a whole lot of options. It really depends on what his real goals are.
But yes, the odds are strongly on the side that a degree is not going to help him get what he wants, and it will just end up being him paying for the privilege of taking time away from his family and stressing out between classes, homework, projects, and actual job work.
The best starting ground I can recommend is getting a firm idea what it is exactly he'd like to accomplish, find people who have done exactly that, and then reach out to them. Write 100 emails, in a professional manner, talking to people who are doing exactly what he'd like to do and request any advice they might have and recommendations on how to get started in his particular position.
If he really needed prep he wouldn't need a degree. He can go to a library, use the internet to read "great" journalists, he can but a journalism textbook if he really wants and thinks that'll help, etc. etc.
If you want to go that far you could make the argument that no one needs any kind of schooling or instructors. "Everything's already in a book, and available free online. Why do we need schools and classes?"
Why do we? lol
I'm not saying instructors aren't valuable. What I am saying is that the university sausage factory isn't ideal for that even.
JJ, you can't deny that there is ample info in books which likely beats what the guy's college will teach him.
Here is my advice:
1) Everyone is different, and for some it might be a good investment, for some it might not be. We are not fortune tellers who can predict a) the future b) the quality of education of the college c) the guys' personal motivation d) the market for journalism 3 years ahead of now.
2) That being said, we do have opinions which are valid points to consider.
JJ's point about internet news is pretty great: while in conventional MSM it might be tough to get a journalist job (who knows, I've never tried, this is my assumption), starting out working for free for a decently-reputable online publication might be an entry-way into the field. It's certainly an option to try.
As Porco Rosso said, there is great info in books (which college professors likely will enslave students to anyway, so might as well cut out the salary of the middleman). Go to a library and browse some books.
I would like to add that there might be free journalism classes available and publicly-published college coursework he can practice with. A simple search for "free journalism course" turns up this:
These appear to be a good starting point.
PR's other idea of "reading the greats" is good as well. However, the reading cannot be passive. He must actively annotate and analyze the style of the author, the progression of details, and the techniques used to direct attention. The who, what, when, where, the increasingly-specific information pyramid of an article, etc.
Remember, the best way to learn to write is to read, read, read, write a bit, and then read a lot more.
All of this depends on his level of determination. If he wants to save himself the money and is confident he can keep himself honest, he can try the cheaper though possibly a lot more enlightening self-teaching approach.
Furthermore, he could hook up with an important journalist in the area and ask him to mentor him. He could go out into the field, do the grunt work, write up drafts, and then have them critiqued. Win-win situation.
Again, this is a rags-to-riches story. He has a family, he surely wants some kind of stability. The approach I describe might yield great benefits or might not pan out well. However, with the level of college education that appears to prevail, he is likely better-off saving himself the money (in my opinion). If I were him, I would look inside and ask myself - do I want to be a man, a successful person who works to improve himself and move up in the social structure, or do I want just any job which I can probably feed a family off of?
If he chooses the former - power to him. The most important thing to remember is to push through. (Hey, look at me speaking like I am more experienced than my 17 years in this world).
Porco Rosso:If he really needed prep he wouldn't need a degree. He can go to a library, use the internet to read "great" journalists, he can but a journalism textbook if he really wants and thinks that'll help, etc. etc.
John James:If you want to go that far you could make the argument that no one needs any kind of schooling or instructors. "Everything's already in a book, and available free online. Why do we need schools and classes?"
Porco Rosso:Why do we? lol
Great philosophy. Next time you get hit by a bus or develop a golf ball sized-tumor in your head, I'll make sure the doctor who operates on you was smart enough to not waste his money on formal instruction from someone with experience. I mean, after all, you wouldn't want someone stupid enough to do that, would you?
I'm not saying instructors aren't valuable.
Usually when someone asks why you even need something, they are implying that there is no value in having it.
What I am saying is that the university sausage factory isn't ideal for that even.
No what you're doing is conflating an instructor/student dynamic with the current education system and implying that the world would get along just fine if it were populated with nothing but autodidacts.
Wheylous:JJ, you can't deny that there is ample info in books which likely beats what the guy's college will teach him.
Again that is a useless argument, as it ignores the entire point. If you really want to debate the merits of learning through a knowledgable instructor versus a book, I'd be happy to do that. But to walk around berating the value of instruction with the argument of "everything you need to know is already in a book somewhere" as ammunition, is about on par with any of the most asinine things I've ever heard.
Big if here.
Are there statistics on the wage difference betweeen journalists with and without university degrees? Look them up. Compare the difference to the likely cost of tuition, room and board. How long would he have to work for that difference to cover the cost of earning the degree?
Find local examples of successful, well-off journalists. Have him contact them and ask them about what they think helped them succeed. This will serve two purposes:
1) He can build a network. Maybe one of the oldsters will be so flattered by your brother's interest that he gives him an internship.
2) Many journalists ended up in their position by earning an unmarketable liberal arts degree and then trying to find a job that's considered intellectual, but also pays the bills. What they did after college was probably more important than their degree. Find out what they did after college. Have your brother do that first and earn the degree later if necessary.