As I started to doze off during my lecture on 21st century media, I was awoken up by a familiar Monty Python scene of a downtrodden British man lying across a bunch of dead men begging some guards to understand that he is not dead. After the clip, my professor went back to the PowerPoint, and the slide read, “We are not dead yet.” My prof went on to prove that journalism is not a dying field, but one that is changing, and we all will have the opportunity to use the skills we are learning to influence the future of this industry.
When I decided to be a journalism major in the fall of my senior year of high school, I had never been editor-in-chief of anything, written an article, or even knew that a “copy” was not something that a Xerox machine made; it just seemed like a good idea. I loved business and marketing, enjoyed writing, and thought of my morning drives to school while listening to NPR as the highlight of my day, so I applied Early Decision to the Medill School of Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications. Then, 3 months later, I somehow beat out other applicants who were editors-in-chief, wrote numerous articles, and knew that a “copy” is a piece of journalistic text, and I was pumped.
However, when I began telling people that I was going to major in journalism, I received a lot of negative feedback. “I heard that was a dying profession,” and “Why not be a doctor like your parents?” were just a couple of the responses I received from friends and family. A little research though is enough to prove journalism is not dying, but simply changing and trying to adjust to a time with different technologies and new demands from audiences.
In addition, the skills I have learned and the experiences I had as a freshman journalism major alone are ones that I can already tell go way past writing articles and reporting. I started the year with a reporting and writing class that made me leave any comfort zone I ever had and approach strangers on the street to ask them about intimate parts of their lives, such as their financial security and their political leanings. But, if I did not have the charm to ask them their name, age, address, and phone number, all of that wouldn’t matter because I couldn’t prove they were a legitimate source. Also in that class, I was pressured by a teacher to see how close I could get to getting a quote from Justin Timberlake, and I made it all the way to his publicist; if he wasn’t on vacation, I would have gotten that darn quote.
My next quarter I had a class on multimedia journalism, and learned to tell a story through photos, sound, and video. I learned the importance of waiting to capture that one crucial, awe-inspiring moment as I filmed events as seemingly mundane as someone making coffee or as emotional as someone admitting to their years of suffering with bulimia. I learned how to guide someone through a story as I messed around with perspectives, fade-ins, and tried my best to avoid jump cuts. It also made me feel pretty damn artsy in the process.
Just last week I finished a class on the media today that spent a long time exploring how best to give an audience what they want and at the same time what you want to give them. We discussed why Fox News works, why I only watch CNN in a time of breaking news, and why some of my friends secretly keep up with the Kardashians.
So sure, I learned how to write an 800-word article in a few hours (like this one), how to tell the difference between “who” and “whom”, how to use camera and audio equipment, and how to stay informed in what was going on in today’s world, but being a journalism major goes beyond these career-specific skills. I am learning professional social skills, how to tell a story, how best to cater to an audience, and who knows what else I will learn in the next three years. All these skills will make me a great applicant to almost any job I would want, and if this sounds like BS to you we can talk about it on my primetime talk show in 10 years.
During my first journalism class, my professor asked the class to raise their hand if they were on their high school newspaper, everyone but me and two other people raised their hand. The professor then continued to ask for anyone that was editor-in-chief of their high school newspaper to keep their hand in the air, only one hand went down. So, in a class of 50 plus students, only three of my peers had not been in charge of their high school paper, and here I was being expected to produce content just as good, if not better, than all of these people with four more years of journalism experience than myself. I thought I was screwed. But it turns out, I wasn’t.