Cataloguing the lives of most of my college newspaper standouts and fellow reporters from internships and jobs, I know where some headed — law school in Boston, business grad school at Georgetown University, political science masters degree in Washington, D.C.
Life has felt a little like a bad 1980s peer-pressure PSA with drugs swapped for higher education, and me wondering if my mere bachelor’s degree could soon be substandard if not subhuman?
Couple that with the nearly bi-weekly announcement of layoffs at some newsroom somewhere and suddenly it’s nice to know you can always go back to school (and that’s WITH the realization that student loan debt will follow).
No matter the doomsday scenarios, news is what we do and can’t imagine abandoning it while we’re young and able to live like bohemians.
But would a master’s degree at least get us to a higher place within the media landscape, make us instant experts able to fill State Department or Wall Street beats a wee-bit faster?
“If there is something you want to get out of grad school that you are not getting from your job, it might be worth it,” said Kathryn Tolbert, director of recruitment and hiring for the Washington Post. “Graduate school can give you advanced knowledge in a specific area of interest, and possibly open doors through networking. Journalism graduate schools can broaden and deepen your reporting and writing ability.”
But, “In the end, it’s the work you have done for a daily newspaper that matters when applying for a job here,” she said.
It was the internships at the Washington bureaus of Knight Ridder and the Chicago Tribune — not necessarily her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — that landed Russian Ana Ustinova a spot in the Hearst Fellowship where she’s reporting for the Houston Chronicle.
She lamented that other graduates of her journalism program are still seeking newsroom jobs.
“My master’s in a way validates my education in Russia,” she said. “If I had a chance to do it again, I’d get a degree in something else, like business.”
Ambition to sit near the top of the newspaper food chain might be better expedited with a business degree, though.
“I saw the problems newspapers were having keeping readers … I think I have ideas for ways in which they can right themselves,” said Mark Kawar, a Georgetown University grad student and most recently a business reporter with The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. (full disclosure: I worked with Mark at The P-E). Powerless to help the newspaper industry thrive as one reporter in a staff of many, he expects to return to news as a corporate strategist with a master’s in tow.
“A post-grad degree in law or government or a language helps if it gives you skills you can apply on the job. If not, why should employers care? In cases where there is little you can apply from your graduate program, you would have been off spending the time getting more experience and the money on more focused training,” said Joe Grimm, recruiter for the Detroit Free Press and Gannett and all-knowing answer man in his online Ask the Recruiter column. Grimm also reminded me that the sheer shift from print to multi-media operations in most newsrooms demands education.
“With the rate of innovation moving so much more quickly — and that is with us forever — we all need to be learning constantly. Grad school is one way to do it,” he said. “However, it requires a tremendous amount of time and money. We have to consider whether that is the best use of those limited resources. A credential like a degree, all by itself, doesn’t bring you much. The benefit comes in applying what you have learned … you have to choose a graduate program that will bring you new skills or knowledge that you can apply.”