“What does it mean to study journalism?”

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“What does it really mean to study journalism?”

That was among many of the questions submitted recently to several high school journalism teachers in Southern California. These high school journalists were submitting the questions they had about college media.

And while these students are in high school, the questions they pose are ones college journalists and journalism educators should be asking, too. Studying journalism today looks different (hopefully) than it did 10 years ago and different still than it will five years from now.

The questions were solicited from high school newsrooms to understand what exactly high school students want to know about college journalism. These questions also demonstrate a growing sophistication among high school students (and their parents) looking for a return on their investment and an awareness among the public of drastic changes in the news business. Students should continue to ask these questions even after they reach college.

The questions high school students asked included:

  • Do the students really have a voice in their school newsroom?
  • How involved are journalism advisers? Does the adviser run a school newsroom or are they just there to support the students?
  • What kinds of internships/jobs can I get when I graduate? Will I have a future as a journalist? What percentage of journalism majors go into journalism?
  • Does being a journalism major mean I have to write for the newspaper? What else can I do?

The bottom line is that the answers are going to vary a great deal depending on the school and its particular model of journalism. So, the best advice is put on a reporter’s hat and ask tough questions of any school that offers journalism courses and/or a student newsroom experience. Here is a list of questions to get any curious high school student started:

1. Independent or course-connected? Ask specifically whether a school’s newsroom is independent or connected to a journalism major, minor or any specific classes. Being connected to a course or major doesn’t guarantee anything about the quality of the news products but it does provide some insight on the relationship of the newsroom and the institution. There are highly successful college media programs that are independent of the school’s courses (and therefore money), and there are fantastic programs that are connected to courses offered. Know the difference.

2. More than a newspaper? Journalists, especially young journalists, are expected to have variety of skills: reporting, writing, editing, video editing, producing social media, leading digital design, etc. Ask what training and positions a particular newsroom offers? Ask how those will prepare you for a fluid professional media environment.

3. Compensated? Will you be paid per story? Per hour? Through a scholarship? Is this all volunteer? As a college journalist, you will spend a lot of time in the newsroom (or working for the newsroom). Figure out what types of compensation will be available, if any.

4. Internships? Ask what types of internships recent students have had? Are internships required as part of the major? If so, what type of support does the college or university provide to help secure an internship? Internships are key for student journalists, so find out what is possible.

5. Jobs? Try and figure out where recent grads from a particular program have been hired? To what types of jobs, industries or graduate programs are they gravitating?

6. What’s legal? How the law affects the work of a student journalist will vary from state to state and will depend, in part, whether an institution is private and public. As you are considering that The Student Press Law Center is a great place to keep up on legal issues surrounding every level of student journalism.

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