Getting into journalism was, in a way, given to me. I had started off freshman year as a screenwriting major at Drexel University. For a number of personal reasons, I left Drexel and applied to UT Austin with the goal of getting into their Radio-TV-Film program.
I wanted to keep writing and hoped to learn about all the technology that goes into radio and film. I also wanted to get into radio production. About a week later, I got an email saying I might be a better fit for journalism.
That had never occurred to me before. Journalism always reminded me of bad school papers and yearbooks with typos. But I thought it might be different at a university level.
So I went for it, and haven't looked back since. Here's what I learned.
It's not just writing.
Being able to write, and write well, is a big part of journalism, but it's so much more than that. When you start out as a reporter, you are on your own. Once you get an assignment, especially for TV news, you are largely on your own and are trusted to film, edit and write all your own material.
If you're writing for the web, you have to know how to code, design graphics, edit video, and manage multiple social media sites.
It's hard if you're introverted.
If you're introverted, talking to people you don't know, asking them questions, and basically leading the interview can be daunting.
The first interview I ever did was with director a local film festival. My boss looked over my questions beforehand, set up the interview, showed me how to record a Skype call and sat ten feet away in case anything bad happened. Interviews probably have one of the more scary learning curves, but once you figure out how to excel at it, you feel like such a badass professional.
You learn more about your own city.
In class you aren't given fake news to write stories about. You go out and find that shit yourself. Facebook, word-of-mouth, school event boards, flyers--you get the idea.
You also get outside your comfort zone when you're a journalism student because at some point you wind up in what you think is a sketchy part of town, which you find out ends up having amazing people working to keep it a community. You don't get that in a classroom.
You read news from all over the world.
When you start out, many professors will encourage you to get a Twitter account to start building up your online presence and to keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on.
My Twitter feed became my morning paper, I followed more news outlets and organizations on facebook and Twitter so that when my professors asked what was going on in the news that day, I would have something to contribute or talk about.
If you're spending hours in the library, you're doing it wrong.
One of the biggest critiques about communication majors like film or journalism is that it's so much easier than things like engineering because you don't have as much homework. WRONG!
We have to be out there talking to people and interacting with the world in a way that isn't more or less hard than math and physics, but it's a different kind of difficult.
You spend as much time outside the classroom as in it.
Sure, you're going out into the world to find stories and people to talk to, but there are some things you might learn in a classroom setting, as well: InDesign for magazine layouts, how you can and can't use Photoshop in a hard news story, Final Cut for videos-you get the idea.
You have to carry yourself like a professional.
As a student, you won't always get a fancy press badge. The trick is walking up to that organizer or security person and confidently saying who you are with, who gave you permission to be there, and holding up that camera or sound equipment up like it means something. It does.
A lot of events don't have dress codes, or they're outside and you just have to dress for the weather. Regardless, being able to carry yourself up like you know what you're doing, (even if you don't), is an important professional--and life--skill.
You become the ultimate one-man-band.
Maybe the end career isn't even in journalism, but you'll come out on the other side a well-rounded writer who can do a little of everything. Knowing how to navigate social media, write HTML code, read court documents, scientific studies, and spreadsheets to decipher the story, and talk to people are all valuable life skills.
So when anyone tells you journalism is the worst major to choose and you'll be poor forever and blah, blah blah (well, maybe), you know what to tell them.