Degrees Are Useless And Other Tips For Aspiring Journalists


Photo: ralph and jenny via Flickr

The commencement speeches have concluded, diplomas have been awarded and caps have been thrown.  College graduation is over for the class of 2011, and it seems that those who received a degree in journalism are in deep trouble. While aspiring journalists can place some blame on the economic crisis for the unfortunate title of “most useless major,” anyone who has graduated from journalism school and gone on to work in the industry can tell you that a degree in journalism is useless, but not because The Bureau of labour Statistics says so. 

What industry veterans—and smart graduates—know is that hard-work and experience trump a piece of paper any day, and a splash of technology can’t hurt either.  Here are a few tips and tech-savvy tools to help you turn a useless degree into a killer career:

Network like crazy

Whether you’re looking for a job or not, it’s become standard practice for people to post their professional resume on LinkedIn. But unless you have connections (literally) it’s hard to figure out how to get your LinkedIn profile in front of the movers and shakers in the media industry. Enter

The website was conceived by Laurel Touby in 1996 after she added over 4000 media professionals to her Rolodex by throwing cocktail parties for writers, editors and other content creators in New York City. Today, boasts over 1.6 million users who access the site for services like job listings, online classes, and freelance opportunities

Still, Touby says that’s events remain one of the best features on the site: 

“The events we do connect people with potential employees and employers.  I can’t tell you how often people tell me that they landed a job as a result of meeting someone at a community event.”  

According to Touby, meeting the right people in the industry—or at least knowing who the major players are—as well as staying abreast of industry trends can keep job seekers one step ahead of their competition.  And that’s where comes in: 

“Our website takes over where journalism classes stop.  You can’t get that granular in 12 to 18 credit hours of school. steps in as the mentor that your boss doesn’t have time to be; our online courses and other resources teach things that no one teaches and our blogs and newsletters keep journalists up-to-date and let them know who to cozy up to at cocktail parties.”

Work For Free

When Charlie Hoehn graduated in 2008, his dream marketing job was no where to be found.  After considering his options (take a job that only requires a pulse or promote a pyramid scheme), Hoehn decided against letting the economy “dictate what kind of job he would have” and worked for free for eight months.

Hoehn says unpaid employment allowed him to work on projects he was passionate about while acquiring unique skills and making a name for himself.  At the end of eight months, Hoehn had proven his worth and began receiving payment for his work. 

Touby says you can’t underscore the importance of real-world job experience:

“Any kind of experience or apprenticeship, even if you don’t get paid, is very important.  It will hone your reporting techniques and other innate skills that people aren’t born with.  You don’t learn how to have the courage to call people back or when to follow-up on interview questions in college.  There are certain instinctual skills that can only be taught by having a great editor or getting wet in the field.”

Become a Content Creating Machine

In a tech-savvy world where the first thing potential employers do is Google your name, it’s important to develop a solid online presence (and by solid, I mean one that’s devoid of drunken Facebook photos).  For writers, this means starting a blog, and for broadcasters this means breaking out the Flip Cam or smart phone and opening up a YouTube account.   

The general rule of thumb is that while quality is more important than quantity, the more frequently you post content, the better.  But finding the right story to cover is often half of the content creation battle. Thankfully, former journalist and co-founder of Regator Breaking News (RBN), wants to help you out.

“I know firsthand that there’s so much information out there that it’s overwhelming.  You spend so much time looking at RSS feeds, making sure you don’t miss anything, when you really just want to be writing or reporting on a story,” Turner says.  “RBN uses Regator’s curated blog directory and semantic algorithms to let journalists know what news stories are trending—before the stories break on major media outlets.”

RBN also provides historical data and images along with their breaking news alerts.

“We pull historical data from Regator so that people can identify peaks in interest in a story or other stories that may have related to a breaking news item in the past. The images are from the sources that we have, or point people to places where they can find or purchase images,” Turner explains. “As things move faster and faster, we are trying to help people move faster and faster as well.”

Find Your Passion 

The bottom line is that while landing a job as a journalist is definitely tougher than it’s ever been, it is possible.  A degree does not entitle you to a job, but hard-work might.  Find work you’re passionate about and apply the aforementioned principles and your dream job is sure to follow—even if you don’t get paid for doing it at first. 

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