Why You Should Major in Journalism

Why you should major in journalism in 2016

When I first decided to make journalism—or, more broadly, writing—a career at the University of Missouri, I kept hearing from friends and family that journalism was on its way to extinction. Its old-school practitioners were a dying breed, they said, who would soon be replaced by anyone with a cell phone or a laptop, the ability to craft a 140-character sentence and the foresight or luck to be in the right place at the right time.

But journalism has proven to be a durable industry, evolving into a digital-first method of news delivery that has become more accessible to audiences in the 21st century. Some methods of gathering, researching and reporting news have changed, but the crux of its purpose remains very much the same.

In the context of democratic idealism, journalism plays a vital role in serving as a watchdog—the fourth estate, if you will—reporting on and maintaining accountability among the other three branches of government. The optimist in me believes that will never change.

The 21st century has brought a rise in citizen journalism, a method of crowdsourcing news that didn’t previously exist. It’s through this lens that the modern idea of journalism was built, predicated more on accessibility and efficiency of dissemination than on accurate and scrupulous reporting.

Citizen journalism absolutely has its uses and is a great complement to the more traditional newsroom or studio approaches to news coverage. A citizen journalist offers a boots-on-the-ground view (which sometimes can’t be reached by the media: see the Arab Spring) and is often the first to break a story. Citizen journalism—as useful as it can be—is no substitute for a trained journalist with an eye for the bottom-line piece of news and a tuned ear for a revealing quote after a hard question.

Nor does it compare to the tingly feeling in your fingers when you find your lead and your hands can barely keep up with the sentences organizing themselves in your head like a jigsaw puzzle magically falling into place on its own.

Looking past the particulars, the essence of a journalist’s job is still to tell stories: stories of people, places and events that affect the world. Storytelling existed even before language and is a uniquely human phenomenon. As such, anyone can tell a story, we see that in everyday conversation and in the uncountable videos, selfies and tweets in cyberspace and on TV. It takes a proclivity for structuring information and an ability to accurately portray events and ideas as they are—or as they can be—to truly master non-fictional storytelling.

Journalism certainly isn’t the only industry where one can practice this art: public relations, fiction writing, education, politics and litigation all offer wonderful avenues for it. An education in journalism or communication—particularly one that requires a hands-on, baptism-by-fire approach—is one of the best ways to learn how to structure information and develop the ability to craft a story that resonates with readers.

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