Degrees give no guarantees of success in the media

Posted on 26/08/2011

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Over at the Independent, Rizwan Syed criticises Jan Murray’s development of an Apprenticeship for journalists. I praised Jan for this move, part of what I believe is a vital shift toward creating more routes to enter media professions.

I did respond on the Independent, but my comments seem to have disappeared. So, I’ll re-post my reply here.

Quite simply, I can’t disagree more with almost every assertion made in the Independent article. Especially the three so-called ‘benefits’ of a degree that Syed identifies:
1) Concise writing. In my experience of graduates working in PR (including myself who gained a history degree), almost zero have any experience of writing concisely. Waffle, over analysis and long words permeate. It takes six months just to convince graduates that a byline, news story or press release is not just a mini dissertation to show off how clever they are.

2) Tracking down hard to find sources. I’ve never met a journalist – or PR – who had all their sources neatly categorised in a system housed in large buildings (libraries if you will). And if I did, I’d assume they were lazy.

3) Meeting tight deadlines. Having to juggle beer, coffee and cigarette breaks with writing lengthy tomes of copy as in a degree has absolutely no relation to any form of working life in the media.

The ONLY reason young people wanting a career in the media should entertain the idea of going to university is to gain experience on the student newspaper, radio station or in student politics. There is always a huge gulf in quality between graduates who have such practical experience, and those who don’t.

But the other more vocational route – such as Apprenticeships – will also give young people that experience and help them from a far more practical perspective to build their career without building debts.

Far from being ‘old fashioned’ hacks advocating this route, those who advocate ‘graduate only professions’ are the ones being left behind.  And slowly, the wider media industry is starting to come to the conclusion that a degree isn’t always the best path to success.