The choices facing prospective j-students

If you want to be a journalist, there's no single, clear path to land a job in a newsroom. Some journalists never study journalism. Those who do, must choose from a wide and growing array of courses, programs, internships, and degrees to try to reach their goal. By Katie Ingram Young people who think they…

If you want to be a journalist, there's no single, clear path to land a job in a newsroom. Some journalists never study journalism. Those who do, must choose from a wide and growing array of courses, programs, internships, and degrees to try to reach their goal.

By Katie Ingram

Young people who think they might want to be journalists these days face a choice between a growing array of possible routes to get there.

The choices can be daunting. The first is whether to study journalism at all, or follow those who find their way into newsrooms without a journalism degree. If they choose to study journalism first, they must then decide between courses, programs or a collection of internships; community colleges or universities; undergraduate or graduate degrees; print, broadcast, online or some combination of all three.

While some schools offer either a graduate or undergraduate program, others such as Ryerson University, Carleton University and the University of King’s College offer journalism programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

The undergraduate programs at each school are aimed at students who have just completed high school. Those who successfully complete the programs earn a Bachelor of Journalism. Although there are some differences, essentially all three programs are designed to teach students fundamental reporting skills and train them to work for a variety of media outlets including print, broadcast and online.

The University of King’s College also offers a one-year, accelerated post baccalaureate program for students that already possess an undergraduate degree in another discipline. This accelerated program teaches students the basics of journalism within an eight-week “boot camp” after which they join the fourth-year honours students in a series of workshops.

Although the focus is on teaching journalism skills, all three schools recognize that many students may never pursue a journalism career.

“About a quarter [of our students] will want to go into journalism, about a third of them will go into communications or public relations,” says Chris Waddell, Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication. “Five to 10 per cent will go to law school or take a graduate studies program in another discipline.”

High school students who choose undergraduate programs in journalism typically have an interest in media and are exploring their career options, but they are also interested in other subjects, too. This is why many schools offer them the chance to study more than just journalism so they can get a minor, or a combined honours degree, in another field of study, as well.

Unlike students in other arts and science programs, students who earn undergraduate degrees in journalism do not generally go on to study journalism at the graduate level.

 “The common thing is to do an undergraduate degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in the other discipline you studied in your combined honours degree,” says Waddell. “Very few who do a Bachelor of Journalism go onto to a Master of Journalism.”

Indeed, most graduate programs in journalism are aimed at those who want to work in journalism, but have no or little background in the field. Many of these programs start from the beginning and teach students both basic and advance journalism skills.


 “For a student to make the decision to do a Master’s degree they really have to want it and we make it clear we want people to be in our program who want to work as journalists,” says Joyce Smith, the graduate program director at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

At Carleton, the school offers two types of graduate degrees, a 10-credit program designed for students who have an undergraduate degree, generally in something other than journalism and a five-credit program for journalists who have worked in the field and want to refine their skills. At Ryerson, students can take a two-year Master’s degree that starts with basic journalism training, similar to that in the undergraduate program and trains students in a variety of media, such as print, broadcast and new media and teaches skills like copy editing and research.

The University of King’s College offers a program similar to the five-credit program at Carleton. It is designed for working journalists looking to learn a new skill or receive additional training in a certain field. The program offers students the chance to study two different sectors of journalism that Kelly Toughill, the school’s director, says are becoming increasingly relevant in the journalism world: investigate journalism and new ventures.

“Data journalism and investigative journalism are two areas we really see we see journalism going in the next 10 years,” said Toughill. “ New Ventures projects the business model for journalists … we are training people to either lead the industry in terms of  creating new ways to report journalism or be effective in their own self-employment.”

At their cores, both types of programs are essentially designed to train students to work in media, but, as was mentioned, can be a launching point for a career in another field.

“Not everyone becomes a reporter obviously or has a physical byline or a face on camera, but many of our students also work in editing, for websites, in production, fact checking and copy editing,” said Kamal Al-Solaylee, the undergraduate program director at Ryerson. “A number of students also go to other fields like government, public relations, law school and in that sense we’re not that different from a liberal degree.”

While when it comes down to the journalism job market, employers say it’s important to have a well-rounded education and experience, not just skills training.

According to France Belisle, manager, Media Relations and Issues Management for CBC Radio-Canada, when hiring journalists for stations other than those in Quebec or Moncton, as those stations operate under a different union, having an undergraduate degree or in some cases only a master’s degree, is a mandatory part of the hiring process. Although, sometimes additional education can improve a person’s odds.

“Not every journalist has an undergraduate in journalism and sometimes they even have a Master’s in something else, so sometimes this can be can interesting asset for that a candidate,” she says.

At the Globe and Mail, people who oversee hiring, say they want candidates with a well-rounded education and an interest in world events, not people with just skills training.

“Someone who has an education in journalism is ideal, unless of course they are later in their career then it is less and less relevant as their experience becomes more important,” says  Serafina Vavala, human resources business partner with the Globe and Mail who’s involved in the newspaper’s employee recruitment process. “More importantly it’s your passion for journalism, your experience in journalism, how much do you know about the world in general and if you have a good news sense.”