Twice in the last week I’ve encountered writers or bloggers who’ve run into a bad patch in their careers and are wondering if it makes sense to go back to school and get a master’s degree in journalism.
Bottom line: you don’t need a degree to get work as a writer.
Even if you have no professional journalism experience, j-school isn’t the only answer.
I’ve been there. In college I was editor of the student newspaper but my degree was in English literature, so I went to journalism grad school because I thought I needed “real” training. After a year, I realized a masters in journalism was for people who had absolutely no previous experience writing or wanted to be an academic.
I was neither – and struggling to support myself. So after a year I quit and got a job at as a trade magazine writer and editor (there was a recession, entry-level newspaper jobs were non-existent). Many years later, after I’d worked as a weekly and then daily newspaper reporter and then as a freelance writer, I went back to grad school – as the professor. I taught online newswriting to grad students. My only qualifications were those years I’d spent practicing the craft.
So if you’re contemplating going back to school to give your writing career a kick in the pants, there are other ways:
If you’re already writing, stick with it. Find some regular gigs – it is possible in this economy. If you have very little experience, you may need to start small and work your way up – and in these days of Craigslist writing jobs and Web content producers, there are lots of opportunities for starting small.
Blog. There’s no substitute for writing day in and day out. If you don’t want to maintain your own blog, find one on a subject you’re interested in and pitch a few blog posts. I don’t ordinarily advocate writing for free, but if you’re just starting out, you’ve gotta prove to somebody you can do the work – but then move on. And if you’re already established, hunt for paid gigs, they’re out there.
If you’re worried about your skills being out of date, there’s an abundance of non-degree track classes on using multimedia in journalism you can take online or in person. Organizations like the Knight Digital Media Center and News University offer scholarships or cover part of the expense. Take lots of them, and while you’re at it, do a lot of networking so you meet people who could potentially open doors for you.
Find someone with the job you’d like to have some day. Follow them on Twitter. Invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn. If they live in the same town you do, invite them to lunch. Ask them to mentor you. Don’t become a stalker. Do soak up as much knowledge as they’re willing to impart – then when you’ve got your writing business up and running pay it forward to some other acolyte.
Yes, getting a master’s degree could give you some official validation in the profession, and not having that might bug you in some deep down part of your being, a lot like the way that it still bothers me. But you don’t need it. Just go do it.