J-School Is a SCAM

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You like to follow “the news,” do you? Interested in “stories,” are you? Well here’s a little “story” you may have missed in “the news” for the past decade: DO NOT GO TO JOURNALISM SCHOOL.


This is not a new or fresh or cutting-edge “take.” This is more of a public service announcement that must be renewed annually lest it be lost in the wash of the “news cycle,” heh. Every year, when all the grad school numbers come in, we are reminded that—contrary to all common sense—thousands of young people with dreams of a career in journalism are lured into pricey graduate school programs to learn how to, I dunno, do a career in journalism. This seems nonsensical. There are only three steps to having a career in journalism:

  1. Find out what’s happening.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Find someone to pay you for this activity.

The third step is the only hard part. The first two steps are pretty fucking straightforward. You absolutely, positively, do not need to pay Nick Lemann $105,000 to explain to you how to find out what’s happening and write it down. (You go ask people who know what’s happening, write what they say in a notebook, then later write all that into news story form. You’ll suck at this at first but after a while you’ll get better. That’ll be $105,000.) The only legitimate claim that any J-school can make to usefulness is that they will help you get a decent job in journalism, which is a much tougher thing to accomplish than doing journalism is. But even this proposition—that J-school is, in essence, an entry fee that you must pay to enter the rarefied world of the media—has a few problems of its own.

  1. It’s false. Plenty of successful working journalists never went to J-school, and they get the added benefit of being able to feel superior because they never went to stupid J-school.
  2. Even if it were true, it would be insane to pay a six-figure entry fee to a field with a median annual wage of less than $40,000 per year.
  3. Journalism is a field in which it is extremely important that racial and socioeconomic diversity be reflected in newsrooms. High demand for expensive top-tier journalism schools creates and perpetuates a system in which poor and working-class people are frozen out of employment because they are unable to pay the absurd entry fee to obtain a low-paid job. The more elite journalism jobs are filled with graduates of elite J-schools, the worse the overall end product of the news media becomes.

As a profession and as a society we should be actively discouraging young people from going to J-school. It’s unnecessary! It’s a big ripoff! And it contributes to a lack of diversity and an economic elitism that is detrimental to the goal of equality in news coverage! It’s all fucked up! Nevertheless, the latest numbers tell us that applications to the nation’s major journalism schools are absolutely booming. This story floats some dubious theories about the reason for why so many young people now see a journalism career as a “stable option,” when the real reason is clearly that the people who are now of age to go to grad school are too young to remember 2009, when everyone got laid off.

That’s okay—the next recession should be coming right about the time you graduate with $105,000 in debt!


Last, it bears mentioning that all of the fancy professors teaching you all of this special secret expensive knowledge at your fancy J-school are almost entirely people who are A) too old to be working journalists or B) couldn’t really hang on as working journalists. (There is nothing wrong with not being able to hang on as a working journalist—which is mostly due to luck—as long as you don’t immediately recast yourself as a journalism guru who possesses esoteric knowledge that must be purchased at a high price.) Journalism school is a great, cushy job for washed-up writers. You don’t have to actually do any stories, and you get to tell everyone else how they should do their stories, and there is nothing produced for public consumption that might even draw any criticism of your work. It’s an even sweeter gig than being an editor! Almost everything you need to know about journalism can be learned with common sense and on-the-job experience. But J-school professors must, for the sake of their own jobs, promote the false idea that they know something valuable. The only people who know for a fact that they are lying are actual working journalists, and they are too busy working on actual journalism to speak up. This is why, according to a recent survey, “More than 80 percent of educators but only 25 percent of media professionals say a journalism degree is extremely important when it comes to learning news gathering skills.”

Buy a notebook and a pen for $5. Save yourself $104,995. Don’t fall for the J-school scam. Instead, spend your time figuring out how to scam someone into hiring you.


*I would still LOVE a J-school job. I know about computer!