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I've asked dozens and dozens of people similar questions, but I am interested to hear the response from SE.

At the time of the 20th century, a time with some of the greatest journalists and golden ages, the best writers were without degrees in journalism; and quite a few more were without degrees at all. I find it interesting that George Orwell would be unable to find a job at any newspaper, including local ones without much in the way of circulation. Some people, including the late Christopher Hitchens, say that it's unnecessary; but looking at jobs from journalism(dot)com, it seems to be invariably a requisite.

What is even more interesting is that some require no degree that proves your ability to write, interview, acquire sources, etc.; simply a BA in any field -- this is to say that someone with a degree in classical music is prepared to interview Iraqi freedom fighters on the front lines in Syria while having sniper bullets wizzing past their face, much like Ben Anderson of Vice, but an ex-military person who might have actually fought in M.E. wars is not.

Journalism has always been a field that is benefited from apprenticeships -- regardless of your degree in university (specifically one that pertains nothing to writing in general), nothing prepares you for overseas war-time journalism. I've read the stock arguments, e.g., about it showing some level of determination and integrity. (This, of all of the arguments, is the silliest; everyone who has been to college, or knows college students, knows that they are often times the laziest of people, and are aware of the parties, cramming, and ignoring of any discipline.)

I suppose this is far too much of a rant than it is a question, but I wanted to add some substance to the question, as the question is personal to what I'm writing. Perhaps your rebukes will be of some use. Thank you.

  • Hello and welcome to Writers SE! Would you please mind formatting this into something a little easier on the eye to read? Thanks! – ggiaquin16 Jul 10 '17 at 22:22
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    Because it's so difficult to get a job in journalism even with a degree... – Chris Sunami Jul 11 '17 at 16:11
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Getting a job without a degree is difficult no matter what the field is now. Most middle of the road careers require a degree, ANY degree as long as you have one. Some careers such as Software Engineering or Lawyers require specific degrees to their field.

Journalism is a field that is highly competitive. Even just 100 years ago, the world literacy rate was poor. Going to college was a luxury (and to some degree it still is today). Back then, apprenticeship and skill allowed you to rise up even without a degree. My father got in as a Software Engineer without completing his 2 year degree until after he got into the career. There was less competition for writing because not many were literate and spent most of their life working on their craft.

Now, literacy is fairly strong in most industrialized countries and around the world. With an emphasis on education growing, and more people becoming literate, that means more people are wanting to become writers and journalists. Some of us here in Writers are actually programmers/engineers who are also interested in becoming a writer.

Since there are more people looking to do the same careers, companies need to start adding in criteria to limit who is eligible or they would be interviewing everyone and their pet dog for years without filling the position. One of the best ways to know that someone is passionate and willing to put in the work is by making a requirement that they need a degree. All that let's the company know is that you have some form of work ethic (since you hopefully graduated) and that you have a base level understanding to break into the field.

Of course this doesn't signify that you are a better writer, just that you are willing to do the work. Is it fair to people who are strong writers but don't have a degree? No, but recruiters don't want to spend 20 minutes a person reading through portfolios when they have 30 people to get through. They look for the quick and easy eye catching notes that come up on a resume. Then it is your job to nail it with your portfolio at an interview.

Really, the only way in without a degree is by knowing someone who knows someone that can get you in and willing to put their reputation and credentials on the line for you. Networking plays a huge factor when your resume may not be up to par with the rest of the industry. This still does not mean you will get the job as the company may still say we love you but we want to see a degree.

It's a question I wonder about all the time myself. I spent $50,000 on college just to end up with a degree that was not adequate in their teachings for my career. I had to put in extra work in order to gain the proper knowledge and wonder if a degree really is all that worth it. Unfortunately with how the job industry is right now, whether you agree with getting degrees or not, if your career field requires it, you will have to bite the bullet and do it or find an alternative path/career that doesn't require one.

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I very much doubt that there was any such thing as a degree in journalism in George Orwell's time. There has been a huge proliferation of degrees over the last half century or so, responding, I guess, to the demand of the upwardly mobile middle class to send all their children to university. Since the world clearly did not need half the population trained in Classics, they had to invent degrees in all kind of fields, including communications fields such as Journalism, Marketing, Technical Communication, PR.

These have not always caught on with industry to the same extent. You have never needed a tech comm degree to get a job as a technical writer, for instance -- perhaps because technical expertise is highly prised when hiring tech writers and most tech comm graduates don't have any.

Why does industry buy into what is essentially a marketing scheme perpetrated by the universities to make their degrees necessary to professions where no such degrees were necessary before?

  • Possibly because they are actually teaching something useful.

  • Possibly because the degree program constitutes a kind of apprenticeship, so that the candidate comes to their first job with some basic experience, which means the cost of bringing them up to speed is less and they are productive sooner.

  • Possibly because hiring is one of the scariest things you do in business and people are terrified of getting it wrong. Thus so many hiring managers make the safe choice rather than the bold choice, and hiring a degree feels like the safer choice.

  • Possibly because the system becomes self perpetuating. As soon as a person with a degree works their way into a managerial position, they are going to hire people with degrees because they believe that their own degree makes them a better worker. To hire a non-degreed person would be to say that a degree is not essential and that would devalue your own degree.

What we can see in journalism is that there are opportunities for articulate people who are experts in other fields to work their way into the field as commentators and experts to explain technical subjects when they impact the news of the day. I am pretty sure Sanjay Gupta never went to journalism school.

Insofar as the apprenticeship factor makes a difference, there may be ways to work your way into the profession through small community newspapers or filing reports on spec on offbeat stories, but it will be largely thankless and almost entirely unpaid work.

And let us not forget that journalism is a shrinking profession, thanks to the web. There are trained experienced journalists who can't find work and are looking to transition to other professions. Not the ideal market for an uncredentialed beginner to try to break in.

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