Trying to become a well-rounded journalist

If there’s one thing about King’s that really makes me proud to be here, it’s the faculty’s genuine desire for students to succeed. When I get those emails or read the tweets from someone in the J-School about companies who are hiring journalists or summer interns, I believe they’re really trying to help students be successful. But when I open those emails up, or follow the links on Twitter, I can’t help but feel like I’m not even close to being qualified for those positions.
I am a journalism student and I know I want to be a journalist. I am in the Bachelor of Journalism Honours programme and I’m not doing a combined honours. It’s frustrating that I can only take two journalism electives.
When I discovered this, I was frustrated, classmates I spoke to felt frustrated, and for a while, nobody could tell me why this was the case.
So I started to ask questions and look into what seemed to be a very bizarre rule. I’m getting a journalism degree, shouldn’t my school encourage me to take a multitude of related electives?
In my first attempt to get some answers, I went with a friend in the BJH program to the journalism department. We were told that, well, that’s just the way it is, and if we wanted to take a bunch of “fun courses,” we should consider switching to a journalism minor. Not the answer we were looking for.
I continued to ask and pester different journalism faculty and I finally got my answer. The reason they limit students to taking two electives—it used to be one—is so BJH students can graduate with a well-rounded degree.
To an extent, that makes sense. They want students to be diverse in their learning, to have an education that isn’t completely centred around one thing. This means that half of your degree is in journalism, and the other half is in arts and/or science electives.
But when you aren’t doing combined honours, this means half of your degree is in limbo—filled with random, whimsically selected courses that feel like they don’t matter, and feel like they’re doing nothing to help you to become a journalist. In fact, more of the journalism degree is in electives than it is journalism—out of the 20.5 credits required to graduate, nine and a half of them are in journalism, and 11 credits are in… something else.
There is one way to get around the system – sort of, and that’s by taking a course cross-listed in another field. For example, Science and the Media is cross-listed in journalism and history of science and technology. By taking the class through HOST, you are effectively taking an extra journalism elective. The problem, however, is that only two journalism electives are cross-listed in other subjects: Science and the Media, and Women and the Documentary Tradition.
This sort of structure isn’t unique to King’s. In fact, nearly every university in North America that offers a Bachelor of Journalism degree operates in the same half-and-half manner. Carleton University, for example, requires 20 credits to graduate: eight in journalism, and 12 in everything else. Sometimes—like at Ryerson University—the journalism credits outweigh the other electives, but it’s never by much.
In the UK and Australia, it’s a different story. There are three-year Bachelor degrees that focus solely on journalism, with a few places for other electives.
So, at what extent is it important to have a well-rounded degree, and when does it become overkill? I don’t know.
What I do know is that three years in, I still want more. The workshops I’ll be taking in fourth year are exactly what I’ve been looking for—but that’s what I’ve wanted for the first three years of my degree, not just the last. Plus, if I don’t take the television or radio workshops, I feel like I’ll be completely missing those skills that employers want me to have.
Sure, I can take the time and teach myself to be a well-rounded journalist, but I’m paying for a degree in journalism at King’s, and I’m too busy writing papers for classes I’m not really interested in taking, to find the time to do so.
I’m not sure where the happy medium is, but I know I want the freedom to take enough journalism electives to make me feel like a well-rounded journalist. I want to graduate and feel ready to tackle any kind of journalistic work that comes my way. I want to open up those emails from the J-School and click those Twitter links with the confidence that I’m as qualified as I’ll ever be for those positions.
Sadly, what I learned in “Chekhov and Turgenev” doesn’t provide me with such self assurance.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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