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Why You Should Study To Be A Journalist

by Shelly Horton
Posted: June 21, 2016

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A few years ago the University of Queensland considered scrapping the journalism degree it’s been running since 1921. I completed my journalism degree there in 1993 so when I heard the proposal I nearly cried, writes Shelly Horton

I can honestly say I would not be where I am in my career if I had not studied journalism. 

According to an "issues paper" written by the faculty's executive dean, Professor Tim Dunne in 2014, it declared the demand for journalism is declining globally.

He argued the downturn in the job market and falling demand for journalists meant studying journalism was no longer necessary.

"Some elite universities now only offer postgraduate programs in journalism (for example Columbia, Melbourne and Berkeley) and this might provide a plausible direction for UQ,” he claimed. 

Why study journalism
For a journalist, a deadline is always looming. But is a deadline for journalism degrees looming too?
Pic source: Stock Snap.

Luckily, common sense prevailed and journalism continues to be one of the most popular courses at UQ and around the nation.

Given the state of the media industry at the moment, studying journalism may seem counterintuitive. But I would argue the opposite, while companies like Uber “disrupt” the taxi industry; freely available web publishing systems and low-cost video hosting platforms is “disrupting” mainstream media. It means anyone can publish content. Rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, it should be seen as a massive opportunity.

Content is king 

But most importantly, good content is king. People will still choose well-written stories over poorly written pieces. It’s just that more people are consuming journalism online than those who walk down the street to the newsagent.  

So the opportunities are there. That’s why you need the solid base that studying journalism provides. 

For me, studying journalism gave me so much more than just knowing you need to cover who, what, where, when and why in every story.

When I was studying, if you handed in an assignment even one minute late you failed. Fair enough too, because you just failed to meet a deadline. No journalist can exist if they can’t manage their time and produce great work to a deadline. You won’t see a black hole in the six o’clock news because a journalist’s car ran out of petrol. You meet that deadline, even if it means you grab a cab, hitch a lift or just bloody run to the station. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

Studying gives you practice in pitching story ideas. You need to be able to sell a story in just a few sentences. You need to know the news hook, arguments for and against and depending on what medium you’re working in, what vision will tell the story effectively.

You learn to think quickly and clearly. It’s a skill to devour research documents and reports and sift through them until you are left with only the critical information. But something like that only comes with practice and being guided by a lecturer.

You also gain a confidence to speak to anybody, in any situation, at any time. You are constantly talking to sources, witnesses and experts. You learn to bravely ask the questions no one else wants to raise. 

Plus you learn to be adaptable

Why you should study to be a journalist
Anyone can self-publish a story, but will it be good enough for anyone to read it?
Pic source: Stock Snap

One of the things I love about journalism is the work flexibility and constantly changing environments. I have filed stories from murder scenes, sporting events and red carpet movies premieres. I’ve worked in print, radio, TV and online. Every day is different. It’s thrilling and really suits people who are inquisitive and who would rather die than work a 9-5-desk job. Now you have to be able to duck and weave between different mediums. It’s expected. Online writers are now asked to create their own web videos, and print reporters are often asked to go on radio and TV to promote their work.

When you get down to it, the basis of journalism is simply relaying information - discovering, collecting, assembling, analysing and presenting information. 


With newsrooms shrinking and cadetships all but disappearing, aspiring writers and producers need to study journalism to learn their craft. 

I am often campaigning to younger journalists to do as much work experience or as many internships as possible. It is a great learning ground. I believe it is so competitive to get those positions and those who’ve studied journalism are at a huge advantage at winning a position. Then, if you have learned the basics you can hit the ground running with your internship and file stories. The more you impress at gigs like that, the more likely it is you’ll be offered a full time job.

Journalism is competitive in so many ways

Why you should study journalism
Distilling information quickly is vital as a journalist.
Pic source: Stock Snap

It is competitive to get a job, it’s competitive to keep that job and it’s competitive to get a promotion

But I don’t think this is a particularly bad thing. As a journalist you are constantly judged on your performance. On TV, people live and die by the ratings; in print you need exclusives and a consistently high standard of writing, online, you need a large social media audience and a high volume of traffic.  

Again, I think this is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and keeps your skills finely tuned.

Yes, anyone can start a blog or have a voice on social media. But that doesn’t make them a journalist. So rather than give up because you’re faced with unexpected competition, study hard and learn the tricks of the trade. Show them how it should be done. Learn the basics well and you’ll be set up for life. 

I believe, hand on my heart, that studying journalism is the best way to start a fulfilling, exciting and diverse career. I am proud to be a journalist. I love my job. I hope you do too.

Interested in getting a job in journalism? Research the average wages and job prospects in the Writing and Communication sector here.


Shelly Horton

Known for fronting up to uncomfortable conversations and never sitting on the fence, Shelly is a well-known voice in the area of pop culture, women's issues and health. She’s interviewed everyone from Tom Cruise and Kim Kardashian to the Dalai Lama.

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