I recently wrapped up my first year of journalism school. It went by so quickly, and although it was challenging I had a great year. In some other blog posts where I’ve mentioned my journalism experiences, some commenters have been curious about the program. And, seeing as I’ve interacted with some bloggers who are also either aspiring or current journalism students, I decided to write a post about four of the many things I have learned this year. If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments!
1. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to witness history.
I didn’t have any journalism exams this year; instead, we had “Story Days”; four or five days throughout the semester where we had to conduct interviews, take photos, record audio… to file by 5:30 p.m. the same day. One story day in first semester fell on Nov. 9, the day after the U.S. election. I was planning to write about Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president; but I ended up getting people’s reactions to Donald Trump winning the election.
Even though I wasn’t able to add my personal opinion in my article (I saved that for a blog post that I wrote a few days later) it was still an incredible feeling to be writing the same story that other journalists all over the world were writing. Witnessing Trump’s historical victory through writing an article about it was a really cool moment in my first year of studying journalism.
2. Get photo composition right in the moment.
I learned pretty early on this year that heavy photo editing is frowned upon in journalism because it means altering the reality of an image. Not relying on editing or filters after the fact means it’s important to pay attention to compositional elements when taking the photo. I took most of my photos horizontally, and tried to remember elements like rule of thirds, lines, and framing. Thinking of these things when taking photos — and taking multiple shots instead of just one — helps you take good photos, without needing to edit them afterwards.
3. Forget “Less is more” when it comes to gathering material.
The adage “Less is more” may be true for word counts due to readers’ increasingly shortening attention spans, but it doesn’t ring true for the process that comes before writing. My journalism professors gave us guidelines on how many voices to include in our stories; often we’d need at least four.
However, this didn’t just mean going out, interviewing four people, and calling it a day. Four voices means four good voices who have interesting stories to tell. This means getting more interviews than required so that you can narrow it down to the best ones. As one professor said in our last lecture, you know you’ve done your job well when you have good quotes on the cutting board.
The same thing can be said of research, and even emailing sources; I remember one story day where I was looking for an expert in war journalism. I reached out to several war journalists, but ended up only hearing back from one. If I had only contacted one person, I probably wouldn’t have had a quote to include in my article.
4. You can do so many cool things with a journalism degree — and you don’t have to wait to graduate to get started.
When I reflect back on this year, I wrote a lot of things that I’m really proud of. For one of my last story days I pitched a story about press freedom on campus since there had been some incidents where student journalists were denied entry to on-campus events. This was a story that was important to me, and it ended up being my favourite article that I wrote this year. Having that opportunity to choose the story I wanted to cover has made me even more excited to branch out into other types of news writing and to continue pitching my original ideas.
And that was just for an in-class assignment — outside of class, there are so many interesting opportunities, from writing for on-campus publications to working on your own journalism-related projects. Working towards a degree in journalism is exciting because you don’t just get to do “real” journalism once you graduate; you get to do it while you’re in school!