This morning, I read Michael Wolff’s piece in USA Today entitled Columbia Flunks Relevancy Test. He’s not a fan of the school for reasons I can actually understand (though they might have been more convincing if he’d kept the sweeping generalizations to a minimum).
The overriding circumstance which the J-school seems to regard as not its concern is that the news business, which it counts on to employ its graduates — newspapers, magazines, television news, even online news — is shrinking at historic rates… Columbia, raking in $58,008 in yearly tuition and fees from each student and then sending them into a world of ever-bleaker prospects, ought, more reasonably and honestly, to just shut its doors.
I’m currently an MS student at Columbia. Wolff is right. It’s expensive. He’s also right about the fact that my peers and I probably won’t be making heaps of money down the road.
Like most other students—who, believe it or not, are a pretty wise, critically thinking lot of folks—I deeply considered whether or not it was a financial burden I wanted to take on. In seeking advice on the matter, in fact, I was encouraged not to go to j-school for reasons very similar to Wolff’s: it’s a waste of money, and if I want to be a journalist, I should just get out there and do journalism. But I went anyway. Here is why.
I want to be in an industry that continuously and honestly reflects on itself. I was first drawn to Columbia because of the Columbia Journalism Review. It’s a brilliant and necessary publication—not the only brilliant and necessary publication—but one that has empowered my curiosity for both the past and future of journalism with access to the people who think about it well. I hoped this type of thinking would be present in classes at Columbia. It is.
I want to be friends with and collaborate with intelligent, hard-working people who love both creating and consuming journalism. There is no better way to form life-long connections with such a group of people than by spending months working yourself to the bone in their company. At Columbia, I have had the honor of doing this.
I want to have the skills to be able to create any sort of journalistic project I want, both because I understand the industry is in a time of incredible transition, and these skills will be an asset, and because with the appropriate tools, great journalism can reach more people than ever before. I’m halfway through my degree and I have learned to code, curate, aggregate, report, write, shoot and produce audio, video and photography from employed journalists whom I respect and appreciate very much for the warmth and thoroughness with which they have shared their knowledge and experiences. They’ve brought their friends and colleagues to class too, who have offered their time and expertise entirely for free.
I want to be part of a community to which I can remain connected. To which I want to remain connected. I have been offered mentorship and guidance from J-school alumni who graduated 1 year before my time and 30 years before my time, and they have been nothing but kind and helpful. I cannot wait to pay it forward.
Columbia’s faculty, staff, and resources are great. But truly, it is the students and alumni of a university that make it great. It’s hard for me keep myself inspired without a community. And to do my best work, I’d like to nourish my inspiration. In a city where most of us are willing to get into debt for many kinds of instant gratification, a meaningful community is something I am willing to pay for, to have the opportunity to sustain.
So thank you, Michael Wolff, for making me consider once again, why I’m paying for J-school at Columbia. I didn’t become a journalist to make a lot of money. I became a journalist to become a better human being. Someone more critical, more patient, better at listening, better at asking questions, better at representing others on paper and in film. I’m absolutely certain I will be able to support myself and my family (in more ways than one) with these skills. While I have tremendous respect for those who are willing and able to freelance their way to the top, that’s not the struggle I chose. I chose to join a legacy institution that is finding its way in a transitioning world, and that struggle is something I’m enjoying very much. —Jihii
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- sharingmyadventures said: As a recent journalism graduate, I have contemplated the decision of applying for J-School. Much like the article written by Wolff, I had my reservations; more specifically the cost of attending. But this is a very refreshing perspective.
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- fuckbrooklyn said: Beautiful and inspiring
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