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Experience vs. college degree

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SEeditor, Jun 23, 2006.

  1. SEeditor

    SEeditor Member

    We've had this debate for a while -- we being me and just about anybody -- about the importance of one or both of these. So I'll toss it out there. I've been in the business for 16 years, but I didn't start taking college courses until recently. I did so on my own accord, and in a field that is not mass communications. I've gone from working for a small-town daily to a decent-sized paper (70,000 circulation).

    So, here's my question: Have I hit my glass celing? What are the chances of a guy getting to a 100,000 or higher paper without a college degree? I've had interviews at four larger papers or organizations, so that tells me that I've drawn some attention.

    I started working in newspapers a year out of high school, at the tender age of 18. So I feel I've put in my time and paid my dues. But, seriously, have I?
  2. WSKY

    WSKY Member

    I got a degree and so do most of the folks I work with. However, it's more a requirement for younger people now than your age group. I'll say this, I've learned more on the job than in the classroom. But no one can take away my diploma, it's something I'm truly proud to have sitting on the shelve.
  3. Garner

    Garner Member

    Further evidence that a college degree doesn't guarantee a high paying job, a feeling of accomplishment, or the ability to use and spell the word "shelf" correctly.
  4. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    IF you've been fortunate enough to get your foot in the door at a 70K daily, then you've beaten the odds. If you produce there, there's no reason you would not be considered for higher levels. I can't see a newspaper turning down a good producer for the lack of a diploma.

    IF you were still at a small-town daily and hoped to break into the 70K daily without a college degree, I'd say your odds were much worse.

    (This post has been run through spell-check and sanitized so that Garner wouldn't be able to claim superiority over another college grad from his pulpit at the Wendy's drive-thru window...)
  5. Claws for Concern

    Claws for Concern Active Member

    It's a good topic. I have my journalism degree (B.A.), but I went back and got it after leaving the university for a full-time job in the newspaper biz. After seven years of working and gaining experience, I still felt, at age 31, that I wanted that college degree. I got a full-time job closer to the college and chipped away at it with one class, then two as well as a summer class. I finished up the degree in two years and I was already at a 100,000-circulation paper. I stayed there for four years before moving up to a paper with 200,000 circulation.

    But to seriously answer the question, I think a college degree is necessary today because without it, you can be a finalist for a job, but if the other person has a college degree and all else is equal, I think the person having the degree has an edge.
  6. Moondoggy

    Moondoggy Member

    There's another thing to consider. Let's say 5-10 years from now you decide you've had enough of this business and want to move into another field. The lack of a degree might suddenly become a major handicap.
  7. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I don't have a degree and it hasn't been a factor. To the contrary, most employers/potential employers have viewed it sort of like turning pro early -- you have to be pretty good to declare for the draft and get picked while there are plenty of grads available. I'd say at this point, with you being at a 70K, you probably do not need to worry. If you were just starting out, though, I see education mentioned in more and more ads.
  8. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    If you can pursue a degree in your spare time, do it.
  9. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I'm without. Very close, within three-or-four classes, but without a traditional degree.
    I've worked hard and got some breaks along the way. I'm an exception.
    If it is at all feasible, get the piece of paper. Chip away at it like Claws for Concern. Ten years ago, I would have offered a different opinion. But, the instability of our industry causes me concern. Hope that helps.
  10. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    Early, my journalism degree and a small amount of experience at a college paper was all I had to get that first job, so it was extremely valuable for that purpose. But since, it has been my clips, references and interviews that landed my jobs. The degree seemed like it was resume filler. I've never been in a hiring position, but I would imagine if an SE had two close candidates, the degree might act as a tiebreaker.
  11. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    It's not like I planned ditching school for a full-time job, it just happened. I was working part time at a large paper and not getting enough hours to live on. Approached a competitor two-thirds our size, didn't know I was going for a full-time job until he made the offer. I said, "I can't work full time, I'm still in school." He said, "I don't have a degree, you don't need one. Do you want the job or not?" Tried to do both for a while, but it was killing me.

    The best deskman I ever worked with had no degree. The best beat writer had no degree. My first major-metro SE had no degree. The guy who probably had the highest IQ of anyone I've met in this business had no degree (he quit because he was bored, giving up a full-ride football scholarship), his nickname was "The Robot." On the other hand I've worked with some great talent who had Ivy League degrees. No generalizing about this.

    Wife has a master's, somehow she puts up with this undereducated subhuman.
  12. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    I'm 24 and I don't have a college degree. I landed my first daily gig at age 18 after a semester of college. I had been writing in high school for various publications, won an award and while in college, I wrote for the state's big daily as a freelance writer. The way I looked at it: I can graduate from college, have student loans and make $20K a year, or I can leave college, have no student loans and make $20K a year. Would it have been easier for me to move up if I had stayed in college? Probably. Did my lack of a degree hurt me when applying for a job? Probably. But I've been the interim SE at a 45K paper (at 19) and the SE at an 8K (at 20) and 16K (at 24). I've only interviewed for one job in my short time in the business that I didn't get, and I didn't get it because I lacked a degree. A better candidate applied for the gig. If you've got the talent, you'll find a job in this business, whether you have a degree or not. A couple months ago I applied for a job and the SE asked me about not having a degree. I told him why and he laughed. He said he left college for the same reason. Journalism, in my opinion, is one of the few professions where you learn more in the field than you could ever learn in the classroom.
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