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Sep 17 / King Kaufman

Is a journalism degree necessary to get a sportswriting job?

I had a great time meeting some Bleacher Report writers at the Dallas Meet-up Friday, and one of them asked me a pretty good question.

The writer, whose name I won’t use because I didn’t know I was going to write about our conversation and didn’t get his permission, is, aside from his Bleacher Report writing, the editor of the student newspaper at his two-year college. He wanted to know if, given that background, he’ll be able to compete on equal terms in the job market with someone who has a degree from a journalism school.

In other words, would his work, no matter how good, always be trumped by a fancier degree?

My answer: In my experience, this racket is all about the work. Degrees from some schools can open some doors and grease some skids. They seem very fond of Ivy Leaguers at certain East Coast journalistic institutions. But for the most part, the people doing the hiring care a lot more about whether you can do the work than about where and how you learned—or didn’t learn—how to do it.

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab has been celebrating the start of the school year by asking various people how well journalism schools are “preparing students for the real world.” The latest to answer is Meredith Artley, the managing editor of CNN’s digital operations, and her view of the importance of a journalism degree is telegraphed in the headline: “Here’s what we look for when we hire young journalists, j-school grads or not.”

A little disclosure: CNN, like Bleacher Report, is owned by Turner Broadcasting. And, for what it’s worth, I have a master’s degree from the journalism school at the University of California.

Artley’s answer pretty much ignores the “Education” section of the résumé:

The job goes to people who don’t just have the skills, but to those who demonstrate knowledge and curiosity about the job, the company and the broader digital landscape …

Skill-wise, people who have the killer journalist/coder combo have been a hot commodity for some time. But those candidates now are becoming easier to find thanks to schools evolving their programs by melding programming and journalism courses, and people who learn interactive reporting skills on the job.

Emphasis mine. Artley, who writes that she is “proud of my journalism degree from one of the best j-schools in the country,” the University of Missouri, also writes, “I don’t consider a journalism degree to be a job requirement.”

Aside from providing one answer to our Dallas writer’s question, Artley offers a lot of good advice to journalism job-seekers, from how to handle job interviews to what kind of skill set to pursue. Worth a read.

  • Rob Goldberg

    This is something that I have been dealing with since I started at Bleacher Report. I don’t have a journalism degree, but I did the sportswriting internship and have been trying to catch up with experience ever since. So far it has had mixed results, but hopefully in time it will not matter what I went to school for.

  • Ken Kraetzer

    King, good article. yes a degree from the Columbia School of Journalism helps, but more often sports writers learn their craft from working on the student newspaper. Although courses can help anyone improve, what I am finding is the importance of going on site when ever possible and to start to be recognized.
    Players and coaches react to people they know and the way to get to know them is to be there as often as possible, as much as the organization will let you in the door. This probably means in the begining reporting on smaller programs or colleges which appreciate media attention, but even small colleges have their days in the sun.
    Of course you will be judged on your product, what you write, is it well done, is it fair, does it tell the story correctly. With time, good things happen, last month I found myself at an event standing with a group of reporters interviewing the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Commissioner of the NFL and chatting with Bill Rhoden of The New York Times.

  • Justin David Tate

    Thanks for taking the time out to write about it.
    And I appreciate the meeting in Dallas.
    Thanks King.

  • Ed

    Thought I’d chip in with a perspective from the UK. Having recently gone through the university application system here, I can tell you that, strangely, a journalism degree is not necessarily the best option for someone wanting to be a journalist. A lot of journalists, both sporting and otherwise, have done degrees in PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), Politics or English. Get a degree from a good university and it doesn’t really matter what the degree is in. What matters is work experience. Have you been working for the local newspaper? Have you done a placement with a national? Have you written extensively for a site such as Bleacher Report? Obviously I have no clue how things work in the US, but thought those from the UK might be interested.