The University Bookman


Fall 2015

On Becoming a Journalist


Russell Kirk

Among the numerous vices of American education, one of the silliest is our passion for offering vocational courses and curricula, from high school through graduate school, in occupations that can be learned only through experience on the job. The teaching of journalism may be sufficient illustration.

A good newspaperman or writer for popular magazines needs a lively mind, the power to concentrate and a big stock of general, if ordered, information. He needs to be a genuinely educated man, whether he has got his learning in schools or by self-discipline. He needs especially to know humane literature, history and politics. But enrolling as a Journalism Major is a sad blunder.

When I expressed such opinions at a national conference of editorial writers, one professor of journalism present inquired whether I would approve of “current events” courses in journalism schools, meant to acquaint students with world affairs by discussing daily the background of events in the headlines. I replied that such a method would be even more time-wasting than technical academic studies in newspaper work. For one comes to understand “current events” only through the acquiring of genuine perspective—through study of history, social theory, philosophy and great literature.

Journalists require education—but theirs ought to be liberal education, as wide-ranging as possible. Also they require apprenticeship in their craft. Work on a school or college paper is a very good beginning in such apprenticeship. Then practical reporting or feature writing ought to follow, on a commercial paper. The classroom, however, is a place for liberal studies, not for vocational instruction. The more college-educated newspapermen the better. Yet, such should major in academic disciplines, and then turn their general culture to account when they begin their journalistic jobs.

Most of the influential editors of this country, I think, are not typical products of journalism schools. And the better professors of journalism, even, got their knowledge not by going to classes, but by police-reporting or magazine-editing.

Two fairly successful friends of mine majored in journalism. One is now in the engineering department of an automobile company, and the other is an insurance actuary. So intelligence will tell, despite one’s curriculum. At one big school of journalism, only 16 percent of the graduates become newspapermen; 17 percent get jobs on business and industrial house organs; and the remaining two-thirds turn to public relations (much more lucrative than journalism) or to miscellaneous vocations.

Almost all of these, I suspect, would be better journalists or better non-journalists if they had been liberally educated. Technique comes from experience, not from dull and inflated three-credit courses.  

Posted: November 8, 2015 in To the Point.

Did you see this one? book cover

American Imperialism and Its Discontents
Carl Rollyson
Spring 2017

Deny a fact, and that fact will be your master.

Russell Kirk


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