College matters: My feeble attempt to pick a fight with Tim Harrower
This is doomed to be a polite disagreement, not the beginning of a fun online brawl in which I get to display razor-sharp sarcasm in 140 characters.
The problem is that, while I really want to disagree with Tim Harrower’s view of the need for college, he’s my favorite news design guru. And a nice and funny guy. I brought him to the college where I was previously employed for a hugely successful all-day seminar. I took another batch of students to see the same program in Orlando at the National College Media Convention last fall.
Tim is on the program in Chicago at NCMC starting Nov. 1, and you absolutely should attend all his sessions. It will make your paper better the day you get home. And you should go to his website and buy his textbooks on reporting and design. They’re fantastic.
But I have a bone to pick with Tim. On the NCMC website, he is quoted as saying:
“I would probably skip college altogether, to be honest. Especially if I wanted to be a journalist. … Why? Let’s say you’re an editor at a respectable publication. Before you are two resumes: One’s from a journalism major who attaches some clips from her school newspaper. The other’s from a freelancer who says, ‘I skipped college and used that $50,000 to travel around the world shooting video, blogging, and submitting articles to magazines like Outside and Wired. Here’s a link to my multimedia website.’ Which one impresses you more?”
I think it’s wonderful that journalism is the kind of business where an intrepid few can do exactly what Tim advocates. But I think that path is for a really small sliver of would-be journalists. To a young person contemplating the no-college route, I would ask:
- Are you sure you want to be a journalist? There is no chance you’d discover another passion in college that would lead you to a different career or a different part of journalism?
- Are you way above average in resilience, problem-solving and critical thinking?
- Are you disciplined enough to do hundreds or thousands of hours of reading and thinking about literature, history, philosophy and science to get a well-rounded understanding of the world you seek to cover? Will you find wise mentors to guide you in that study?
Tim might well have been able to answer “yes” to all those questions when he was young. He’s very creative and enterprising. I know that I needed college. I was an upper-percentile student and reasonably self-sufficient, and I thought I knew a thing or two about news when I walked into The Crimson White office at the University of Alabama early in my first semester. One assignment later, I began to appreciate my ignorance. I learned a lot in that newsroom and in my journalism classes.
Elsewhere on campus, I learned a lot about political science, literature, history, economics and sociology. And throughout my college years, I learned about engaging in debate and working with peers.
I’m an (unemployed) adviser, not a professor, but from what I can tell journalism schools have become even more valuable in the decades since I graduated. And in the leaner media organizations of today’s world, I think j-school training in reporting, law, ethics and critical thinking is more important than ever. New grads today do not always have a veteran editor carefully reviewing their work before publication.
So take that, Tim! I respectfully disagree with your opinion! If we’re going to get into a nasty battle worthy of Romenesko, it’s up to you to bring the snark. Sadly, I suspect you’re just too nice. But maybe you can slip a zinger into one of your talks in Chicago. I’ll do my best to be outraged.