Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If You Want to Skip Journalism School...

I am at approximately the halfway point in my year-and-a-half long program at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. There's a month left in this semester. Then I am on "summer break" followed by the third and final semester of my master's degree program in magazine writing.

Hopefully, in January, there will be a job out there for me. Hopefully. Or at least editors willing to buy my stuff freelance.

I've been speaking to lots of prospective students in the past few months, about journalism, journalism school, and the graduate student experience at NYU. I'm generally positive about the decision to go to NYU (for myself and others). The professors (Ted Conover, Meryl Gordon, Lawrence Weschler, Rob Boynton, etc. etc.) are amazing-- I love getting to spend hours with them each week in class, having them read my work, and having ready access to them via office hours and e-mails. They're amazing people and journalists, and it's kind of mind-blowing to get to monopolize their time.

Other good things: my fellow students (especially my four favorites-- not naming names); not being in the job market right now; having an excuse to live in New York; and being the possessor of a master's degree by the end of the year.

So those are the positive things. These are the not-so-positive things: accumulating student loan debt; writing long pieces that don't get published (freelancing stinks right now); the ego deflation that is part of "being a student"; not being taken seriously by sources; and the fear that spending time getting a master's degree in a profession in which it is not required is silly.

Being a writer and editor at Above The Law helps balance out some of the negatives. I am fully engaged in the news cycle and it's good to be doing writing and reporting that's actually being read daily by people who need it.

A lot of journalism school is studying great pieces of non-fiction. I would likely be too lazy to do that systematically on my own. But if you're less lazy than me and want to simulate the journalism school experience, read the following:

  • The John McPhee reader. McPhee, a long time New Yorker writer, is the journalistic God to many of us in the craft.
  • Gay Talese magazine pieces, notably "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold."
  • The New Yorker
  • (If you live in New York) New York Magazine
  • The New York Times
  • Optional, but recommended: The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Wired
  • Joan Didion
  • Ian Frazier. (Lawrence Weschler: "Frazier is the best journalist of my generation." And Weschler's work is pretty friggin' amazing.)
  • William Finnegan, notably Cold New World
  • The New New Journalism, by Rob Boynton. Interviewing, reporting, and writing techniques from the "new new journalists."
  • Joseph Mitchell, notably Up In The Old Hotel
  • David Foster Wallace, notably A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

    There's more, but I'm tired of typing. So, yeah, for a do-it-yourself-master's-degree-in-journalism, read all that stuff, and write/report a lot. Voila! I've saved you $40K or so.

    Rule 12 (f) said...

    ty for this. Interesting your negatives about J-school highlight some of the reason I chose not to attend . . .

    Kashmir Hill said...

    I thought about the negatives but still decided to go. I don't regret it at the moment, but we'll see how I feel in January when the interest starts really accumulating on my loans.