Navigating the Path: Is Journalism a Worthwhile Major?

30/09/202325 minute read
Navigating the Path: Is Journalism a Worthwhile Major?

In a world where information is king, and where an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of democratic governance and the rule of law, journalism is quite literally the sentinel of freedom. But is journalism a good major?

Clearly the need for responsible, ethical, and skilled journalists has never waned. At the same time much has changed and is changing on the media landscape. This makes it hard to predict with confidence what journalism careers might entail in the future and whether getting a journalism degree is really worth it…

In this article, we'll delve into these questions, exploring the exceptional rewards and significant challenges of pursuing a journalism major, with insights and additional resources to guide your personal decision making and college journey.

Setting the Context: Journalism's Role in Informing Society

Before we dive into the heart of the matter, let's take a moment to understand why journalism matters.

Journalism is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. It serves as a watchdog, holding those in power accountable, and provides citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Whether it's uncovering corruption, shedding light on critical social issues, or simply reporting on everyday events, journalism is the lifeblood of an informed society.

“An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

- Thomas Jefferson

Journalists also hold up a mirror to the world: they bring us reminders of our past and impart the images and voices that reflect the times we live in. Many of these images, voices, events, and experiences would not be shared or recorded without the work of journalists!

If you aspire to a more purpose-driven career, you can use a journalism major as a stepping stone to rewarding work. You might one day use your skills to serve the public interest, empower the marginalized, or promotes fairness, transparency, and public accountability among those in power.

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Journalism Words You Might Know: Check Your Knowledge and Watch for the Words Listed Below as You Continue Reading!
Hack: a disparaging word for a journalist who churns out lots of sensationalist and superficial news writing
Muckracker: a reporter who investigates scandals and corruption
Word-slinger: a news writer who has a way with words
Stringer: a freelancer who provides articles regularly for a newspaper or magazine
The Fourth Estate: a term used to spotlight the powerful role and influence journalists have in social and political governance
Fake news: false or misleading information presented as news
Lede: a term from typesetting that is used by journalists to refer to the introductory paragraph of a news story — while a "lead" is the main idea or point of the story
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The Pros of Pursuing a Journalism Major

The fact is, journalism is a field that presents a number of pros and cons in terms opportunity, roles, and pay, in addition to any apparent intrinsic benefits or rewards.

The decision whether or not to pursue a journalism career is not an easy one for most people…

Starting with the pros, we'll explore the the skills you'll gain, the real-world experiences you'll be exposed to, and the prospective opportunities and rewards a journalism path can offer.

Developing Essential Skills:

You may think news writing is for “hacks” or that news writing comes in as second fiddle when you compare it to writing plays or a novel. But don’t be fooled: good news writing is a hard-earned skill, takes lots of discipline to do well, and is not as easy as it looks!

The fact is journalism majors can develop valuable life skills. As a journalism major you’ll develop and hone very pragmatic and nuanced research, communication, legal, and ethical skills that you’ll rely on almost daily if you do go on to be a journalist with high standards!

You’ll want to be sure to develop strong study skills before you get to college in order to succeed. In fact, a journalism major takes more discipline and perseverance than many students anticipate.

As a journalism major, you’ll learn skills like these:

  • practical research methods and how to do relentless fact-checking
  • how to approach writing for different audiences and purposes
  • how to make complex subjects clear and easy to understand for ordinary people
  • how to find and approach sources and build trusting relationships
  • how to serve the public interest and report stories with honesty, objectivity, and accuracy
  • how to balance your quest for truth telling with a range of legal and ethical considerations related to free speech, libel, privacy laws, national security, and more
  • how to use a range of digital tools for research, writing, publishing, and broadcasting

In addition, journalists with leadership roles need to make many kinds of consequential, judgment-driven decisions. In the biz these are often referred to as  editorial decisions — decisions about how to report a story, what stories to cover or not cover, how to navigate privacy interests, libel laws, and other ethical and legal constraints, and about suitable topics and opinions to spotlight in editorial pages.

In short, journalism majors need to develop strong critical thinking and analytical skills, become sharp writers and editors, and develop a strong foundation in ethical and legal principles.

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Versatility and Transferability

The foundational research and communication skills you learn as a journalism major are very versatile — useful for a a wide range of professional work settings and roles. This fact means getting a journalism degree is a great way to gain valuable transferable skills.

Also, in today’s information age, digital innovations tend to directly impact how people communicate and share information.

In journalism courses, you’ll be exposed to a range of  communication, research, and information technologies. This combination of technology savvy and versatile research and communication skills is a powerful mix — not just for roles in media and journalism generally, but in many modern work settings.

As a journalism major, you’ll develop some almost universally valued workplace skills:

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Persistence
  • Stamina
  • Technological skills

With these kinds of transferable skills, you would have lots of versatility on the job market if you don’t want to be a journalist or the field proves too competitive.

News Analysts, Reporters, and JournalistsBachelor's degree$55,960
Desktop PublishersAssociate's degree$47,910
Writers and AuthorsBachelor's degree$73,150
EditorsBachelor's degree$73,080
Survey ResearchersMaster's degree$60,140
Technical WritersBachelor's degree$79,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Building a Solid Foundation in Industry Skills:

If you do decide to pursue a career in journalism, being a journalism major is going to be very valuable in terms of building a solid foundation for your next steps. Some areas of important foundational knowledge include:

  • Learning about the ethics, laws, and professional standards journalists need to adhere to
  • Gaining exposure to topics in media law
  • Learning about different types of news writing, from breaking news, to feature articles, to opinion and editorial writing
  • Learning about different roles and steps in the news production process: researching, writing, fact-checking, editing, layout, and publication or broadcasting
  • Discovering principles related to different mediums: print, digital, and broadcast, for example, and including newsreels and photojournalism

Writing skills are fundamental, but the bigger journalism field is dynamic and multifaceted…

By pursuing a major in journalism, you’ll ensure you’re getting broad exposure to a range of approaches, roles, and processes that are part of real-world news production.

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Real-world Experience and Networking

Hands-on Learning

As a journalism major, you’ll have opportunities for practical training through course projects, internships, and most likely access to opportunities to work in campus media — such as a campus newspaper, campus radio station, alumni magazine, or campus or departmental blog. 

Whether it’s a course project or a real-world publication, hands-on learning will sharpen your skills, help you build your resume, and give you a realistic glimpse at what it’s like to work as a journalist.

Networking with Industry Professionals: 

As a journalism major, you’ll enjoy greater opportunities to connect with like-minded peers and advisors, while also pursuing connections with other media professionals, through internships, part-time jobs, informational interviews, or professional associations. 

Networking is a great way to get some insights into the profession, and establish valuable contacts for future mentoring or career opportunities.

Pursuing Purpose and Impact

Advocacy and Social Change — The Impacts of the Fourth Estate

One prestigious journalism award is the Pulitzer Prize. Every year Pulitzer Prizes are awarded to outstanding journalists. Often these journalists drew attention for reporting on issues of compelling public value, interest, urgency, and importance.

This kind of reporting, often investigative reporting, can be a driver of social change.

Indeed, if you major in journalism and work as a journalist you could quickly find yourself in a unique position to shine a spotlight on important issues and present them to a wider public.

This is why the journalism profession as a whole is sometimes called the Fourth Estate — because the profession can have such a big impact shaping public opinion, giving a voice to the marginalized, and rooting out crime and corruption in high places.

Fulfillment and Meaning

Since journalism can play such a pivotal role in social change, in ensuring citizens and voters are well informed, and in uncovering hidden facts and informing the public, working in the field can reward you with a strong sense of meaning and purpose.

Sometimes a cause-driven journalist will have to make decisions that involve whether or not to put their own welfare, or even their life, on the line…

That’s right, reporting on important public issues can be rewarding, but there can sometimes be professional or personal risks — especially when you’re holding those in positions of power accountable, exposing corruption or lawlessness, or venturing into a war zone or disaster area.

The Challenges and Considerations of a Journalism Career

Evolving Industry Landscape

The journalism industry has undergone significant transformations in recent years, primarily due to the impact of digital media and changing consumption patterns. With the rise of the internet and social media platforms, the way people consume news has changed dramatically. 

Print newspapers have struggled to retain readership, while online news sources and social media platforms have become dominant. This shift has created both opportunities and challenges for journalists.

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Digital Media and Consumption Patterns

The digital age has democratized journalism, but it has also raised concerns about fake news and the dissemination of disinformation while creating some real challenges for sustaining business models that will support high professional standards.

Job Market Data and Job Stability

Traditional newsrooms have faced financial pressures, leading to layoffs and downsizing. Many journalists now work in more precarious positions, contributing to a lack of job stability within the industry.

Here’s another challenging statistic: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job demand for journalists is forecasted to stay the same or even decrease over the next decade…

So, while the profession itself is likely to endure, various forms of industry disruption and automation make it hard to predict how much demand there will be for career journalists in the future, and for what kinds of roles.

So even though a  journalism degree will likely impart lots of transferable skills, if you pursue a journalism major with journalism careers in mind, you should probably weigh your level of passion and commitment against the limitations and challenges of the job market.

That said, with the right dedication and commitments, a willingness to persevere, and perhaps by leveraging a journalism degree from a top-tier journalism school, you may significantly boost your odds for greater career success and satisfaction.

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Financial Considerations

Journalism often involves low entry-level salaries and challenging financial realities. Many aspiring journalists find themselves pursuing their passion for reporting while struggling to make ends meet financially.

Limited pay and opportunities may mean you find yourself navigating freelance opportunities or gig work in the field, just like the many news writers who worked as “stringers” in decades past.

That said, journalists with top degrees, skills, and accomplishments are more likely to find their way into the most rewarding roles and careers at the more prestigious news media outlets.

If reliable and stable employment opportunities are what you’re looking for, you probably should think twice before you decide that journalism is a good major.

Entry-Level Salaries

Starting salaries in journalism can be relatively modest, particularly for recent graduates. This can make it difficult for young journalists to cover living expenses and pay off student loans, creating financial stress.

It makes sense to consider how you might pair your journalism major with other aspirations and have some alternative job pathways in mind, just in case you find yourself struggling to earn a good living as a journalist.

According to, the average annual base salary for journalists in 2023 is $44,920; salaries at the lowest end of the pay scale start at around $29,000.

Freelance Opportunities & Gig Economy Dynamics

Freelancing has become a common path for journalists to gain experience and supplement their income. However, freelancers often face irregular pay, lack of job security, and the need to constantly hustle for assignments.

Likewise, the gig economy, characterized by short-term contracts and project-based work, has become prevalent in journalism. While it offers flexibility, it can also result in income instability and lack of access to benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.

Ethical and Emotional Resilience

Journalists must balance the principles of objectivity, fairness, and accuracy. Then there are deadlines to manage and a range of laws and ethical guidelines to navigate — for managing information sources, privacy interests, and libel laws… Accordingly, journalists can encounter challenging assignments and ethical dilemmas that can take a toll on their emotional well-being.

  • Balancing Objectivity and Sensationalism: Journalists must strive to report news objectively, but there can be pressure to produce sensational stories that attract attention and viewership. Balancing these demands can be ethically challenging.
  • Dealing with Challenging Assignments: Journalists often cover emotionally taxing stories, such as natural disasters, acts of violence, or human suffering. This can lead to emotional stress and trauma, requiring coping mechanisms and support systems.
  • Ethical Dilemmas: Journalists may encounter situations where their commitment to reporting the truth clashes with privacy concerns, national security issues, or other ethical dilemmas. Making difficult decisions in these situations can be emotionally draining.

So while a career in journalism offers the opportunity to have a career that is purposeful and exciting in many respects,  it comes with a host of challenges and considerations.

As you weigh the pros and cons of a journalism major, consider that journalists who want to adhere to the highest professional standards are likely to need traits such as resilience and adaptability, along with lots of discipline, perseverance, and passion!

Skills and Competencies Beyond the Major

Diversifying Skill Set

While we’ve just seen that the job market in the field can present challenges for some aspiring journalists, you should keep in mind that as a journalism major you’re developing practical and versatile critical thinking and communication skills.

You’re also learning how to incorporate digital and multimedia skills — video, podcasting, data journalism.

This diversified skill set means you can enhance your marketability for a wide range of professional roles by combining journalism with other complementary skills.

Continuous Learning

Communication, information, and media technologies are mainstays of our digital working environments and of the Information Age more broadly. By developing communication, research, and media technology skills as a journalism major, you’ll be embracing lifelong learning for personal and professional growth.

With this approach and taking initiative for lifelong learning, it’s hard to know just how high you can reach and what you can accomplish professionally over the long run!

Tips for Beating the Odds to Succeed in Journalism:

  • Consider giving yourself a leg up by building a strong foundation for success starting in high school
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities when you’re completing your bachelor’s degree in journalism
  • Pursue a postgraduate degree and training from a leading and highly respected journalism school
  • Complement your journalism training with relevant specialized qualifications in technology, law, or business
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Assessing Personal Fit and Aspirations

Almost any career journey is going to present some challenges, demand some hard work, and require additional learning and perseverance. So how do you get into and through these challenges?

Self-reflection and Passion

Aligning your pathway to college with your deeper interests and motivations can boost both your commitments to learning and ensure your longer term success. 

By reading this blog post, you’ve taken an important step — evaluating the journalism major and career pathway in order to decide if it’s a good fit for your own interests, passions, values, and professional goals and aspirations.

Exploring Specializations

When deciding if a journalism major is a good choice, or how it aligns with your passions and interests, remember that a journalism major branches into many possible directions and specializations. Here are some examples of factors to consider:

  • Geographical scope — such as local, national, or international
  • The sector you report on — such as politics, business, sports, the environment, education, or the economy…
  • Your research preferences and interests — such as local news, in-depth features and interviews, or investigative reporting…
  • Different media formats — print vs. broadcast vs. photojournalism…
  • Functions and roles — writing and reporting, editing, business management or start up, legal advising…

Considerations for the Evolving Journalism Landscape

If one thing is certain, it’s that the future of journalism and the news media landscape are likely to be filled with change and uncertainty.

Embracing Digital Transformation 

In the 21st century, journalists will be riding many waves of innovation, not the least of which are evolving digital platforms, social media, multimedia storytelling, crowdsourced news coverage, and last but not least artificial intelligence…

The journalist of tomorrow — whatever their specialized pathway — should probably have at least a tolerance, if not a genuine passion, for exploring and adapting to new technologies and new practices… Consider boosting your tech skills and credentials with relevant certifications or with a minor or second major focusing on relevant technology skills.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Since the journalism field and related communication mediums are undergoing so much disruption, the current journalism landscape could strongly favor those with an inventive and entrepreneurial spirit. 

As you contemplate whether or not to pursue a journalism major, consider how open you are to exploring opportunities in independent journalism, including blogging in an area of personal interest and expertise, or helping to dream up and build new business and communication models…

Also consider how you might boost your qualifications in journalism with relevant entrepreneurial and management skills, by pursuing a minor, second major, or second degree in business.

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Final Thoughts

In conclusion, is journalism a good major? The answer is a resounding yes, but it comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. As you contemplate your academic journey and future career, consider your own passions and aspirations. Journalism continues to be a field of immense importance in our society, and with the right skills, mindset, and determination, you can make a meaningful impact.

Remember, journalism isn't just about reporting facts; it's about telling compelling stories, uncovering hidden truths, and giving a voice to the voiceless. If you have a passion for storytelling, a commitment to truth, and the drive to make a difference, a journalism major might be the perfect fit for you.

So, as you prepare for your college journey, we encourage you to seek guidance and envision the future you want to create. Journalism is not just a major; it's a calling, a vocation, and a path to shaping the world through the power of words.

At Crimson, our experienced counselors are ready to provide personalized guidance tailored to your unique situation and aspirations. We can help you understand how a journalism major might align with your career goals and what it would take to get into a top journalism program.

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Ready to begin your journey? Book a free consultation with a Crimson counselor today. Together, let's explore your potential to study journalism at a top school and kickstart your path to success.

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