photo by Neville Elder / Getty
Malcolm Gladwell, a reporter for the New Yorker who has three bestselling books to his name, was recently quoted in an interview for Time magazine as saying that students should not pursue journalism degrees.
Time: If you had a single piece of advice to offer young journalists, what would it be?
The issue is not writing. It’s what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he’s one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He’s unique. Most accountants don’t write articles, and most journalists don’t know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master’s in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that’s the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.
I came to Drake as a double major in Journalism and Physics. You wouldn’t believe the weird looks I get when I tell people my combination, and I’ve handled responses ranging from, “That’s so cool!” to “Why the hell would you want to do that!” to “Dude, that’s weird… I’m sorry, but that’s just weird.”
My whole idea from the beginning was to create a combination of majors that could provide me with experience in a niche, possibly giving me the edge over the generalist reporters Gladwell describes. It’s a path that I’ve been pretty uncertain about taking because it seemed, well, strange. Unique. This article makes me feel awesome while simultaneously making me ponder about the money and time I’ve spent in a journalism program.
So I’m wondering, how do you think your education at Drake has been? Do you think developing niche skills such as Jonathon Weils with Enron will help reporters stay in the biz? Are you a double major, and if so, how are you hoping to combine it?