Career in Journalism
Annie Rzepecki ('05), while a first year student in Jim Heynen's First Year Writing seminar, wrote to journalist Kate Stanley, a recent visitor to the class, about her interest in journalism. Ms. Stanley replied with advice about preparation for careers in journalism.
Stanley recently won the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award Trophy in the "Editorial" category for her editorials on homelessness, teen pregnancy prevention, and mental health. The judges said she is "an especially engaging writer, not afraid to try different approaches to editorial writing."
Here is the exchange:
Hi Kate! I am one of Professor Heynen's first-year writing students at St. Olaf, and I wanted to thank you for your visit. Heynen has been trying to persuade me to become an English major, and after hearing you speak I decided that journalism is exactly what I want to do. I just interviewed for the school newspaper and I hope to continue in journalism, perhaps as an intern at the Star Tribune next summer. Thank you for inspiring me!
Lovely to hear from you, and it is heartening--if humbling--to hear that I've tossed some inspiration your way.
But before you leap into the fray and become a journalism major, I do feel obliged to report to you that I, myself, was NOT a journalism major. I was precisely what Prof. Heynen is urging you to become: a student of English literature. Writing is learned largely by reading great writers and by practice; journalism is learned by throwing oneself into a newsroom.
I have nothing against journalism school except that its majors often come out of the mill never having read a bit of Shakespeare or Yeats or Heaney or Ellison or Thoreau or Morrison or Austen or Achebe or the Brontes or Wilde or Swift (Do you know these names? Before you graduate you should.), and thus are fully prepared to deliver the facts but have never made friends with the world's many wise minds--those who have made a life out of turning facts and even plain old concoction into gold. Thus the students know less about the enterprise than they should.
THIS--the spinning of gold--is the ultimate task of the writer, and the best journalists find a way to fulfill it. I am not saying that such gold-spinning can only be learned in English Departments, and anyone interested in journalism should of course take a few reporting classes along the way, but I am pretty sure that you can glean more sparkle-of-language--and more life-knowledge--by excavating the poetry and prose sent your way by English professors than by paging through the material dispensed by the faculty in other disciplines.
So there you have it--my prejudice in a nutshell. Take it for what it's worth. DO go work at the newspaper; you'll learn important things. But one way or another, make a point of exposing yourself to great writers--lots and lots of them--and to the insight thoughtful teachers can stir up as they talk with you about literature. All the best journalism is, in the end, a kind of literature. All the best journalists have sought out wise minds.
Best of luck to you as you launch your writing boat into the lake.
All the best,