I was really good about selecting general education and elective classes in college. I wanted to pick things that could help me in my future career. I did a lot of things right. But, in the past few weeks of working as a full-time journalist for the first time, I kick myself sometimes for not taking the following classes:
- Journalism Law: I wanted to take it, but I just didn’t have the chance to. It was only offered one semester and I was fully loaded that semester with other hugely valuable experiences and classes. I encountered issues with journalism and the law my SECOND day on the job when I was kicked out of a public place. I did not know what to do and if it was legal for me to be there or not.
- Criminal Justice: Yes, I am the police reporter, but everyone in this newsroom at some point has to deal with crime. Even getting the language right to write about it is tricky. I deal with police departments and the legal system every single day. Sometimes I do stuff in court. I wish I came in with a better understanding of how these things work.
- Another internship: I had two internships when only one was required of me. This was great and I am glad I did it. But, I wish I would have started interning sooner so I could have squeezed in another one. From others I know in the field, it seems like three internships is best.
- Environmental science/ecology/etc: One of my responsibilities is to cover the news coming out of a nearby state park. Not everyone has to deal with this, but many reporters may need to write stories on a new factory and the environmental implications of it, or understand complex research students are doing at a nearby university.
- Human Biology: I really do not like science, but this could be beneficial in many sectors of life. My newsroom does not have a designated health reporter, so I want to have an understanding of that, too. I’m working on a huge project that has implications in criminal justice, mental health, physical health, psychology, and family relationships. When someone is “unconscious in severe condition,” what does this actually mean?
- AP Style: I only had to memorize a couple dozen entries from the AP stylebook throughout my four years of college, and now it is biting me in the butt every single day. These are small, but important things, and when you make mistakes on them you look pretty stupid to your editors.
- Statistics: Sometimes I have to wade through statistics. Sometimes those stats are skewed because an organization presents them with an agenda. As a journalist, I need to present facts without presenting the agenda of another person or group.
- American History: I took it in high school, but I hardly remember any of it. All towns love history and when a new monument is dedicated or there’s a new Robert E. Lee impersonator in town, it helps to know the history behind it all. The next few weeks will be filled with covering events for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg…and I hardly remember anything about the Civil War other than my 8th grade history teacher screaming “SHILOH” at us in his high-pitched voice.
On the flip side, I’m really glad I took these classes:
- American Government: I took it as an elective and it was my hardest class that semester. Since I hope to have a job in Washington, D.C. someday, this will be useful to me. This class can also be useful if I have to cover anything in local government.
- Sociology: This was a part of my minor, and this type of class helped me understand how complex issues are and how many different things combine to make a huge problem. Inner city violence is not simple. Drug abuse is not simple. Realizing the complexities of life is the first step. Further into my minor, I became equipped to to research on these issues. Many of these skills intersect with journalism research skills, but are more advanced. Sociology helps me ask the right questions in complex situations.
- Photography: I only took darkroom photography, but I loved it. I can’t work a DSLR yet, but when my editor tells me to go somewhere and no photographers are available, at least I can take a decent photo with good composition on a point-and-shoot that is worthy of publication.