Question No. 18: “What was your degree in?”

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

To all the aspiring journalists that want to follow in Ira Glass’s shoes: you know he didn’t study journalism, right?

(He didn’t study English, Mass Media, Communications or any of the like either)

gladwellglassOne of Glass’s peers in the premier, recognizable journalist club (Malcolm Gladwell) recently did Time Magazine’s 1o Questions feature.  Gladwell answered the question, “what’s your advice for young journalists?” with the following:

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.

This American Life certainly spends a lot of time finding topics that are universal,  relateable and what I think Gladwell would call “smart.” However, despite Glass’s academic training outside of the storytelling realm, there’s no denying that skillset plays an integral part in the TAL product.

So, if he were applying to schools this very fall…

What type of academic training would you recommend for aspiring journalists/storytellers? Despite your own path, is there value in the academic pursuit of journalism/writing in today’s landscape or do you agree with Gladwell’s train of thought?

Links: Time Magazine | Wikipedia

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

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