Why you should listen to your professors and learn it all!

I’m sitting here thinking about how happy I am that I decided to NOT get a degree in TV News.

If you told me that about ten years ago I would have thought you were crazy. Back then I was just starting in the biz and was gung-ho. I did not know that TV news would be changing and sinking to new lows or how I would develop a love-hate relationship with it. I did not know that I would dedicate a year of my life to studying burnout in producers. Back then I had a “great” job working overnights at a Dallas TV news station. Wow. I thought I was big time. Funny now.

I ended up getting a general journalism degree because I was working as a producer at a TV news station in Austin while finishing up my bachelors degree. I was 21. I wanted to graduate and move on. I was in the University of Texas’ TV journalism program. Hard to get into. But very good. Then a problem arose, one of the classes conflicted with my work schedule and the university would make no exceptions I had to take the class to learn about TV news. It didn’t matter that I was a real TV news producer getting paid to do what the class talked about. I had also completed an internship for the CBS Evening News, then anchored by Dan Rather. I thought I knew where my career was headed. And I did. Mostly. So instead of taking that class, I decided to drop the TV program and just focus on journalism. I had already been a print journalist for The Daily Texan and for my high school newspaper. I liked print journalism. I had just decided that TV was more me, so I wanted to do that.

Getting a degree in journalism rather than TV News meant I had to take a few more classes to widen my base. I loved them. I took graphic design and more writing courses. Looking back on it now, I think it should be mandatory to get the more general degree.

While TV news classes are great, you really learn more in one day in the field than you do in most classes. That’s what internships are for. (I’ll expand on that thought in a future post.) I’m not saying you don’t need TV classes because you do. You need to learn the art of storytelling on TV. Its a skill that takes time and patience. You also need to walk away from school with a resume tape so you can get the job you want. I have come to hate how so many journalism students don’t want to write for the college paper. They want to be on TV. That’s fine and all. It is not easy to learn how to be a polished reporter or anchor. It takes practice. And you need to know how to work a camera and write specifically for TV. But, what you really need to learn in school are the basics of being a journalist. Being a journalist should mean something. It should come with standards that aren’t toyed with. I think those are getting left behind far to often in this day and age. You can see it on TV without looking very hard.

Back to my story… I climbed the ladder at the station in Dallas all the way to producing the 6pm news. Then I decided I wanted something more. I felt burned out. I needed a change. TV news was my life. I literally spent all my time doing it. I had no meaningful relationships outside of work. I’m glad I realized that then.

I took a job doing an entertainment/lifestyle show in Salt Lake City. It was a great move. I enjoyed it and got reinvigorated. I soon moved back to hard news and became an investigative producer. Best job I’ve ever had. Most rewarding. Another bonus – I met my now husband in Salt Lake too. Little did I know that would change my career path. After the Olympics in 2002, I decided to move on and back up the ladder. I landed in Chicago. Cool. One of the top TV markets in the world. And my best paying job so far too. That was nice. But soon I burned out there too. The daily grind and diminishing standards of the news business can really take their toll.

Skipping ahead, I decided that I needed to finish my mater’s degree. I had started it in Salt Lake before moving to Chicago. I picked it back up and completed it at the Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. I also taught students about TV news there. It was a great experience. I planned on staying there and hopefully becoming a professor. Getting a law degree or a PhD seemed like a good plan. I was also pregnant with our first daughter. Things looked like they had fallen into place. I was ready for a break from the TV business and wanted to become a part-time stay at home mom, part-time prof.

But as life does, things changed. Being the type to embrace new things, I encouraged my husband to find a new job. He was a TV news photographer and he had become burned out at his job. We decided to move. This was the perfect thing for our family. He now gets to be home with us more than he is at work. Something which never seemed to happen in the news business. He sets his schedule for the most part. He does something he loves. He’s still a news photographer but he also now produces his own sports show for the university here. He says its the best of both worlds – getting family time and still doing what you loved about TV news.

Me, I am now back to being a journalist. Part-time at least. I am writing and editing restaurant reviews for Out West Food Review. Its a website I started up in hopes of helping locals and tourists alike find good independent spots to eat. We review restaurants in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. I travel a lot in these areas and try lots of small places that are worthy of telling others about. So I decided I would share that info. I got a few other journalist friends to take part too. Its not a money making venture but it gets me back to doing what I love and was missing: writing.

I am also working as a freelance writer for magazines and other websites. I don’t discriminate. All media are subject to getting my pitches. And I like it that way. Luckily I learned the skills of the trade back in school. I learned what it meant to be a journalist in every sense of the word.

My advice to all of you future journalists out there – learn it all. I’m glad I did. I’m not saying this just because I plan on becoming a professor one day. While it is fine to specialize, don’t turn your nose up at the other formats. Learn to write across the board. You’ll be glad you did one day. It allows you to be in charge of your life and priorities. You WILL be happier. You will feel freer. You will have something to fall back on. Trust me. And in ten years, let me know how glad you are to have taken my advice!

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