Journalists are front and center on our news networks, newspapers, and other sources of news we swallow daily and journalism is becoming an ever more relevant field in this day and age. Learn more about this field through an interview with a current undergraduate student, Arjun Thakkar, who’s pursuing journalism at the University of Michigan.
Q: What is your year and major?
A: I am a rising junior at the University of Michigan majoring in history and minoring in Spanish and computer science.
Q: Why are your pursuing journalism?
A: I have been a part of my school newspaper since my sophomore year of high school. I enjoyed writing stories because of the investigations. I especially enjoyed the interviews; they were the most fun part. Just talking to people and hearing what they had to say and asking follow-up questions. Simply having a conversation with interesting people. For example, I got to talk to my high school principal and the president of my university and technological supervisors and custodians. A lot of different people and through these different people you get exposed to new and unique perspectives and hear lots of stories.
You write about important and impactful things. From carbon neutrality commissions to financial decisions of my university. There’s a lot of important information that needs to be covered and many times there’s a barrier to information for people. So I think the job of a journalist is to investigate and make the information comprehensible for viewers. They allow people to learn and observe through our coverage. Along with that, the job is to hold those institutions and people accountable. Journalists prevent abuses of power.
Q: What major should someone have if they want to go into journalism?
A: A journalism major does work and it allows you to gain many skills and tools you need to be an effective storyteller. I’ve heard several journalists talk about having skills is good but having a strong awareness of content and other disciplines is important. For example, I chose history as my major because a lot of the historical knowledge from the past can lend to interesting awareness of legal procedures and other factors that are important in journalism. I’d say almost any liberal arts degree can be useful– English, Spanish, Philosophy. It’s up to you to decide what type of discipline you want to specialize in to support your pursuits.
For me, Spanish has helped in journalism. This summer I was covering a protest for immigration, and I had to interview someone who only spoke Spanish. I was able to use my Spanish-speaking skills for that interview. So a foreign language is definitely helpful.
Journalism school is essentially more of what a journalism degree would do. It helps you improve your craft more. You do more writing with actual journalists. Many people who are in journalism school work at a newspaper organization just to keep getting that experience. Journalism school is not necessary to pursue a career in journalism. It’s definitely going to give you a leg-up, but I would say experience is still more valuable.
Q: Besides academics, what else is important to consider in your pathway into journalism?
A: Academics will certainly help you but getting experience is the most valuable thing in pursuing journalism. There’s a plethora of opportunities to get experience with storytelling through newspapers and radios and podcasts. You could start at a college newspaper or try to get an internship with a local newspaper or some type of fellowship. All of those experiences are valuable.
Q: How do you gain experience in journalism?
A: The way that I have found experience is by checking with my local newspaper’s website and they usually will have a website for internships or fellowships on there. You’ll probably be asked to submit clips, which are previous stories you’ve written.
You can always reach out to certain journalists and ask them if they are offering any internships or shadowing opportunities. That’s more intimidating but that’s the biggest way to seek out experience.
That experience can also come from writing in your school’s newspaper.
Q: What skills does someone need to pursue journalism?
A: The biggest thing in journalism is meeting deadlines since there are many hard deadlines you have to meet to get your stories done. It’s also not just one deadline but rather multiple. You need to be detail-oriented as well, not just in your writing because there are several components that go into a story that go beyond the writing. In the writing alone you need to have a certain structure with the lead and covering a certain amount of details and many other organizational issues. You have to be able to keep track of those details. The need for awareness of your language and words and being correct is extremely important.
Additionally, you have to be an effective communicator. Communication is key, not just in the writing, but also in interviews. You have to be clear– you can’t meander around a point. You need to be definitive when you’re asking questions and be able to push speakers when you’re looking for a specific answer. It takes a lot of courage too. Sometimes it’s intimidating speaking to these people. You can’t allow yourself to get too nervous to the point where it will impact your ability to do your job.
Q: What can someone go into after studying journalism?
A: The good thing about studying journalism is that it can lead into lots of different disciplines like law or working with local newspapers or podcasts or magazines like The Atlantic. There’s also a lot of education based story-telling like PBS or documentaries like Frontline. Those are also applicable to journalism. Furthermore, a lot of journalism leads really well into political careers like electoral politics or working with bureaucracies like Department of Education or Department of State.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in pursuing journalism?
A: If you want to go into journalism, you need to be really passionate and excited to work in a high intensity field. Numerous times there’s a quick turnaround for writing stories so it’s difficult in that sense. Therefore you have to be detail-oriented. In addition to that, you can’t go into a story with preconceived notions and expectations; you have to be willing to see where a story will take you. Be willing to let a story tell itself and you’re just guiding that process along.
Thank you, Arjun Thakkar for taking the time to discuss your passions for journalism with me! Excited to read Arjun’s works in the news! Good luck to him and everyone else wanting to pursue journalism!