[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A BA Honours degree in Journalism can be an incredibly powerful addition to your existing undergraduate degree, regardless of which faculty you graduated from. If you are considering an Honours degree, have a look at these 4 reasons to continue your studies with journalism.
So you have successfully completed an undergraduate degree. Now you are thinking of doing a post-graduate degree in journalism (BA Hons), but you are struggling to convince your doubting friends and family that it is a good move – especially if your undergraduate degree is not related to the media or writing industry.
“Is that even a real job?” is a popular one used to crush your writer’s dream, I know.
If a real job means being chained to a desk dressed like a very sad wedding guest, then no, it is not a real job.
With the right amount of street smarts and making the most of your post-graduate studies, though, you can earn some money while making a difference, or simply while having a good time.
Why Do a Postgrad in Journalism?
The BA Honours Journalism course at Stellenbosch University is open to graduates from all fields. My year group included a few general BA graduates, an experienced accountant, an economist, a lawyer and even a nuclear physicist.
In my own case, it had been a natural progression. As a graduate of the University of Cape Town’s Film and Media Print Journalism Production course, the BA Hons Journalism (then called the BPhil Journalism) at Stellenbosch University offered me the opportunity to reverse the balance of practical and theoretical work.
As for all my classmates, what were they all doing there?
4 Reasons to do a BA Hons Journalism
If you love writing and you are looking to combine your field of study with communication, here are 4 reasons why you should consider doing a BA Hons Journalism.
1. It Can Enhance Your Undergrad Degree
At UCT, I read a lot about the media and wrote volumes on it, but nothing for it. The upside was that it freed me from some of the reading students from other backgrounds were new to.
I was applying what I had already learned and was writing non-stop while others got acquainted with Noam Chomsky for the first time.
“I was not sure that I was ready to be a practising attorney,”
my classmate and LLB graduate George Miller recalled his decision.
“And the life of a journalist appealed to me.”
Our classmate Louise Ferreira graduated from UCT with a general BA degree with majors in English Literature and Spanish and was planning on becoming an English lecturer before applying for the BA Hons in Journalism to pursue her love of writing instead.
“By my third year, I was growing tired of the academia and the fact that it felt so far removed from the real world,”
2. You Get to Write About Your Interests
It is indeed your interests that will inform most of your writing and the BA Hons course offers something for most graduates in this regard – whether this relates to engineering, food, or poetry.
While I enjoyed the art reviews and magazine layout work, the nuclear physicist excelled at science journalism, the accountant dominated financial journalism and Louise corrected our horrific grammar errors.
“My background in finance, law and economics allowed me to look at assignments from a different perspective,”
Louise agreed and said,
“Students with non-media backgrounds might have the edge, because it is important for journalists writing about science and finance, for example, to know what they’re talking about.”
The course arms you with the hardware with which to start writing (a lot) about your academic interests, previous field of study, or simply the things you like – and there is nothing stopping you from getting your assignments published either.
3. Go From Hobby Writer to Paid Professional
I got my first taste of payment for writing as a BA Hons Journalism student.
James Bhemgee, a contestant on the reality show SA’s Got Talent, visited the department as a guest speaker and, although I did not watch the show or know his story, I took notes of the questions my informed classmates asked him.
Before submitting the assignment, I quietly asked our lecturer for the right email address and sent it off to Channel24 where it was published the same day. I got paid R250 for simply forwarding one of my university assignments.
A few weeks later, I went to see The Beach Boys in concert at Grand West and I got my review published on the website again. This time, the doubled payment of R500 covered the cost of my ticket twice over.
In hindsight, neither of the two articles was a masterpiece, but the course had done me a major service in providing a springboard and the right contacts. In the months leading up to that breakthrough, it also engrained an essential entrepreneurial hustle that was sorely missing when I arrived.
4. Make Contacts with Industry Players
When it was time to apply for the compulsory four-week internship needed to complete the journalism course, I had some trouble finding an opening in then-shrinking news teams.
George, who was granted a Media24 bursary, barely handed in his final assignment before the company put him to work as a financial journalist.
Many others followed the same route, but I was directionless. Running out of time, I contacted our science journalism lecturer, Professor George Claassen, and he was kind enough to put in a word for me at Nuus24 on the back of a few good assignments.
I then arrived at Nuus24 embarrassingly unskilled in writing in my own home language (Afrikaans), but news editor Heinz Oldewage shaped me up in no time and I could put him down as a reference on my CV right away. This helped a lot when I submitted that CV to the 24.com HR department for a full-time opening at Nuus24 after graduation.
If it wasn’t for my postgrad studies I would not have made the contacts that landed me the job and gave me the chance to earn a living as a writer.
How Much Can a Journalist Earn?
As an entry-level journalist you can expect a salary of between R105 000 to R120 000 per year.
When I started at 24.com in 2011, it was R8 800 per month (it is now around R9 500) and there was very little deviation across other publications, I learned from my classmates.
That is a relatively small figure compared to professions where advanced qualifications are an absolute must. As a journalist, though, you should not be discouraged by this number. Think of it more as a base and work from there to build an additional stream of income.
As you go about doing your job, you will meet editors and writers from various other publications and, as long as there’s no conflict of interest, you should be able to also do freelance writing for extra money.
I managed to work full-time as a journalist while writing property brochures and radio ads (a skill adapted from the broadcast media classes) for agencies on a freelance basis before moving to the advertising industry (through a freelance contact) full-time.
After two years as a reporter at Beeld, my former classmate Louise now freelances full-time and follows the same model.
“My main source of income is digital,” she says. “I work for an agency that has contracts with DSTV, so I have done a lot of social media work for KykNET shows and I am currently working on M-Net apps.”
“I still prefer writing, though,” she adds, “so when I can, I write columns for Women24 and the Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader blog.”
For students looking to start freelance writing, I suggest joining the Southern African Freelancers’ Association where you can find writing resources, jobs, useful links, and more.
My Final Thoughts
The BA Hons Journalism course is an excellent way to enhance your existing degree, no matter what it is, with a practical skill-set in communication. Every part of the course I once found tedious, I have exploited to further my career in the advertising industry.
“I am definitely a better writer as a result of the BPhil degree,” my classmate George agrees.
“It is really sad to see how many top attorneys struggle to write and communicate in plain language,” he concludes what is likely a universal statement.
He has since returned to law and works in a corporate firm specialising in telecoms and media.
If you are a media student looking to further your practical skills or a student from other faculties looking to vastly improve on your ability to communicate within your field, an Honours degree in journalism can certainly take you places.
If you don’t want to commit to an entire postgraduate degree in journalism, but you still want to flesh out your writing skills, sign up for a writing workshop, or do a short course. Having good writing skills is a huge advantage in many different career fields, whether you end up writing articles, marketing blurbs, or communicating with clients via email.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]