Are journalistic degrees automatic entitlements to higher pay?

Sometimes I can sound so intolerant of substandard journalism or reporting as to appear to think that everybody else always gets it wrong. It’s probably because I choose to highlight more of the things that pain me than the things that please me about local media matters. But that doesn’t mean that all I see is only the negative. Far from that…

Take the current crop of young journalists who’ve come along to join the lot of us speeding towards the exit. I often lament that there
are still too many ‘colleagues’ in my profession getting paid to read what other people wrote, who still cannot string a single sentence together without a spelling or grammar mistake, who still can’t spell the names of some of our constituencies properly…  But I do see the positives too. Take those younger ‘green’ reporters who evidently take their work seriously by the way in which they behave on the job – who’ll use the ‘refreshments break’ to pursue hard-to-get, exclusive interviews while others head to the ‘Refreshments Table’, who’ll choose to walk or drive (even run) after a story instead of depending or relying only on phone calls and e-mails, who we can see and hear evolving before our very eyes.

Frankly, our journalists and reporters don’t seem to want to remind the world that we produced a bard of international standing, a global wordsmith named Derek. I’m simply amused by those bent on trying to be who they aren’t. They unavoidably over-rely on the IT and other media technology that makes it even easier to select wrong words to decorate sentences. Yes, the age-old and most reliable ‘Proof Reader’ has been effectively replaced by the computer’s ‘spell check’, but if you don’t know the correct meaning of a word, the neither the Spell Check nor the Thesaurus will be of much help.

But there are always those who rise above average and stand out as case studies of real and genuine works of meaningful progress in action. Some of today’s young writers, readers and presenters do exhibit some of the goods that’ll make them good and better – and eventually the best – tomorrow. Some do make me feel damned good because I can see them seriously investing in making my hallowed profession theirs as well.

There are an increasing number of young people wanting to pursue journalism careers, some investing heavily in pursuit of diplomas and degrees here and abroad. I monitor them the best I can and when I do I measure them, not by their attained classroom qualifications, but by what they say, show and write. That’s where it matters – on the page, on the air, on the screen.

Frankly, I’m sometimes squeamish about the reason some of our new entrant s pursue degrees and diplomas in journalism. Some mistakenly believe that qualifications automatically mean entitlements to higher pay, which is never always the case. On the other hand we also have the media owners who refuse to see training as an investment
and insist it’s just another expense they can hardly afford.

I look at the increasing numbers of young persons (and more grown-ups as well) seeking paper degrees to enhance salaries and I can already see the beginnings of the same type of skills mismatch that we’re already seeing generally – a growing overabundance of unemployed but highly qualified young persons vis-à-vis a continuously shrinking labour pool seeking mostly unskilled labour.

But then, this matter lof degrees vs entitlements is not an isolated St. Lucian issue – and it’s not only about journalism and communications either. In Britain, there are those argue that the current national oversupply of graduates at a time when unemployment is at record levels across Europe is a result of EU member-states paying the cost of making higher education too easily available (too easy and too cheap). They argue that the natural result of making education so easily available to everyone is that students will emerge qualified faster than the public/private sectors’ ability to absorb them into new jobs.

But if you thought that was all cool, it’s causing a real problem for America now, because while the number of foreign studenst in US universities is increasing, paradoxically, the number of Americans attending American universities is declining, due to less US Government financial support for America’s students.

More, American and other multinational companies in India and China more readily hire the US/Europe-trained Chinese and Indian graduates, but given the sheer number from both countries who pass each year, many have simply been remaining in the USA and UK after graduating. Now the US is moving to take steps to ensure all graduates return home (to India or China) before being able to accept or apply for a job in America.

So, when I hear our young (and not-so-young) journalists and reporters are pursuing degrees at home and abroad, I always ask myself whether they have sufficiently
figured out that in these times the mismatch is not only between skills available but also between salaries paid – and that our media employers (none of them) believes that staff earning paper degrees automatically earn more and better pay. After all, in real-life journalism (like in real life), the real proof of the pudding is in the eating and not on the paper menu!

Earl Bousquet is a St. Lucian-born veteran Caribbean journalist.

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