Friday, April 29, 2016

Why a Journalism Major?

A study in the latest Journalism Educator (yes, there is such an academic journal) tests a scale designed to explain "the underlying reasons why undergraduate students seek a degree in journalism," what the authors call the Journalism Degree Motivations scale.

Keep in mind this scale is not a done deal. It's a first shot at validating what they think may be a good measure of the motivations behind signing up as a journalism major. Read the article if you're into methodological details. They look reasonable to me.

Essentially the authors use factor analysis to examine a bejillion questions to see which ones fall together as factors. This is a common statistical technique and eventually can lead to reducing the number of questions to measure the factors that seem to emerge from such validation testing.

Okay, let's get to the good stuff. Why do students decide to major in journalism? What makes 'em tick?  Factor 1 -- they couldn't get into business school (just kidding). The authors found eight factors, none of which include business school. They are, in order of explanatory power:

  • Social Responsibility -- made up of questions like "I want to hold public officials accountable," this one doesn't really surprise you now that it's presented. J-students should be driven by this.
  • Reporting Skills -- This has more to do with enjoying the chase of the story, interviewing, and the like. It doesn't mean they have those skills, it means they enjoy learning them and using them.
  • Social Prestige -- Sigh, students grossly overestimate this one.
  • Sports Media -- This is interesting. An interest in sports is a major factor in becoming a journalist. This bodes well for my school, UGA, where we have two faculty devoted to just teaching sports journalism and a popular certificate program in the discipline.
  • Visual -- Mostly photojournalism and video, this one has to do with folks interested in such visual skills.
  • Writing -- No surprise here, except that I would have expected it to be higher.
  • Varied Career -- This one is interesting enough to revisit on another post. That last thing millennials want is to be bored, and journalism can be boring, but it's definitely varied as well.
  • Science & Numbers Anxiety -- Another one that deserves its own post. Basically a few questions on this found students majored in journalism because they don't want to learn numbers or science. Sorry, darlings, but never have such skills been so necessary in journalism. You should have been j-majors in the 1950s.
For the statistically interested, I recommend going to the article and checking out the Eigenvalues and other methodological notes. 

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