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When I was 40ish, I got a job at a newspaper in Newspapers in Education. Here was my “interview.”

I met the NIE Director after hours in her office with my “design portfolio” which mostly consisted of some branding stuff, white papers, etc, not at all impressive by advertising house standards… think Don Draper’s book. I had no J degree, but I had an English degree and a half-finished post-baccalaureate program in SecEd. I’d also done some corporate training, tutoring and adult learning designing CBT programs. But I had ZERO journalism experience. But I loved newspapers, education and design.

I can’t really remember the actual interview, but I do remember thinking I really wanted to do this even though the money sucked. I had been a VP in HR previously and my resume kinda read like a C-suiter so it was a bit confusing for my eventual boss. I must have been a better salesman than I thought because I not only got the job but more than I was asking for AND 30 hours/week that got called a FT position with full benefits. I promised her 2 years, I ended up being there for 4 1/2 and would still be there if they wouldn’t have decided that NIE was a marketing tool instead of serious journalism that just happened to have a younger audience (we didn’t dumb things down, we help raise the kids up!)

I befriended editors, photographers, pre-pressmen, press operators, illustrators all up and down the chain and picked their brains endlessly about the journalism world. I hung out in their offices after work; I volunteered to ride along with them as they covered after-hours political rallies and city council meetings. I ask a lot of “why do you do that?” questions. I learned more in the time I was there from the best than I would have ever learned in J-school.

My larger point is while journalism is a “private club” for people who have J-degrees, it’s not a closed club. On MSNBC alone they have many “journalists” who have their own shows who have philosophy, theater arts and history degrees. Newspapers are still a bit old school about J-degrees, but not all.

Take stock in the assets and skills you already have before plunking down a pot-full of money for a J-school degree and see if you can make a crowbar out of that into the journalism field. Hell, just start showing up at local city council and school board meetings and write up summaries on Medium Make your own media badge. ;)

And read Sarah Kendzior like everything she wrote and everything about her life journey. Buy her book. She is one of the “new journalists” who are showing the next gen of journalists how to do this… (and she’s in STL so if you decide to go to J-skol consider Missouri. Really…)

You’ve chosen (or it chose you) a pretty rocky path forward, but I suspect saying that will only steel your resolve. We will need strong, principled journalists in the years ahead.