Considering journalism school? My advice.

A woman who follows my blog wrote to me last week asking whether she should go to journalism school.

This question comes up a lot. The pros and cons have been covered again and again and again (ironically, this U.S. News & World Report story was published in 1996 — when a master’s at Medill only cost $20K! — and the arguments haven’t changed much), so I won’t go into them. Here’s what I’ll add:

I generally think j-school is worth it — I credit Medill with helping me climb the news ladder — but only if the program is practical, not theory-based. Only if you’ll leave there with clips (published in off-campus publications) and multimedia projects, tangible products you can put in front of a potential employer to score a job.

But. Especially in this economic climate, a j-degree will not get you a job. Clips will not get you a job (though you need them). Multimedia skills will not get you a job (though you need those, too). Lots of people have all of this stuff and more.

What you need to get a job is something that sets you apart. Maybe that’s your programming skills. Maybe it’s an awesome blog that offers insight into your niche. Maybe it’s an innovative project. Whatever it is, you need to show that you’re creative, with ideas, energy and innovation that will help propel journalism forward. Pick something, and make time to make it good.

Because a j-degree will not be enough. Go ahead and earn one. But to get a job, you’ll need something more.