REVIEW: Ryerson University’s journalism program (2008-2012)

By Grade 10, I knew I wanted to go to Ryerson University. It started with people here and there, those who knew about my interest in journalism, saying I should check out the school. Subsequent years of researching universities convinced me that it would be the best j-school in Canada for me. Lots of vouching from employers, editors, and journalists solidified this. Four years later, having recently graduated from there, I’d say they were mostly right. There were a number of things about the program that I didn’t like, but I left fulfilling my goal of feeling confident I can handle being a professional journalist.

I find that there’s a divide among professionals in the industry over whether journalism is worthy a university or college degree. As with many things in life, I find the answer to fall somewhere in the grey. On the one hand, the most important thing you need to know is, well, how to report. Writing an essay probably won’t teach you the basics of writing for print or radio. That said, it will strengthen your critical-thinking skills, among other things. Since journalism is such a hands-on profession, college may prove a better fit some. For me, I wanted a university degree to keep my options open for a master’s degree down the line. I also desired to examine multiple aspects of the craft. Ultimately, minus all of the non-journalism classes I had to take, there were about five classes that truly felt theory-based.

The only other university I was torn between was Carleton University which, at the time, I felt was too theory-based for what I wanted. I met a few Carleton expats at Ryerson. They transferred because, as one of them told me, “We wrote only one report in first year.” (The student was probably being a tad dramatic.) At Ryerson, I had to write one report every two weeks during the first year. Regardless, Carleton has a terrific reputation, different programs have their own unique benefits, and programs change all the time, so do the research yourself on the Ryerson vs. Carleton journalism program showdown; I’m no expert on the latter’s offerings.

 

The program

The program drastically changed a year or so before I started. Before, based on how some professors and former students explained it to me, students started with basic print reporting and, eventually, had to choose one journalism medium to focus on. It seems like an archaic system because I find journalists these days have to, to some degree, know how to file for almost every medium. The program I completed forced students to learn the basics of almost every medium (no, you couldn’t “just do print”). Students could dip all toes into all mediums, which is what I did. By the end of the second year I had to pick at least one medium I wanted to fully explore in order to get all of the necessary credits for the final year (for example, to get into “TV Documentary” in the final year, I had to take a specific third-year TV reporting class). As flexible as the program is, I eventually had to form a game plan.

During the first year, students learned the fundamentals of print journalism, and how to handle daily reporting, along with a touch of its long-form counterpart. We also got our first experience with more standard university classes, including classes from the English department. The second year introduced us to broadcast journalism, and also taught students the art of feature writing. The third year was better because I had more say on the courses I wanted to take, which was significantly based on workshop classes. The final year was spent doing an internship, and handling the school news outlet the Ryersonian. Because I took so many courses ahead of time (during the summer), I finished school one semester early. Other students spent their time finishing a final semester of class and/or producing the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

 

First year

A lot of students weren’t smitten by first year. I think most would admit it wasn’t so bad in hindsight, though. Ryerson started us off with the fundamentals: learning how to report for print. The professor for JRN 120 – The Culture of News sent us out onto Gould Street on the first day to get quotes from streeters (streeters are random people from the public you interview for stories). This class provided many students with their first real taste of being a journalist. Every two weeks, students would be assigned to report on one of the day’s news topics (two or three students would get the same one). My first story was on the then-new national “Do Not Call List.” I arrived at 10 a.m., researched my topic a bit, went outside to get quotes streeters, then finished writing the report inside. I don’t remember if I had many experts (or “talking heads”) in my pieces at first, but my reports got better week by week; they really did resemble something you’d see in a daily newspaper. Minus the streeter interviews aspect of it, the scariest part for many students was the 6 p.m. deadline; you’d lose half a grade point every minute it was late.

The professor said we’d need to get the phone number of each person we quoted — yes, even streeters — because he warned that he could and would call them to check our facts. He never did that for any of my stories, to my knowledge. One student in the program told me she faked all of her streeters in her articles; that probably wasn’t the norm. Streeter interviewing can be an awkward task, but it’s important to learn how to do it.

On days we didn’t have to report, we’d learn how to abide by CP Style, use quotes properly, and such. The class was bland at times because I already knew a lot of what was being taught (I wrote for a couple of outlets prior to university).

The sequel to the class, JRN 121 – Introduction to Reporting, was essentially the same; we continued reporting every two weeks during the second semester. We learned a bit about Canadian law. We also got to report on a court case. Our major assignment was to write a profile on someone or write a feature.

JRN 100 – Information and Visual Resources for Journalists, back in first semester, taught us the difference between search engines, how to research topics, etc. — important topics, though it was a retread for me. We’d have regular 10-question quizzes on stories that were in the news (this counted for participation marks). The most valuable part of this class was learning the basics of writing a feature. Our final assignment was to write a “Big Question” story. Students had to come up with a question and answer it via a 2,000-word feature. Mine was: “Why do we watch scary movies?” The professor was fantastic, and there was one particularly cool thing she did during a lecture that I won’t ruin (assuming she’s still doing it/teaching the class, you’ll know what I’m referencing if you take the class).

Typical non-theory-based journalism classes, which often lasted between five and eight hours, required students to be there to get full marks (attendance was taken). We got lots of in-class work and, generally, not much homework. That said, there was normally one big assignment for the final class. For instance, with JRN 121, most of the grade was based on reports we had to complete every two weeks, about 10 per cent from participation, and 30 per cent from said big assignment. Non-journalism classes were much different. Generally, the first major mark came from writing the midterm, normally consisting of answering 5 questions with a paragraph each, and then writing an essay. Winter midterms often came before reading week (our week off). Ryerson didn’t have a fall midterm when I attended. Then came the take-home essay. A week or two later, exam time arrived. The work was generally worth 25, 30 and 35 per cent, respectively. (For all you know-it-all mathematicians out there: I’ll explain the missing 10 per cent in a sec.).

Theory-based journalism classes often followed this pattern but had students write the exam in the final class. It was great to be done a class early… having to study so intensely weeks before the time you have off specifically for studying for exams, not so much. (One could argue this is a good thing since exams were slightly more spread out as opposed to being all within the same week or so). The other 10 per cent came from participation. Participation marks. The dreaded participation marks. Professors claimed this 10 per cent mark came from, well, participating in class (answering questions, adding to discussions, etc.), but I feel like everyone knew it was mainly earned by simply attending. Students had to sign in by writing their name on a piece of paper that was floated around, normally at the beginning of class (to hilarious effects, some profs switched up when they handed out the sheet — the start/end of class — so people couldn’t sign in and then leave right away or only come at the end). Some professors really did only give students the full 10 per cent if they participated (this is truer with the smaller classes), but, generally, if students signed in for each class, they got at least 8 per cent.

Non-journalism classes were typically three hours long with a tutorial class lasting another hour. The three-hour classes were called lectures; basically, I’d sit, listen, and take notes off a professor’s PowerPoint presentation for those 165 minutes (I’d normally get a 15-minute break), then spend an hour in tutorial, which is usually taught by a teaching assistant (TA). TAs, normally grad students, would go through some of the topics explained in lecture, answer questions from students, etc. They were hit-or-miss. Most of mine didn’t actually attend the lecture. Many would marked exams and essays. I often wouldn’t be satisfied with the mark my TA doled out, so I’d ask the professor to mark it again; that normally resulted in my mark getting bumped up at least one grade point. Annoyingly, my tutorials were almost always held at some inconvenient time (not right after the lecture, which makes the most sense). I remember having a Friday lecture between 2 and 5 p.m., and the tutorial was then at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.  Over the years, I wasn’t able to take several classes I wanted because of tutorial scheduling conflicts. That said, I could sometimes switch into other tutorials (if the class is big, it would have multiple tutorials) with better times.

ENG 108 – The Nature of Narrative I was a required course for journalism students. This was a good class to get adapted to typical non-journalism classes at Ryerson. We read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and other texts. If you get your kicks off examining literature and writing essays, you’d have a blast in this class.  Part II of this class provided me with my first and only ever class in the Ted Rogers School of Management building. Everything in the building was new and shiny. That course featured one book from Michael Ondaatje, some Margaret Atwood texts, and others. We also watched Jarhead (2005). The class was more of the same.

My electives for the year were POG 100 — People, Power and Politics, and POG 319 — The Politics of Work and Labour. The first was a good starter course for the world of politics. I liked that it focused on the concepts of politics. (In hindsight, taking POG 110 — Canadian Politics first might have been a better idea.) As for the latter, I find the politics of unions, workers, etc. fascinating, so this was right up my alley. I should have worked my way up to this course, though, because they generally got progressively harder the higher the number.

First semester also featured JRN 199 – Grammar. Yes, Grammar. This wasn’t a class per se, but rather a test on grammar. Students had to earn 75 per cent or more in order to pass. If you didn’t pass it, you supposedly couldn’t go into second year. We got three chances. I got 72 or 73, I think, on my first try before passing it on the second attempt.

A good thing about being in the journalism program (in comparison to others at Ryerson) was the lack of books I had to purchase. Books (also called “texts,” and “course readers”) sometimes added more than $300 to the cost of the class; I typically spent about $80-140 for non-journalism classes. (There used to be a text book grant given to students by the provincial government until it became exclusively for OSAP students the following year.) Some professors forced students to buy the latest edition of the course reader as opposed to buying the much cheaper, used counterpart used in prior years’ classes. The latests versions often had barely any different content. One professor made us buy a book in the public domain because it had an essay at the end. We used that “important essay we’ll be referencing in class” once for about two minutes, and it had absolutely no impact whatsoever on any essay/exam/course work. Many students photocopied their books to save money.

I determined that I wouldn’t be able to take all of the courses I wanted if I followed the regular course itinerary, so I took some of the required Liberal Studies courses during the summer. Although I found many faculty members and students to be relatively left-leaning (one Politics and Governance professor I had actually told the class they were), Liberal Studies courses don’t entail memorising Bob Rae speeches or reigniting Trudeaumania. No, they were simply there to “broaden your horizons; they open up the world to you; they enable you to look at the world from a variety of perspectives, to pursue ideas and interests beyond your specific career studies.” I had to take six courses (two lower level and four upper level courses) from a variety of programs. Many students detested taking them, especially journalism students, but I found a few classes to be fun.

CSOC 103 – How Society Works was my first and only ever online course at Ryerson. I attended the lectures by listening to MP3 files and scrolling through the accompanied PowerPoints in sync at home. The MP3 files were recorded years prior and weren’t edited particularly well. The professor sometimes coughed right into the microphone, stopped speaking for a while. I could sometimes hear ambulance sirens and, every now and then, what was presumably a cellphone ringing. CSOC 202 — Popular Culture was absolutely terrific. I took this class in the Podium Building on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a little more than a month. The teacher made the class fun. I loved the idea of examining pop culture, something I think is relevant to understand for a journalist, and the material we studied satisfied that. Fittingly, the class found out about Michael Jackson’s death during one of the first few classes. I never expected that to be my “where were you when” memory.

For people with prior journalism experience, first year seemed like a bit of a retread, but it was a decent start. I got a taste of university life and learned the straight fundamentals. I filled my free time with writing for university newspapers, such as The Eyeopener and The Ryersonian. It was best to do that then while I still had some semblance of free time.

Second year

The program started to get interesting in the second year. JRN 125 — Introduction to Television Journalism quickly became the favourite class for many students. For our first assignment, I went out with a team of about five others, and we all shared roles (producer, photographer, etc.) except for the role of the reporter, which was filled by one person. We covered the preparations for 2009′s Nuit Blanche. Having five journalists tackling one story was tricky (we all had our own visions for the report), but it was a fun experience. I covered the next story, which was on the completion of a scramble intersection. After we played the story to the class and received our in-class critiques, we were tasked to submit a new edit of it by the following week. We definitely improved as the weeks went on. Our last day, probably the best day of university at that point, entailed students producing a full newscast.

JRN 124 — Elements of Feature Writing was another class I had been waiting for. It was particularly valuable because the professors definitely understood the craft. The class culminated with students writing two versions of a feature about a specific place; a 1,000-word one, then an edited-down 800-word one.

JRN 112 — Introduction to Online Journalism emphasized that online journalism can and should offer more than standard print reporting. Our final assignment was to upload our features from JRN 124 and add in all of the online bells and whistles (Google Maps links, YouTube videos, etc.). I already knew about a lot of what was taught, so it felt like a retread for much of it.

As for the electives, my favourite was JRN — 400 Critical Issues In Journalism. The class was divided between two professors swapping lecturing duties every week. The class would split up for the tutorial portion with each professor helming a different class. I had a fantastic former Globe and Mail journalist. We tackled subjects such as reporting on disabilities, celebrities, mental illness, and more. Our final assignment was to write an overview on a community — the issues, the important places to know about, etc. The assignments weren’t that interesting. The class was worth it simply because of the professor.

JRN 201 — Introductory Photojournalism was a lot of fun. We’d be assigned a topic/story/photo technique to cover and have to email our best 3-4 photos to the instructor each week. The entire class would then view every photo together to critique. The instructor had loads of experience. He photographed everyone from John Lennon to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. JRN 310 — TV Production Techniques taught me how to shoot, light, edit, create sequences, use green screens, and more.

POG 110 – Canadian Politics should be mandatory for all Ryerson students. I found that a lot of people in their first year at the school didn’t understand how our political system works. Then again, I think discussing the advantages and disadvantage of a mixed-member proportional representation electoral system is exciting, so I’m biased. As terrible as I am with math, I found the formulas students learned in POG 340 — Intro to Comparative Politics to be useful. It was a confusing but fun way of examining politics. Oh, and watching a professor try to get a class to understand the difference between valid and invalid arguments is always enjoyable.

I decided again to not have a summer, so I took my remaining Liberal Studies courses. I think it was the allure of the class being held only one day a week (Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.) that made me take CGEO 802 — Geography of Recreation and Leisure. The concepts, texts, and PowerPoint presentations weren’t particularly inspiring — and I actually like geography. For students who understand music concepts and are awesome at remembering music eras, CMUS 506 — Popular Music and Culture was the course for them. It definitely wasn’t for me. I’ll just leave it at that.

I think that, deep down, I took CPHL 606 — Philosophy of Love and Sex mostly just to fill that “edgy university class name” quota. I was pleasantly surprised that I got to delve into fascinating concepts that really challenged me, intellectually. The class was refreshing because of the presentation skills of the professor, and his midterm/exam format (he gave the class 16 questions well ahead of time; eight would appear on the test but only five would need to be answered). He also taught CPHL 709 – Religion, Science and Philosophy, another class I enjoyed. There was a good mix of people from all backgrounds and religions. The discussions got heated at times.

 

Third Year

There wasn’t much room to change things up once the first semester of the third year finished because many fourth year classes required specific prerequisites, and not all semesters offer the same classes. (For example, let’s say I wanted to take class B in the fourth year. Thing is, it requires class A, which is only offered in the first semester; likewise with class B. If I didn’t take A in first semester of the third year, I’d be out of luck. Some people take an extra semester/year to fix this.) The good news was that I was mostly taking the classes I wanted at that point, mainly because I planned ahead. Essentially JRN 124 Part II, JRN 303 — Feature Reporting Workshop developed my feature-writing skills quite a bit. Even though I wasn’t all that into long-form magazine journalism like this, it was worth taking to learn how to better use scenes, description, and the like. JRN 306 — Reporting for Radio Workshop should have been a required class in second year, at least for anyone interested in broadcast (yes, even TV people too). It taught me how to get better characters, maintain the audience’s attention, develop scenes, and more. About half of the semester was devoted to learning how to report/use professional audio instruments and software; the latter half had the class creating weekly newscasts. Our final assignment was a mini-documentary (5 minutes or so). Although learning how to produce newscasts with real deadlines was important, I wanted this class to focus more on more innovative storytelling.

JRN 314 — Reporting for TV Workshop was probably my favourite university class ever, mainly because of its brilliant instructor. It was structured almost exactly the same as JRN 306 but with cameras. We already learned how to report for TV, so deadlines were easier to swallow. The major assignment was a feature story (under 5 minutes) of our choosing; my team chose homebrewing beer.

JRN 807 — Advanced Photojournalism was not much different than its predecessor; it was just more focused (pun intended) and challenging. A lot of students disliked JRN 123 — Ethics and Law in Journalism mostly because its format was very non-journalism-like (an essay, ahh!). Thing is, I can’t think of a more effective way of teaching libel law and such. I enjoyed it. JRN 405 — Special Topics in Journalism Theory should have been renamed “Special Topic in Journalism Theory” since all we focused on was the world of PR and journalism. At first, I didn’t think the topic was worth exploring for an entire semester, but the class grew on me thanks to some interesting units, and guest speakers. And, oh yes, there was an essay. POL 332 — Power and Influence in Canada — I love learning about Canadian politics, just not the same thing twice. This class was basically POG 110. In fact, we used the same book.

Finally there was JRN 800 — TV Documentary. Students were put in teams of four or five. Each person in the team had their own job: producer, photographer, reporter, researcher, or editor. The first few weeks were dedicated to learning about documentaries, and the technical side of things. Then, minus weekly (or so) meetings with the professor, we were on our own shooting our documentary. We submitted two versions of it. Each team watched the rough draft with the professor, got some feedback, then submitted a final version, which everyone eventually watched together for the final class. There was a final journal assignment worth 10 per cent or so of your grade.

 

Fourth year

My last year turned out to be just a semester long since I already had all the credits I needed. In fact, if I took one more class in third year, I could have graduated then — but I’m glad I didn’t because fourth year was the most important. My final semester was split between JRN 850 — Internship and JRN 910 — Integrated Masthead. The first ‘class’ was exactly what you think it is. We were told about it in third year and, for those of us who had it in first semester of the last year, had to find a placement over the summer with the help of our instructor. I knew for years that I wanted to intern at CBC News Toronto (the local show), so that’s all I aimed for. Don’t follow my lead: apply for at least two other places in case your first option doesn’t work out. Luckily, mine did. The internship was supposed to last six weeks but I convinced the CBC to let me start a week early since they split up my internship between the local show and CBC Radio’s Metro Morning (I told them I really wanted to be with the TV side of things).

My time with the local TV newscast was sometimes great, sometimes not so much. I felt like no one knew what to do with me most of the time, but that’s just the nature of the business, I guess. No one had time to get to know me, discover that I knew quite a lot about TV news, etc. The internship got better as the weeks went on. I mostly went around Toronto getting streeters, experts’ opinions, comments from police spokespeople, etc. for reporters’ stories. I also pitched stories during the story meetings. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all the experiences, it’s just that I wanted to and felt I could, well, report. My interning adventures led to an Editorial Assistant job.

Oddly, I had a better experience as an intern with Metro Morning. Most of the stories I pitched were approved and aired. I was shocked. I’m gonna make it after all. It’s a busy show but, still, somehow, I felt people got to know me. One employee even spent half an hour discussing the methodology behind asking questions (the icebreaker, not asking yes/no questions, and such) — it was great. I also loved how I got to truly handle a segment all by myself — the pitch, guest-chasing, scriptwriting, and even booking the guest into the security database. The experience gave me first-hand knowledge of how the industry works. While I should have probably gone to a smaller station somewhere far, far away from a major city (somewhere I’d actually  have a chance of getting in front of the camera), my internship gave me something few people ever get to experience.

Then came masthead. ‘Twas a bit of a buzzkill after my time with CBC News. Still, it was a fantastic opportunity to navigate the trenches of TV, print, and online journalism under The Ryersonian name (the school news outlet). Instead of splitting everyone up into a specific stream as was the case years prior, students had to file their stories for  every available medium (print, online, and TV). It was a pain at first, but now it’s how I do  pretty much all my stories. For three weeks I was a CP (content producer), which entailed pitching and reporting. The idea was to have it online as soon as possible and then file it for the Wednesday paper (Saturday/Sunday deadline) and/or the Wednesday/Friday newscast. The next three weeks were spent as an editor or other supervisory role (in my case: the photo editor). The teamwork part of it was quite the experience. Us undergrads made up half of the team while grad students filled the rest. Oh, the egos. But that’s the reality of teamwork, power management, and such. Having just prior experience in the real world of journalism, The Ryersonian proves a fitting microcosm of it.

 

Minors

Ryerson offered only a few minors for journalism students. Since I had to take a certain number of non-journalism courses anyway, I though it was worth going for a minor. Every minor needed at least 6 (or so) credits, so I had to plan it out early. I think I saw only one summer journalism class ever offered at the Chang School (Ryerson’s continuing education school), so I put journalism classes first, knowing I could always “Chang it” if I got behind on my minor. I could have chosen otherwise, and just taken a variety of classes instead, but I thought it looked good to have a minor in Politics and Governance, for example, if I ever wanted to become a political reporter. If I recall correctly, the English classes journalism students had to take count towards the English minor, so going for that minor would have come with the benefit of only requiring four extra classes.

This probably won’t happen to you, but I feel I should still mention it. Ryerson had and probably still has something called a course calendar; it’s an online document that shows you the required courses for all programs in a specific year. So, under the psychology program in the calendar, it’ll show you need to PSY 101, 102, and so on, in first year, among other classes/years, to complete the program. The next year’s version for first year may require different courses. The calendar features a minors page, which also updates yearly. I took a couple of courses from the Politics and Governance minors page in first year based on then-current calendar, then took more courses based on the following year’s calendar, not noticing the new calender’ s courses didn’t include the courses I had taken. Problem is, certain courses I took from the previous year’s calendar no longer counted towards the minor in the new calendar, and the new courses I took didn’t all fit in with the previous calendar’s requirements. In the end, I took five POG classes with either three or two of them counting towards my minor depending on the calendar. I contacted the POG administration about my mistake to be told they would not let me cross-pollinate the required courses. So, even though I had 5 courses to my name (the POG minor requires 6), I had to dump my minor aspirations. My only option was to choose a calendar and take (and pay for) either three or two more courses. I was quite dismayed at the outcome. Anyway, the moral of the story is: be sure to stick with one course calendar for your minor requirement unless a new one has better options and, preferably, lets you use the courses you already have.

Bachelor vs. master of journalism

I made a number of friends from the grad program through my time with The Ryersonian. Having checked out their schedules and class descriptions, heard about their experiences, etc., I feel their program is basically the four year undergrad program condensed into two years, plus a master’s project. I had a class or two with some of the master’s students and found our assignments to be the same minus a small extra assignment and/or a longer word count for the final assignment. Although four years of school gave me more time (and courses) to focus on my craft, I found the bachelor program could have easily been shortened to a two-year program and still delivered what it needed. Of course, I’ve never taken the master’s program, so my opinion is what it is. Either program should prepare you well enough, I reckon.

To me, what’s more interesting is deciding between which level of education you should pick. Imagine you spent four years studying politics (your undergrad) and then got your journalism graduate degree. You’d definitely have an advantage when it comes to covering politics. Or, if you’re really gung ho for magazine writing, you’d surely have no grammar issues in the future by taking the same path but with an English undergrad. The reverse can also be said; though, again, I think two years is enough to learn the fundamentals of reporting. Despite my path having course-corrected itself (I got into grad school), I consider not giving enough thought to which level of ‘jeducation’ I should take my biggest regret during my university-huntin’ period all those years ago.

 

The campus

Few universities can provide the intensity of a city as Ryerson can. Most students get off the subway at Dundas Station, just below one of Canada’s busiest intersections. You get to be surrounded by the Eaton Centre, the financial district, City Hall, theatres, tonnes of restaurants — you name it. “The heart of the city” is a location that often gets thrown around, but the campus is definitely in one of the valves.

The main area many students spend their time in is Kerr Hall, the building around the quad. The Rogers Communication Centre is where nearly all journalism classes are held. Overall, the campus is maintained quite well. The theatre building has its ‘wow, this is old’ charm, while other buildings tend to favour futuristic-y design. I hardly see any garbage or graffiti anywhere (minus, of course, the bathrooms for the latter).

I found the campus and Toronto overall very safe (statistically, it’s true). I was once assaulted around 9 p.m. just east of Yonge and Gerrard by a trio who had left Covenant House. Although a very rare and minor incident, I’d say it’s best to stay away from that area at night, if you can. I heard no stories from my peers about having any issues with safety in the area.

Getting around campus was never an issue since everything is nearby. During the winter, it’s quite lovely to walk from the Dundas station to the Podium building, then through Kerr Hall South to the RCC building via the bridges. Why there isn’t a tunnel from the station to the Podium building is beyond me.

Students heard about Salad King approximately three milliseconds into the first day of school. The Thai food did live up to the hype. Ryerson’s cafeteria (“the hub”) in Jogenson Hall offered mostly generic food you can find anywhere. Good place to study/hang, though. Journalism students will find their Timmies fix at the Kerr Hall side of the bridge connecting to the RCC. There’s also a Dominion, err, Metro right in front of the school.

Journalism students who live in residence at Pitman Hall will have the benefit of being able to wake up five minutes before class (it’s right next door). Students looking to live off-campus should have enough options to find something decent. From what I hear, many out-of-towners choose Ryerson residence the first year, then find housing elsewhere for the second and later years once they are familiar with the city.

Students often complain there aren’t enough athletic facilities, something I can’t really vouch for since I barely used any at the school. I only discovered the Ryerson Athletic Centre in second or third year. It’s located under the quad and houses several gyms, a track, and workout equipment. I liken it to a secret lair from a James Bond movie because it’s so big yet so hidden. Annoyingly, there were only four treadmills down when I used to visit. By now, Ryerson has probably already opened up its new facility at what used to be Maple Leaf Gardens. I had to pay for this in my tuition (about $250 extra each year, I think) without any kind of free gym membership for the future, so, yeah, you’re welcome.

 

Ryerson Students’ Union

My experience with the union consisted of getting tens of pounds of pamphlets along with two sore eardrums from what felt like daily chanting regarding a cause of the week. It’s part of the university experience, I guess. Students were forced to get a health insurance plan (unless you proved you already have one) costing $200+, which I used as much as I could (wisdom teeth removal and $300 orthotic insoles? I think yes). The RSU offered a bunch of services, including free legal advice. I often took advantage of the cheap Cineplex movie tickets, which cost $8 at the time. The executives, who were on an annoying amount of RSU-branded material all over campus and online, generally did a good job being open to student media.

 

Convocation

Also called graduation and commencement, convocation is the culmination of the program. Mine was held on Friday, June 8, 2012, at 2:30 p.m. Students had to be there two hours early to get gowned. I must admit I was slightly bitter we didn’t get those hats graduates always throw up in the air just before they freeze frame at the end of movies. After a march around the quad, we entered the (thankfully) air-conditioned Ryerson Theatre and found our seats. Ivan Reitman, who probably didn’t pay the $25,000 we had to, got an honourary degree. Students then got called up for the walk-handshake-degree dance. I walked, shook hands, told Ivan Reitman to finally do Ghostbusters III, then got the second most expensive paper of my life. I probably should have joined a clique/made more friends since I don’t think I heard anyone cheering me on (they said not to clap, but everyone did). From the march to the exit, the entire ceremony lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. My mom, my only guest (of two you’re allowed to bring), told me the ceremony was nicer than my sister’s convocation at Carleton a year prior (so there, Carleton!).

 

Conclusion

University is a long-term investment, one I have no idea how will pay off. All I know is that I did what I genuinely believed was the best thing for me at the time. Now that it’s over, my initial feeling is that I can do it. Having directly worked with the pros in my final year, I see myself being able to do what they can. That said, I feel the university part of the program was lacking in places. I didn’t feel the professors gave me enough room to try new things or truly question the art. They gave me what the school is known for (sending students into the real world with the skills needed) but not entirely what I think a university should provide. I can shoot, edit, report stories on my own no problem, but there’s an emptiness I face. This is partly because of professors, partly because of the way the courses were structured. As I described earlier about college vs. university journalism programs, I feel college would teach me the how whereas university would further examine the Ws. Luckily for me, I got into a graduate program of journalism, which will give me another opportunity to delve into journalism in an academic setting.

Again, as you know, this is my personal experience with the program. Your experience will be different. The program will change, professors will come and go, and you’ll want something different out of the program than I do. Fact is, any kind of post-secondary journalism education is a good thing and Ryerson definitely provides a great place to pursue it.