Answer: There are two major differences between a master’s degree in mass communication and master’s degree in journalism. The first is master’s in mass communication programs tend to emphasize theory and research, while master’s in journalism programs are more concerned with developing applied skills. The second difference is the overall curricular focus and purpose of the programs. A master’s in mass communication program contains coursework intended to educate students about spreading messages to a mass audience. This can take many forms, with courses in a wide variety of topics, often including journalism. In contrast, journalism programs tend to focus more specifically on developing effective storytellers who have the skills necessary to educate the public through various types of reporting.

Mass communication and journalism are two distinct but related fields. At the master’s level, these degree programs are often offered through similar schools and departments at colleges or universities. For example, students may find master’s in mass communication and master’s in journalism programs offered through Schools of Mass Communication, Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication(s), or Departments of Communication and Journalism.

Due to the different goals of each program, students pursuing a master’s in mass communication typically study a wider breadth of topics than those pursuing a master’s in journalism. For example, while a student in a mass communication program and a student in a journalism program might both take courses in news writing, the mass communication student might also have access to courses in brand management and public relations (PR), which are typically not found in journalism programs. Therefore, students interested in learning about a wider range of topics associated with mass media and large-scale information exchange may want to earn a master’s in mass communication due to the breadth of courses offered.

On the other hand, students who are certain they want to pursue a career in journalism after graduation may prefer the more focused curriculum of a master’s degree in journalism. Ultimately, graduates of either program can pursue similar careers after earning their degree, as it is not uncommon for mass communication majors to go on to work in the field of journalism, and journalism majors to move into public relations or advertising.

Master’s in Mass Communication Programs

Students pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication should expect to take a variety of courses related to mass media, with each program defining a different scope for what is considered mass communication. Some programs have a strong focus on traditional media like radio and television, while other programs have a wider scope and include types of digital communication within mass communication studies, covering topics such as web design and social media. Beyond this, some programs even include a focus on film, discussing topics like screenwriting, film history, and portrayals in film.

With a master’s degree in mass communication, students can go on to work in a wide range of fields. Graduates often find employment in print journalism, broadcast journalism, public relations, marketing, or advertising, to name just a few possible options. Rather than obtaining a role in industry, some students choose to further their education in a PhD program, where they conduct mass media research and educate other students.

Students should note that while the majority of master’s in mass communication programs combine study of theoretical (e.g. mass communication research methods, theories of mass communication, etc.) and applied (e.g. media management, media studies, marketing, etc.) communication topics, there are also highly theoretical, research-based social science programs. These types of programs focus more on studying media criticism, along with the social and cultural impact of mass media and mass media industries. Typically, social science mass communication programs are designed to prepare graduates for further study at the doctorate level.

While the specific coursework in a master’s in mass communication program will vary, there are some areas of study that are common amongst them. For instance, most master’s in mass communication programs include courses in broadcast journalism, mass media theory, media ethics, public relations, media management, and editorial writing. Below is a longer list of examples courses to illustrate the variety of topics one might find covered in master’s in mass communication programs.

Example Courses in a Master’s in Mass Communication Program
Communication, Technology and SocietyMedia Ethics
Multimedia StorytellingBroadcast and Video Journalism
Media PlanningDigital Graphic Design
Multimedia WritingMedia Theories
Film and Broadcast DocumentaryNarrative and Longform Journalism
Women and FilmVideo Editing
Media and Cultural StudiesRisk and Crisis Communication
Multicultural CampaignsData Creation and Analysis
Communication Law and Public PolicyNarrative Film Production
News Media and the First AmendmentBrand Management
Literature of JournalismFoundations of Public Relations
The Press and PropagandaData Scraping
Design and ProductionGlobal Health and Development Communication
Cultural JammingMulticultural Health Communication

Master’s in Journalism Programs

In a journalism master’s degree program, students examine the various aspects of news reporting and its variety of production styles, often learning to produce investigative journalism, multimedia journalism, and international journalism. This enables graduates to develop engaging stories and distribute information at the local, state, national, and international levels. Another key focus of these programs is ethics and journalistic integrity — a crucial skill for successful journalists.

Programs may vary in terms of the focus they take on different journalistic styles, so it is important that students research programs extensively to understand each program’s concentration and how it matches their career goals. Some programs might even offer specializations in topics like technology and business, politics, arts and culture, business and economics, science, health, and the environment. These specializations allow students to develop a deep knowledge of journalism while becoming subject matter experts in a specific topic that interests them.

Graduates of master’s in journalism programs tend to pursue positions in TV and radio broadcasting, news reporting and writing, magazine writing, digital production, sports reporting, documentary and film making, or business reporting. To prepare for these careers, students take a variety of courses related to news reporting and production. Common course topics include journalism ethics, interactive journalism, video journalism, modern journalism, documentary production, investigative reporting, broadcast reporting, web journalism, data journalism, public radio reporting, travel writing, and feature writing. Below is a list of examples courses that might be offered in a master’s in journalism program. Keep in mind, this list is intended for illustrative purposes only, and students should research individual programs for more details.

Example Courses in a Master’s in Journalism Program
Introductory ReportingFoundations of News Writing and Reporting
News EditingOpinion Writing
Multimedia StorytellingVideo Journalism
Modern JournalismPhotojournalism
Reporting with MultimediaInternational Media Systems
Journalism TheoryVisual Literacy
Journalism Law and EthicsEntrepreneurial Journalism
Media LawEthics and Diversity in the Media
Digital Communications LawPublication Design
Race and Gender in New MediaAdvanced Business Reporting
Political Reporting in D.C.Reporting in the Middle East
Media and TerrorismSocial Justice Media
Reporting on the EnvironmentAudio Reporting
Issues in Covering ScienceMagazine Photography
Food JournalismTravel Writing

Master’s in Mass Communication vs. Master’s in Journalism Programs

There are two underlying differences between a master’s in mass communication and a master’s in journalism. The first is the extent to which each program focuses on theory or practice. The second is the specific focus and purpose of each degree.

When comparing these two degrees, it is important to note that master’s in mass communication programs tend to have a more theoretical focus, combining study of media effects, portrayals, and trends with applied skill development. To be clear, there are many programs that include extensive coursework in applied skills. However, students will have an easier time finding a master’s in mass communication program that focuses on theory and research than they will a master’s in journalism program. This difference is underlined by the abundance of PhD programs in mass communication. In contrast, master’s in journalism programs tend to be far more focused on developing applicable workplace skills and are almost always a terminal degree, designed to prepare students to enter the workforce and report on current events and social issues.

The other crucial difference between the programs is the breadth of topics covered. The goal of a master’s in mass communication program is to teach students about sharing information with large groups of people. This could be in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes. Thus, students often have the chance to take courses in a wide range of areas, like brand management, public relations, crisis management, and health communication, for instance. It is important to note that students in mass communication programs typically also have access to journalism courses, as journalism is one form of mass communication.

On the other hand, students in master’s in journalism programs would rarely, if ever, take courses in brand management or public relations. The goal of this degree is to produce graduates who know how to tell engaging stories that effectively inform the public. This results in a curriculum more specifically focused on news reporting through newspapers, magazines, documentaries, digital media, online publications, and television, as these are the outlets journalists use to communicate with the general public. As a result, master’s in journalism programs emphasize training students to use these channels to share important events, stories, and issues.