Journalism is a critical form of communication in today’s society, one concerned with gathering and presenting verified information to the public, and disseminating news around the globe. It is a field that has seen massive changes over the past 25 years, due to the advent of the internet and online media outlets. From the traditional print newspaper and six o’clock news broadcast, to today’s instant news reporting on social media and websites, journalism as a form and practice is central to the sharing of ideas, vital news information, and human-interest stories.
It is a nuanced profession, with a wide-array of information gathering techniques and news production styles, such as investigative journalism, multimedia journalism, international journalism, or immersion journalism. A master’s degree in journalism provides students with a grounding in ethical journalistic standards, as well as the processes of reporting the news at various audience levels (e.g. local, state, national) and in specific disciplines (e.g. politics, business, sports). By completing a graduate degree in journalism, students can learn how to tell engaging, insightful stories across media platforms using the latest production technology and software, all while maintaining a commitment to the highest level of journalistic professionalism and integrity.
Classification of Master’s in Journalism Programs
Students in master’s-level journalism programs gain advanced understanding of journalistic theory and its strategic practices in research, writing, interviewing, editing, and production. This comprehensive education can help prepare graduates to use the latest media technologies and strategic journalism techniques to break news for national newspapers, tell human stories through multimedia production, write informative exposés on multinational corporations, and more.
Graduate programs in journalism are available in both Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degree tracks. Although some schools have dedicated Departments of Journalism, many programs are actually offered through a variety of schools, departments, and colleges. For example, some institutions offer journalism specializations through their master’s in communication or master’s in mass communication programs. Below is a snapshot of the diversity of departments that offer journalism master’s programs:
- Columbia University’s Columbia Journalism School: Master of Arts in Journalism
- Kent State University’s School of Media and Journalism: Master of Arts in Media and Journalism
- Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications: Master of Science in Journalism
- Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism: Master of Science in Journalism
- University of Arizona’s School of Journalism: Master of Arts in Journalism
- University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s School of Mass Communication: Master of Arts in Mass Communication – Multi-platform Journalism Track
- University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information: Master of Arts in Journalism
- University of Illinois’s College of Media: Master of Science in Journalism
- University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism: Master of Arts in Journalism, Master of Journalism, and Master of Professional Studies in Data Journalism
- University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism: Master of Science in Journalism
- University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication: Professional Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication
As a professional field, journalism has several disciplines, each with its own practices, reporting strategies, and approaches to research and writing. Some examples of journalism specializations include:
- Business and economics: This specialization covers the fundamental theories surrounding free enterprise and economic institutions, introducing students to the analytical skills required to gauge economic performance and write stories about the business sector.
- Politics: This specialization provides students with an understanding of local, state, national, and global political institutions, systems, and processes, preparing graduates to analyze political issues, such as elections, protest movements, and more.
- Magazine Journalism: This specialization exposes students to the production of long-form, narrative journalism, including print and digital magazine production, writing strategies and techniques for magazine publishing, and working with multimedia content elements (e.g. photography, video, audio).
- Sports Media: This specialization introduces students to the broad spectrum of sports reporting, covering long-form features and profiles, investigative storytelling, multimedia production, historical coverage strategies, and more.
Other journalism specialization areas include the following:
- Arts and culture
- Broadcast journalism
- Digital media
- International reporting
- Public policy
Master’s in Journalism Programs: Professional Practice versus Area of Expertise
While specific program titles and options vary by school, some offer students two types of master’s in journalism programs to choose from, often referred to as a professional practice track and an area of expertise track. When available, these two tracks generally differ slightly in terms of both their curricular and admissions requirements.
Professional practice tracks are typically generalist degree programs that focus on developing the student’s advanced journalistic skills. The curriculum in these programs is comprehensive, covering core practices across the journalism industry. Students are often introduced to subjects such as digital reporting, data journalism, audio storytelling, television production, video production, and more. Through this well-rounded coursework, students hone their journalistic skills and gain hands-on experience working with multimedia software, audio and video production equipment, and on-camera news production environments. Usually, these programs do not require a background in journalism for admission. (Although some schools do require experience in journalism for admission regardless of the type of program they offer.)
Area of expertise tracks mirror the professional practice option, but complement the general curriculum with additional courses in the student’s area of expertise or specialization, such as sports, international politics, business and economics, or environmental policy. Along with a similar core curriculum in the foundations of journalism practice, the specialization coursework is designed to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to become advanced practitioners in an ever-changing media landscape. Depending on their program focus, students might take advanced courses in subjects such as health and science reporting, media and terrorism, capitol bureau reporting, documentary production, women in media, and more. It is important to note, however, that some schools may require applicants to already be practicing journalists with professional experience in their field in order to be considered for this type of master’s program.
Both professional practice and specialization tracks include a range of journalism-specific electives, furthering the student’s mastery of strategic journalistic practices. Subjects vary by program, but generally cover specific areas of knowledge, such as long-form narrative reporting, audience analytics, personal narrative, video journalism, travel writing, data reporting, news layout and design, and more.
Note: The term “professional practice” can have several different meanings, depending on the school and program. While this term is often used to refer to a generalist type program, there are schools that offer professional practice tracks with specializations as well.
Curriculum Details for Master’s Program in Journalism
The master’s in journalism is a comprehensive program of study, intended to familiarize students with the principles of modern newsgathering and reporting. Through classroom- and experiential-based coursework, students develop skills essential to journalism in the 21st century: research, interviewing, and storytelling.
Studying both journalism theory and research practices, students explore the relationship between the media and the public, as well as how to best approach newsworthy occurrences in the various journalism disciplines, such as political, economic, health, social, and environment reporting. Students gain a grounding in journalist practices that prepares them to ask insightful questions, evaluate evidence and data, and produce cutting-edge, complex stories that engage the public. For example, journalists may investigate how social media is reshaping thinking around mental health or how media coverage of climate change influences public policy.
In journalism master’s programs, the curriculum is typically 30 to 42 credit hours, split between core classes, electives, academic concentration courses, practicum work, and a thesis or professional project. Depending on the institution, most programs can be completed in 12 and 24 months of full-time study. Part-time programs may be available that allow students to take fewer classes per term, thereby extending the time to completion.
The core curriculum in a journalism master’s degree program typically includes four-to-six courses that introduce students to the core concepts of journalism, such as contemporary practices in research, interviewing, and reporting; multimedia news production; long-form content; and principles of media law and ethical reporting. Although course requirements vary by program, students generally develop a plan of study that includes coursework in digital, audio, and television reporting, as well as data journalism.
After students complete the core curriculum requirements, they begin their academic specialization and elective classes. These courses are specific to the student’s selected professional area of interest, such as business and economics, health and environment, media entrepreneurship, politics, or sports. As they end their foundational and concentration coursework, students should have familiarity working in deadline driven environments, and possess the skills to research, report, produce, and publish engaging multimedia stories in today’s converged news environment.
Depending on the institution and degree track, journalism students are typically required to complete either a practicum, thesis, and/or project/portfolio in order to graduate. The practicum is a hands-on learning experience where students complete an internship with a media organization in their chosen academic specialization area. Students who select the professional project/portfolio option must put together a real-world journalism project, where they conduct in-depth research and reporting to deliver an insightful, relevant piece of original work. Finally, writing a thesis gives students the opportunity to synthesize their classroom knowledge and apply it to long-form journalism that explores a single topic of interest, such as public policy in local government, political engagement on social media, media representation of race, or media messaging through celebrity brands. Some programs require all students to complete a thesis, while others give students their choice of capstone project.
Below is a list of example courses students in a master’s in journalism may take during their program:
- Narrative Structure: Covers the foundations of storytelling across mediums such as websites, magazines, and radio, exploring storytelling’s common components, organizational concepts, and writer’s voice.
- Journalism Law and Ethics: This course covers the legal and ethical issues surrounding journalism, including a review of concepts regarding relationships with sources, major court cases, and ethical journalistic practices.
- Modern Journalism: A study of contemporary media consumption, with specific consideration to how humans’ relationship to technology influences how audiences both receive and consume various forms of journalistic content.
- Multimedia Storytelling: A production-focused course that teaches students how to use multimedia software, images, photography, video, and audio to create compelling stories that resonate with audiences.
- News Editing: A high-level introduction to news editing practices, including an emphasis on copyediting, and strategies for headline writing, print and online content layout, style, grammar, and accuracy.
- Television Newsroom: A hands-on course that places students in the newsroom, requiring them to put together newscasts on local, national, and international stories, as well as sports and weather.
- Race and Gender in New Media: This course examines the central concepts behind gender and race stereotypes and their shifting historical significance, offering a deeper look into how race and gender are portrayed by media outlets.
The table below is a sample course outline for how a master’s in journalism with a business reporting specialization might be structured. This plan is for a student entering with a bachelor’s degree and four years of professional experience in the field. It requires students to complete a summer practicum/internship, as well as a capstone project to graduate. Please note: This course plan is for example purposes only.
Master’s in Journalism Versus Master’s in Mass Communication Programs
On the surface, mass communication and journalism are similar fields. Both deal with sharing relevant information via multiple media channels with large audiences. However, as a field of study, journalism and mass communication are divergent professional areas. The master’s in mass communication with a journalism specialization is a broad-based graduate program that introduces students to the fundamental principles of communication. Curriculum traditionally covers central concepts in mass communication, introducing students to topics such as mass communication research methodologies and the history and theories behind mass communication, as well as intercultural communication, content analysis, and new media.
Within mass communication, students may select from applied learning and theory-focused degree tracks. Applied learning mass communication tracks are designed for media professionals seeking to develop strategic and integrative communication skill sets. Theory-based programs are for students who plan on continuing their studies at the doctoral level, and include additional courses in research, communication theory, and electives that allow students to explore communication’s relationships to and effects on political, economic, social, and cultural institutions.
Typically, mass communication master’s programs with a specialization in journalism are applied learning tracks. The core curriculum generally covers major subjects like issues in mass communication management, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in the field, media law, mass communication theory, and ethics in mass communication. In most cases, specialization courses consist of three-to-five classes of journalism-focused instruction, covering subjects such as the foundations of multimedia journalism, digital journalism, broadcasting, video production, and magazine production. Related electives may also be broader in nature, including subjects such as cross-cultural communication, visual communication, public relations, and more.
Conversely, the focus of a master’s in journalism program is more on the study of journalism theory and practical application of news gathering, research, reporting, editing, and presentation of journalistic content across media channels (e.g. broadcast news, print, digital media). Coursework typically revolves around topics relevant to the professional practices of modern journalism, largely shaped by students’ particular career interests.
While the majority of master’s in journalism programs are designed to prepare students for careers in journalism and media production, there are research-based programs specifically designed to prepare graduates for doctoral studies in journalism or a related field. These programs typically require students to complete a thesis, and may be quite similar to a theory-based master’s in mass communication program.
Students considering a degree in journalism or mass communication should compare curriculum, learning objectives, and career outcomes to decide which option best suits their future professional goals.
Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Journalism
The advent of online media has radically reshaped journalism as a professional industry. The once traditional field of daily print newspapers and local and national television news coverage has largely adopted digital and social media outlets as the primary vehicles for journalistic practices. Even as media channels shift, the need for objective and talented journalists, storytellers, and news professionals remains foundational to the journalism industry.
In a master’s in journalism program, students develop wide-reaching skills in information-gathering, writing and editing, interviewing, photography, and storytelling. The exposure to multimedia training and hands-on experience in research and reporting provides graduates with skills that are transferable to any medium. Today’s media employers, whether they be major networks or local newspapers, are seeking multitalented professionals that can tackle challenging stories and practice journalism at the highest ethical levels.
However, individuals with a master’s degree in journalism are not limited to working solely in traditional news journalism. With their knowledge of media theory, reporting, editing, and production, they can pursue a variety of career avenues in related fields, such as communication, marketing, digital media, government, and more.
Below is a sample list of common career paths for individuals with a master’s in journalism:
- Digital Media Editor: Working in online media, digital media editors manage freelance writers and collaborate with in-house editorial staff to develop an editorial calendar, create assignment briefs, assign content to writers, and edit content for online publications.
- Newspaper Managing Editor: The managing editor is responsible for selecting news stories for media outlets to report, assigning news assignments to reporters, determining headline selection, and may oversee specific areas of a news publication, such as business, features, sports, arts, or metro.
- Newspaper Reporter: Newspaper reporters cover news beats (e.g. local public policy), follow leads, observe events, perform research, and conduct interviews to write, edit, and present informative news stories to the public via traditional print, radio, television, and online media formats.
- News Anchor: News anchors report stories on television, internet, and radio broadcasts, and may be tasked with selecting which topics will be presented, writing the copy, conducting interviews, and reporting live on location for specific news events.
- News Director: News directors are responsible for the planning, reporting, editing, production, and presentation of the news in radio, television, newspaper and other media outlets, as well as maintaining the journalistic integrity of the news department staff.
- Photojournalist: Photojournalists use photographs and video to create visual stories on subjects ranging from local social justice issues to elections in foreign countries, utilizing their technical skills in photography (e.g. lighting, editing) to capture moments that best convey the story at hand.