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How Useful Is a Masters in Journalism?

Updated on July 26, 2012

Have you ever considered pursuing a degree in Journalism?

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Some degrees - law, medicine - you just can't do without if that's you're chosen career. Others, like an MBA, are highly helpful to entering the field. But a degree in journalism has always been a bit foggy to me: how useful is it to scoring a job reporting or writing? And what program options are out there?

Getting a Master's in Journalism - attending "J-school," as it's called - may cross the minds of many aspiring writers.

When considering pursuing a Master's in journalism myself, I wanted to know a few things:

1) How useful is it to entering the field?

2) What exactly would I learn in a Journalism program?

3) How long will it take me and what's it going to cost?

4) Am I a person who could benefit from the structure of a Master's program?

How Useful is it for Entering the Field of Journalism?

One investigative reporter I talked to (who himself did not have a degree in journalism) was ambivalent on the subject. He half-way jokingly said it was rumored that a degree in journalism helps you get hired by others with a journalism degree, but hurts your chances with bosses who are self-taught journalists.

He added that it was good to have an educational focus or realm of expertise outside of journalism.

In the end, my interviewee concluded, getting a Masters in any field certainly can't hurt. It may help you jump up the career ladder, whereas self-taught journalists may need to go through more internships and unpaid positions to get to same the level. Self-taught journalists, of course, avoid educational loans and debt!

A Georgetown University study found that college graduates who majored in journalism had a slightly lower unemployment rate than the national college graduate average.

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What Do You Learn in a Masters in Journalism Program?

All programs seem to start with basic core courses that cover topics such as interviewing techniques, style, journalism ethics, new media, and multimedia journalism.

Journalism can take many forms: investigative reporting, business and financial reporting, cultural journalism, sports journalism, online communications, environmental journalism, etc...It varies by school whether it is called a Masters of Arts (M.A.) or a Masters of Science (M.S.).

Schools may specialize in these different topics.

NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute: Cultural Reporting and Criticism.

NYU specializes in Cultural Journalism, which it describes as:

“Journalism is not just about reporting on individual "news events." More and more, it's about getting a handle on the complicated reality that frames those events - the ever-shifting patterns of culture that determine how we live and what we make of our lives.”

Indiana University-Purdue, University of Texas at Austin

Indiana University Purdue is the best school in the United States for sports journalism. Students take courses on sports psychology, issues surrounding sports in education, and the business and economics of sports, to name a few.

Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University

The Knight Center is a hub for top notch environmental reporting conferences. Their dynamic Masters program has students learning the rudimentary science skills for collecting environmental data, such as taking water samples. Students also get out of the classroom and in the outdoors for courses on nature writing.

Mid-Career and Online Programs

Many online Masters in Journalism programs exist. I noticed that quite a few of these online programs are directed at mid-career professionals, such as the online journalism program at North Carolina Chapel Hill: Masters in Technology and Communication. The program covers "interactive media, the Internet, digital economics and other issues reshaping journalism and mass communication in the 21st century."

The Missouri School of Journalism offers an online Masters program for furthering the mid-career journalist's leadership potential, and teaches administration skills through its Strategic Communications and Media Management courses.

How Long Will it Take and What's it Going to Cost?

A Masters in Journalism generally takes one to two years, and tuition may vary. Columbia's program is 10 months and tuition is just under $50,000. Missouri's program is 2 years and tuition is about $20,000.

OnlineCollege.org has blessedly compiled a list of 50 Free Open Courses in journalism! The links will take you to course syllabi, reading assignments, and class material downloads.

Poynter, News University has 250 low cost online courses. Their mission is to make good ethical journalism and reporting accessible to all.

Could I Benefit from a Formal Education Experience in Journalism?

Some people thrive off of the university experience more than others. It may be the right time in your life to take a step back, get out of the job market and into the pure intellectual mode of the classroom. Perhaps you could strongly benefit from the guidance of professors, a structured syllabus, and a network of alumni to graduate into.

Or perhaps you have found opportunities to learn while working, or you can structure yourself to develop your own writing repertoire (HubPages!).

It's a personal decision, and if you're on the fence it helps to know your options. And hey, if you're still torn up about it, you can always try journaling.

If you consider yourself a writer, journalist, or reporter....

Why have you or have you not considered a degree in journalism?

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    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Tara! I have a BS in journalism and I think it would be very difficult to get a job in journalism without a J degree. There are very few (none that I know of) 'self-taught' journalists. Most of the journalists that I know don't have masters degrees in anything. I have one and it is in Communications.

      My masters hasn't helped me be a better journalist (b/c it was more theoretical) really, job experience helps with that. But my having a masters did help me get a job offer to teach a news writing course at the community college which I've done several years now.

      Getting a masters degree will help you learn how to do solid research which is always a good thing to know how to do. If you write a thesis, as I did, that will help in learning how to write well, organize a large project and work with a committee.

      I think getting a Masters is as much the experience as it is the actual field you're getting it in.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a thorough and useful Hub! You've put more thought and research into this overview than many of my friends have put into their ACTUAL decisions to enter masters programs. Thanks for sharing your findings and insights. Deciding to get a masters degree in anything is a big deal (especially when it comes to time and money), so one should not take these decisions lightly.

    • Tara McNerney profile image
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      Tara McNerney 5 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thanks Ronna! That's exactly the type of thing I was curious about hearing. Good research, I'm finding, seems to be a key factor behind good non-fiction writing. A knowledge of history is such a fascinating and rich thing to add to your writing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ronna Pennington profile image

      Ronna Pennington 5 years ago from Arkansas

      I have a BA in journalism and decided to pursue a master's that would offer me some diversity career-wise. I chose a history program. The research skills are so different from what journalists usually have to do, so I actually feel like I've learned something new...and given me new, nonfiction ideas for my own writing projects.