Journalism Schools Introduce New Degrees Focused on Future

A university in the United Kingdom is leading the way in 21st-century journalism education.

Birmingham City University has added several master’s degrees starting this school year.

New degrees at the Birmingham School of Media are in:

  • Creative Industries and Cultural Policy
  • Freelance Photography
  • Freelancing and Journalism Enterprise
  • Online Journalism
  • Social Media

Next year, the university plans to offer a master’s in Magazine Journalism and Interactive Content.

New degrees at other universities include those at Elon University in North Carolina, National University in San Diego, Northwestern University in Illinois, and Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

Schools are doing more to prepare students to build their own futures.

Recent additions to journalism schools have often focused on digital storytelling. But these programs tend to put more emphasis on audience, business and experimentation.

Point Park now allows students to earn a joint master’s degree in mass communications and business. Classes are evenly divided between media courses and business courses.

The program is now focused on people working in advertising or public relations. But next year, it is expected to expand into journalism, with three new tracks: for print and online journalism, broadcast and online journalism, and business and financial reporting.

Dr. Dane Claussen, graduate program director, doesn’t expect many journalists to be interested in learning more about business.

“Should they be? Of course,” he said in a phone interview. “But that doesn’t mean they will be.”

The program will be a useful addition for students who are interested — the school says it is one of only six in the country to offer such a dual degree.

In contrast to some programs in media management, this includes a course in accounting. If you’re running a business, you need to be able to understand the books, whether you keep them yourself or pay others to handle them.

Western Kentucky University also requires students to think more about business. Its new iMedia certificate includes a course in interactive advertising.

If schools want to produce entrepreneurs, students need to learn how to make money from their products.

The programs at Birmingham and Northwestern’s Medill focus on entrepreneurship (along with the current program at Arizona State University).

These degrees emphasize student research and development of new products.

Birmingham’s master’s in online journalism is noteworthy for delving more into unique opportunities of the Internet, such as datamashups and the semantic Web. It also includes mapping and building content management systems.

The program was developed by fellow Tidbitter Paul Bradshaw and will be delivered online in future years.

Medill’s masters for experienced media professionals includes six options for concentrations:

  • Audience Understanding
  • Content Creation
  • Digital and Interactive
  • Innovation
  • Marketing
  • Media Management

“There’s a big focus at Medill on audience,” said Owen Youngman, Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy at Medill, in a phone interview.

Although journalists are often disinterested in marketing and promotion, journalism that falls on deaf ears does no good, he said.

“Stories need to go looking for people,” Youngman told me.

Elon’s new degree in interactive media also emphasizes the audience and social media, with classes such as Citizen and Participatory News.

Attention to the audience is more important with digital media, because it’s easier for people to pick and choose, said program director and communications professor David Copeland in a phone interview.

Elon also offers a class on virtual environments. It explores how games and Second Life can be used for news delivery and other purposes.

One way Elon evaluates its program is through a diagnostic test. The test is given to students before and after a month-long digital media workshop.

Elon’s program includes a requirement to produce a project for public good. But the degree is not aimed specifically for journalists — or even people who want media jobs. People want to use media to accomplish other things, Copeland said.

Another school expecting to draw a diverse mix is National University, which caters to adult students.

The average age of students at the university is 36, according to Sara-Ellen Amster, lead faculty member for the new master’s degree in digital journalism.

Students are admitted every month and take one class a month. Classes are online and in the evenings (Pacific time).

An international student body is expected. The curriculum includes a class on international reporting, designed by fellow Tidbitter Alan Abbey.

Amster said the class is also meant to “recognize diversity in any community” — such as covering the Hmong community in Providence.

What is your school doing to engage community more? What other changes has it made, or do you wish it would make?

Clarification: This story originally implied that National University did not require students to learn journalism fundamentals early in its master’s program for digital journalism. Journalism fundamentals are included in the second course of the curriculum.

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