Journalism Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in journalism can lead to careers in the media, communications and academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Journalism: Graduate Degrees at a Glance

If you're considering a graduate degree in journalism, be aware that the field has recently experienced significant changes. Media companies have consolidated, newspaper readerships have decreased and TV audiences have shrunk. As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects demand for reporters and correspondents to decline by 8% from 2010-2020 - considerably different from the average growth of 14% expected for all professions combined. And because graduate degrees are rarely a hard requirement for journalism jobs, a master's might not open many doors that a bachelor's wouldn't.

On the upside, master's degrees provide a way for people with bachelor's in other fields to break into journalism. Also, journalism degrees can prepare you for other jobs in the communications field with significantly higher salaries and moderately better outlooks, such as broadcast news analysts, public relations specialists and communication professors. Additionally, some of the downsizing in traditional media may be offset by a growing demand for digital journalism, creating new opportunities for those who are ready for them.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals with an unrelated bachelor's degree who seek to break into journalism and communications, or journalists who wish to gain new skills in a particular specialization and/or teach at the junior college level Individuals interested in teaching at the university level, conducting research or performing policy work in government or industry
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Reporter or correspondent ($35,000)*
- Broadcast news analyst ($56,000)*
- Editor ($52,000)*
- Public relations specialist ($53,000)*
- Junior college communications teacher ($67,000)*
- University communications professor ($60,000)*
-With the exception of university teaching jobs and some policy and research positions, which may require a PhD, career options for the master's degree and the PhD may be similar
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 2-4 years, full-time (may depend on if you have a master's in a related field)
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 8-12 courses
- Master's project
- Approximately 8-16 courses
- Dissertation
- Teaching component
- Comprehensive exams
- Foreign language ability and/or research skill
Common Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in any field Typically, master's in related field, though some programs will allow you to complete master's as first phase of PhD
Online Availability Yes Rare, though some programs may be completed partially online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Journalism

Some schools offer general master's degrees in journalism, while many offer concentrations such as magazine writing, interactive publishing or broadcasting. Through a combination of core courses and electives, you're likely to cover much of the same foundation in either type of program. However, if you know you want to work in a specific area (e.g., environmental reporting, photojournalism, public relations), be sure the degree program you choose offers either a concentration or coursework in that area.

Most schools don't require a bachelor's degree in a related field for admission to the master's program in journalism. Therefore, you will likely be taking the same types of classes (and in some cases, the exact same classes) as undergraduates studying journalism. This coursework will be combined with graduate-level classes in your master's program.

A number of master's degree programs are designed specifically for professionals with experience in the field. These are generally in specialized areas such as media management, in-depth radio and television reporting or health and science journalism.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• Provides a way for someone with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field to break into the world of journalism

• Can help experienced journalists specialize in a new area (management or digital media, for example)

• Provides solid practical experience in critical thinking, research, writing and editing that will help you in a variety of occupations

• May qualify you for a job teaching communication or journalism at the community college level

• Can be completed in as little as one year (or two, depending on the program)

Cons

• May not qualify you for many more jobs (other than teaching) than a bachelor's would

• Can be expensive and may lead to journalism jobs with comparatively low salaries (newspaper reporters and correspondents, for example, had a median salary of about $32,000 in 2011)*

• When applying for teaching positions at the community college level, you may be competing against candidates with PhDs

• Graduate schools are less likely to fund terminal master's students than PhD students (though grants and scholarships may be available)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Required coursework for the journalism master's degree usually involves both theory (journalism history, media law and communication theory, for example) and practice (research methods, reporting techniques and writing and editing). You'll likely also take several courses covering more specialized topics, such as broadcast news, sports writing or global reporting. If your degree program has a specialized concentration, such as interactive publishing, television broadcasting or magazine design, you will also have more specific requirements and electives in that area.

The following are examples of courses common to journalism master's programs:

• News reporting

• Media law and ethics

• Digital journalism

• Mass media in society

• Magazine feature writing

In addition to the requisite courses, most journalism programs require completion of a master's project or thesis. While the thesis is a work of scholarly research, the master's project is usually an in-depth piece of professional-quality journalism.

Online Degree Options

A number of colleges and universities provide online master's programs in journalism. These online degree programs tend to have specialized concentrations, such as digital media, strategic communication or journalism education. Graduate schools may offer only a limited number of specializations online or may offer their online programs only to experienced professionals. Some journalism master's degrees can be completed completely online, while others are a combination of on-campus and online classes.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

A journalism degree is a good background for a number of fields; however, if you know what you want to do after graduation, you can choose a specialization that will help you succeed. For example, if you want to work in an occupation that the BLS expects to grow from 2010-2020, such as public relations specialists (expected to grow 23%) or broadcast news analysts (expected to grow 10%), you can choose a concentration or coursework in strategic communication or TV reporting.

In an increasingly technological industry, students can get ahead by becoming proficient in multimedia technology, social media and digital journalism. Become comfortable with such software programs as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, such websites as Facebook and Twitter and such skills as shooting and editing audio and video footage. This may mean taking courses in these topics when available or learning them wherever the opportunity arises.

Because journalism is a practical field, it makes sense to use your time in school to gain real-world experience and develop a portfolio of published work. Write for your school newspaper, create multimedia content for your school website or work on any radio or TV program your school might produce. You may also be able to submit freelance stories written for class assignments to outside publications. While master's programs tend to involve intensive coursework, some also offer internships to their students.

PhD in Journalism

Doctoral programs in communication are largely intended for those seeking to teach at the university level, conduct original research and/or perform policy or research work for government or private companies. Some PhD graduates may also provide consulting, strategy or management services for media corporations, public relations agencies and other communications entities.

PhD programs often require a master's degree in journalism or a related field for admission. However, some schools allow students without this degree to complete the master's coursework as the first phase of the doctorate. Certain programs may request that applicants without a related master's degree have some background in journalism.

Because doctoral programs are generally theoretical or research-oriented, degrees in the field often have such titles as 'PhD in Mass Communication,' 'PhD in Communication Research' or 'PhD in Media Studies,' rather than 'PhD in Journalism.' Some programs, however, may allow you to take classes in practical techniques during the master's phase of the PhD or as elective courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

• A PhD qualifies you for a teaching position at the university level and may give you an advantage for jobs at the community college level over candidates with master's degrees

• A PhD in communications may help you secure a job in management, policy, research or consulting for government or private industry

• Many PhD programs provide funding, stipends and/or tuition exemptions to students for all or part of the course of study

Cons

• Competition for tenured university teaching positions is high, so even PhD graduates may find opportunities only as part-time professors

• Salaries in communications programs tend to be lower than those in the allied disciplines of law, engineering and business, so communications professors may be paid less for teaching similar courses

• Since education in communications, especially digital communications, is now essential to many disciplines, PhD graduates in communications may face competition from PhD graduates in other fields

Courses and Requirements

The foundation of most communication PhD programs is a combination of communication theory and research methods. This core may be supplemented by interdisciplinary elective courses in psychology, law, marketing or history, depending on the focus of the degree. Beyond a basic required structure, the content of many PhD programs is custom designed based on the specific interests of the student and the advice of his or her adviser.

Additional PhD requirements often include qualifying exams, a teaching component, a dissertation (proposal, writing and defense) and skills in a foreign language and/or a specific research tool (e.g., statistics, computer programming, advanced methodology, etc.).

Online Degree Options

Online PhD programs in communication and journalism are very rare, but you may find some that can be completed at least partially online. Because online options are so uncommon, you should carefully research any such programs you find. Make sure the school is accredited and that the degree will enable you to reach your goals after graduation. For example, if you are planning to teach at the postsecondary level, you might consider an on-campus PhD program since an online program is unlikely to offer a strong teaching component (if any).

Stand Out with this Degree

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication refers to the Report of the Task Force on the Status and Future of Doctoral Education in Journalism and Mass Communication issued in 2006, which makes the following suggestions for PhD students to be successful in the field:

• Be a theoretical pioneer - instead of merely comparing or analyzing existing theories, work to break new theoretical ground in your research

• Be a more versatile teacher - become proficient in teaching in in-person, online and virtual environments, taking advantage of whatever opportunities your PhD program has to learn or practice such techniques

• Be more interdisciplinary in perspective - work to meet the challenges of mounting competition in the communications field from other disciplines such as computer science, business and engineering

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