Where wannabe journalists are flocking

Universities are rolling out newly minted master’s programs. Just don’t call it a profession.

Carmen Smith used to think she didn’t need graduate school. And why would she? Even before finishing her bachelor of journalism degree at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., Smith was the publisher of a women’s magazine called Belle, which she founded.

But she changed her mind after an academic adviser told her about a new master’s in journalism program offered at King’s College in Halifax that could help her do better with her own publication. “I really thought it was interesting to see how they were developing their program around entrepreneurial journalism,” Smith recalls. “That’s why I came.”

Smith, now 22, is one of a growing number of wannabe journalists heading to master’s programs in Canada. Before 2000, there were only two degrees available in the country, at Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario. Today, there are six, with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Wilfrid Laurier University both gearing up their own programs.

It might seem a strange time to expand graduate journalism programs, as advertisers move online and newsrooms shrink. Some educators admit many students won’t find jobs. “There is no way there are enough jobs for every single person who is graduating,” says Janice Neil, editor-in-chief of journalism industry publication J-Source and director of Ryerson University’s journalism school.

But even if a master’s doesn’t lead to a job, much of its value lies in access to internships that give students contacts in the industry, according to Neil. Program directors also say master’s degrees prepare students for the future. For Robert Steiner, the Munk School’s program director, that means graduates need to be comfortable freelancing and selling their work all over the world. “If you’re only working in your local market, you will make $5,000 a year,” he says. Meanwhile, the program at King’s teaches students how to use social media to proliferate their work online, as well as how to turn a profit in the ever-changing media environment. “The future of journalism is in new ventures, in new media outlets that are being created, and also in self-employment,” says program director Kelly Toughill. “Understanding how the business models are changing is very important for the next generation of journalists.”

Still, some question whether a master’s degree beats out experience. There are no professional requirements to become a journalist, after all. “It is still a market that is dictated by talent and access,” says Neil. Jeff Gaulin, who runs a journalism job board website out of Calgary, says the rise in graduate programs is part of a wider trend toward “increased professionalization” of education. “As positions become more competitive, it’s one point of differentiation,” says Gaulin. Neil calls it “credential creep.”

Robert Steiner agrees that a master’s in journalism is not a professional certification. Journalism, says Steiner, is “not like medicine or law, or even an M.B.A. What is far more important is the combination of experience and the sort of critical mind.”

Peter Klein says thinking is what an M.J. is all about. As director of the graduate program at the University of British Columbia, his master’s students are taught to critically reflect on the nature of journalism and issues pertaining to the industry. “There’s not a lot of time for philosophizing in the newsroom,” Klein says. “This is a great place to have pie-in-the-sky ideas.”

With a growing number of master’s programs for careers in a struggling trade with questionable job prospects, at least there’s still room to provide the age-old academic privilege to stop and think.

Master classes

New M.J. programs are in the works at Wilfrid Laurier and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, but for now, here’s what’s out there for prospective masters of the trade:

The University of Western Ontario: A one-year degree that offers a balance of technical training and journalism theory, and includes a mandatory one-month internship.

Ryerson University: This two-year program is catered toward people with no journalism degree and relatively little experience. It focuses on training “urban journalists” to possess the technical skills and knowledge to report on the complexities of modern urban society.

Carleton University: Carleton has two M.J. streams: a two-year program for non-journalists, and a one-year for either experienced journalists or those with degrees in the field. Both streams mix practical skills with academic theory.

Concordia University: This two-year program is not meant for students seeking professional training as journalists. Rather, it focuses on theoretical analysis of journalism trends and the research methods of journalism.

University of King’s College: A one-year program with two streams: new ventures in journalism and investigative reporting. It’s designed either for practising journalists or those with undergraduate degrees in the field.

University of British Columbia: UBC’s two-year program includes a mandatory three-month internship, and aims to provide a practical journalistic education alongside a theoretical approach.

Where wannabe journalists are flocking

  1. What a racket. Pay for a $10,000 degree, in order to get more opportunities to work as an unpaid intern? The people getting a masters are the ones who were still too cowed to try to build a career in journalism after getting their bachelors degree. Why? Because all their experience was theoretical, untested on real audiences and real editors (editors who you aren’t paying to be kind and coddling towards you). The real bright emerging journos probably didn’t even finish school before getting carried away in an idea or a project. 

    • While I understand why you probably think this way I have to disagree. Both King’s and Ryerson offer real life experience throughout the bachelors degree as well as the boot camp King’s expects all of it’s one year BJ students to do. Students are thrown into interviewing, live reposting, and producing on both TV and radio. They are not coddled or patted on the back when something goes wrong in any of these experiences but rather treated as they would be working for a news media organization. All of the students feel the pressure of day by day deadlines and conflicts in scheduling, they are journalists throughout the whole experience. New media is introduced daily and the students are expected to learn fast and keep up. I suggest that you visit one of these schools and experience first hand the kind of pressure these young adults face when trying to compete with journalisms changing market. 

  2. This article is quite misleading vis-a-vis the Munk program since it is not a Master of Journalism. Although they initially considered a graduate degree they are offering a diploma program (which they are a calling a fellowship) instead. Please see this article on the program in Univesity Affairs http://www.universityaffairs.ca/training-journalists-for-niche-markets.aspx. Concordia’s program is also not an MJ. It is a MA in Journalism, which is truly focused on the study of journalism rather than the training of journalists (although I’m sure that happens too). How about a correction?

    • You’re confusing ‘master’s’ with the word ‘master’ in ‘Master of Journalism’. It’s an undergraduate degree not a diploma.

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