A Master’s in Journalism Online: The Writer’s Edge

Stories saturate every corner of the digital landscape where we consume information all day, every day. We live in a 24-hour news cycle where content published by professional journalists is researched, verified, and enhanced using multimedia tools like video and interactive websites. Turning students into dynamic content professionals and working journalists is the goal of the Master’s in Journalism online program at National University.

Learning the tools of professional journalism remains relevant now more than ever. Cutting-edge digital media professionals use emerging technology — such as live video and interactive data visualization — to tell a news story. Journalistic integrity and writing talent now go hand in hand with skills such as videography, audio interviews, virtual reality, and other technology to produce stories that readers flock to. To gain a competitive edge, today’s journalists need to emerge as multi-faceted, technology-savvy storytellers.

“Having multimedia skills is critical,” says Dr. Sara-Ellen Amster, program director of National University’s Master of Arts in Digital Journalism online graduate program. “You have to become a multimedia journalist. Writers aren’t just going into it with notepads anymore, they’re taking phones and other devices. They’re broadcasting live on Twitter or posting to YouTube immediately.” Journalists package a huge volume of information into a cohesive story, checking the facts, and making ethical decisions. It’s a fast-paced world, according to Amster.

Before Amster started the online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism program at National University in 2013 (as well as the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Journalism in 2008), she was already a seasoned journalist whose work was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “I was given unprecedented access to spend a week living with patients at Farmhurst, a psychiatric institute in Wilmington, Delaware,” she reflects. “It was challenging.” Amster shed light on the lives of people living with mental illness in a four-part article called “Inside Delaware State Hospital.”

Amster reflects on earning her graduate degrees in journalism — a Master’s in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in Communication from UC San Diego. “After I earned my doctorate degree, I joined the faculty of National University where I was very focused on building an exceptional journalism program.”

Transform Information Into Valuable News Content

Students in the Master’s in Journalism online program can expect to learn how to tell a great story while using a variety of digital media to add dimension and make a story sizzle. Anyone watching the news or reading social media posts knows that news is constantly being produced, reported, and recycled. How you deal with breaking news while reporting with accuracy is one of the many skills students gain from the MA in Digital Journalism degree.

“Information comes at you fast and information can be wrong. Fact checking and verifying information are important. As a journalist you want to be ethical in reporting,” says Amster. “Students learn how to add thought and deliberation to their journalism skills so that they’re not drawn into the immediacy — at the sacrifice of the story.”

Beyond strengthening their writing skills, students in the program also learn about:

  • Staying competitive as a news and media professional and building your network.
  • Media business models, and how understanding them will help your journalism career.
  • How newsrooms work today and how different roles collaborate.
  • The history of modern journalism and how to keep pace with swift changes.
  • Using different media formats — including print, audio, video, and online — to package a great story.
  • Media marketing and branding, and how media outlets gain the public’s trust and confidence.
  • The influence of mass media on society.
  • Law and ethical standards of journalism, and understanding the First Amendment.

In the Master of Arts journalism program at National University, aspiring and experienced journalists alike take a deep dive into the various journalism career paths. “Journalism as a profession is really a calling. There are students who are very idealistic about the truth and democracy, and want to learn alongside like-minded people,” says Amster.

What students learn in the master’s program can open their eyes to career options in journalism they may not have explored yet. Among other areas, the master’s program covers:

Data Journalism: using information from databases to develop or uncover a compelling news story. “The program teaches you how to ask the right questions and answer them using the information you find in public databases,” explains Amster. “You would be amazed what you can find.” Using public records and other accessible data, complex stories emerge from noticeable trends and patterns. Infographics and other visualizations can paint a striking picture.

International Journalism: working as a journalist or content producer in countries around the world. From travel writing to environmental science to global politics, many groundbreaking news stories aren’t isolated to just one country. “Students love the international reporting class in our Master’s in Journalism online program,” says Amster. “You actually get to hear about and read what journalists are doing globally, and some of them are alumni of the program.”

Enterprise Reporting: uncovering hidden stories buried deep within communities that may not have the voice or influence to tell their own story. Whether you’re an Erin Brockovich in the making, or just a curious mind interested in investigative reporting, students learn how to find sources for hidden stories and report in an ethical and just manner.

Forge New Career Paths with a Master’s in Journalism Online

“This is such a valuable and exciting program,” Amster says. “We tailor the Master of Arts journalism program for each student to make sure every person gets what they need to advance in their careers.” For many students looking to earn their Master of Arts, journalism as an academic focus is a strong foundation for a wide variety of career paths. 

“I see a lot of graduates use the skills they learn in another sector,” remarks Amster. “Content marketing jobs are on the rise and we’re expanding our curriculum in this area.” A master’s degree in journalism, for example, propels students to stand out as candidates for leadership positions in corporate marketing, public relations, and development or fundraising for larger national nonprofit organizations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for advertising and marketing managers is expected to grow faster than average (10%) in the next decade with six-figure median salaries. This is a broad category of careers that covers several industries and sectors. Landing the top jobs often requires a master’s degree.

The job landscape for traditional journalists has changed in the last few decades with the advent of social media and digital journalism. Twenty years ago, news organizations hired staff reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts. Today, journalists are more likely to pitch their projects and stories to multiple outlets or publish on their own platforms. Media outlets — such as online newspapers, television stations, or print magazines — are looking for the most relevant and well-packaged content to compete for readership.

To keep up with the industry’s rapid pace of change, the Master of Arts in Digital Journalism program prepares graduates to be independent storytellers, equipped with advanced multimedia skills.

Amster shares that many of the students in the Master of Arts journalism graduate program are experienced journalists, broadcasters, and writers who have years or even decades of media experience under their belt. Digital journalism is a relatively new trade — and one that changes at the same fast pace as technology does. The program is designed to evolve with the industry and to empower students with leading-edge digital media production skills.

“This degree can elevate your existing journalism career, and it can offer you a lot of other choices in the digital age,” Amster says. “Mid-career journalists like the program because you can get your master’s in journalism online in about one year.”

Working with faculty advisors who are seasoned and decorated journalists is one of the greatest benefits of the Master’s in Digital Journalism program. Students leave the program adding a higher level of competency in digital video and audio skills, in journalistic ethics, business, media law, and more to their skill set. The goal of the program is to equip graduates with everything they need to advance their careers. Amster adds, “A final capstone project combines your best writing assignments to produce an online portfolio of professional work.”

Graduates leverage their master’s degree for lots of different careers. “The background it gives you prepares you to understand the big business of media, to produce memorable stories, and to stay competitive as a journalist if that’s your trade,” she explains. Many alumni, Amster adds, turn their previous job experience and a graduate degree into a new career in teaching journalism at the college level.

Don’t Quit Your Job. In Fact, Bring it With You

“This MA in Digital Journalism program gives you credentials as a journalist so that you can climb the ladder, stay competitive, or launch new projects with a level of credibility,” says Amster. She sees students use the knowledge they learn to build media careers. In addition, some students combine their other passions with journalism skills to become apt storytellers, documentary makers, or investigative reporters.

“Our graduates are radio journalists, psychologists, and tenured professors,” Amster says. “They run their own news sites or blogs. They’re up for promotions they couldn’t get without a master’s degree. With the degree, you have more choices in career paths.”

Students who are currently working in broadcast journalism or news, she adds, are encouraged to integrate their course assignments with stories they’re covering on the job. “There are a lot of great stories that are broken by our student reporters, and many of our students are on the job as journalists while they’re students. For example, if you’re a television reporter, you could use something you discovered on the job for your master’s work.”

One thing most students in the master’s in journalism online program share is that they have jobs, careers, family, and other responsibilities that compete for their time. Online degrees such as the MA in Digital Journalism at National University are designed to help you earn a master’s degree without sacrificing life commitments.

Students in the program focus on completing one course per month, rather than juggling multiple classes. Courses are held live online in the evenings, and recordings are available for students to watch anytime. This means you can tune in with your cohort, or review the course lectures when convenient. Like the many other online degrees offered at National, you can complete coursework for the master’s in journalism online on your own schedule. This flexibility is what helps students fit a master’s degree into their busy lives in about a one-year period.

“In one year, you’ll have a degree and a portfolio, maybe even an internship,” says Amster. “It’s all online. Students are in every time zone, every state. There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of making sure that it fits into your schedule.”

The culmination of a year of writing stories and developing multimedia content is a final capstone project. With the help of a faculty mentor, students develop a proposal for a capstone project or a journalism internship in their area of interest. The result is that each graduate will have produced an online portfolio of multimedia journalism that can be shared with prospective employers. “It’s a demonstration of your best work and what you have to offer as a digital journalist.”

Learn the Business From Award-Winning Journalists

Having access to experienced, recognized journalists as faculty mentors is one of the most valuable benefits of the Master of Arts in Digital Journalism program. To create the optimal learning experience for graduate students, Amster says, she hires “the very best journalists to teach other journalists.”

Among the faculty are professors who teach with the Poynter Institute, a collective of experts and thought leaders in journalism who offer workshops and coaching to professional journalists. Students in the program can learn investigative journalism from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. “Imagine learning investigative reporting from a journalist who won a Pulitzer for revealing the dangerous working environment of Navy ship-scrapping,” Amster reports. “When it comes to helping students, he’s very patient and generous with his time.”

Faculty who know what it’s like to work as a journalist are able to empathize with students, she adds. “They really have your back.” In the master’s in journalism online program, students have direct contact online and through email with faculty mentors. Professors review student work personally and provide expert feedback to help you improve and excel as a writer and journalist.

Graduates find that their master’s program faculty are conduits to industry networks they didn’t previously have access to. A vast alumni network amplifies this access for graduates. “Professors will go out of their way to connect students with alumni working in the field they’re interested in. And you’re already networking just by learning from professors. It’s good for everyone.”

Small cohort sizes mean students get personal attention from faculty that they might not find in a larger graduate program. “The average cohort size in the program is small, and that’s a huge benefit to students,” Amster explains. “Cohort sizes range from ten to maybe thirty. You get to know each other well and every faculty member knows you. You won’t get lost among a sea of faces in a lecture hall. You get a very personalized experience.”

Within a cohort, the students and the faculty represent a variety of perspectives and years of experience in journalism that each student benefits from. “Your cohort can be quite empowering, you’re all journalists working together,” Amster says. “I wanted to create a crucible where journalists could go to get advanced training that would be recognized academically.”

Jump Start Your Journalism Career at National

Regardless of your current career, or where you park your news van, the National program is designed for people with busy lives who want to become dynamic media professionals, adept at using technology to tell stories and explore important topics. No GRE requirements and monthly entry dates mean that you can start your master’s degree anytime. Students benefit from a cutting-edge curriculum, experienced, award-winning faculty mentors, and an alumni network of professional journalists. Graduates leave with an online portfolio that impresses employers and internships that get your foot in the door – or a rung up the ladder in your industry.

Aspiring journalists with no previous work experience are welcome. You do need a bachelor’s degree, strong writing skills, and strong motivation to start earning your Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at National. Not sure about your videography and editing skills? Learn more about the essential digital competencies prerequisite that will prepare you to get the most out of your Master of Arts journalism program experience, or talk to an advisor. We’re here to help you feel prepared to take on the program with confidence.

Active military will benefit from the flexibility and accelerated coursework the master’s program offers. National University was founded by retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander David Chigos. As a Yellow Ribbon school, the university accepts the post 9/11 GI Bill®, making the Master’s in Digital Journalism program a great option for veteran and active-duty students and their families.

Learn more about the 21st-century world of journalism. For additional information, visit the Master of Arts in Digital Journalism program page on our website.