Journalism postgraduate course - things to consider

Dr Alex Lockwood, Programme leader for MA Journalism at the University of Sunderland, gives his advice to students considering studying journalism at postgraduate level.

A postgraduate programme or masters in journalism can be an invaluable learning experience and vocational gateway to the media industry. Journalism is a more exciting career option than ever with local and global opportunities. It’s a career that changes every day and there are now many media roles in non-traditional settings from fashion shows to football clubs. And with so many tools at your disposal, it’s easier than ever to impact the lives of millions with one story.

What should I look for in a journalism master's course?
The media industry is fast changing, and master’s programmes have been challenged to keep up to date with the latest developments in social media, multiplatform technology, entrepreneurship, data journalism, and media management.

The best programmes will be technologically savvy and provide a learning environment that encourages exploring platforms and programmes in a flexible way, and will not be afraid to let you make mistakes. Expect excellent kit and exciting spaces to study, such as our Media Hub, as well as excellent staff.

However, the very best programmes will also ensure you have the fundamental skills and knowledge to work within journalism. Practical, vocational programmes will emphasise key reporting tasks, knowledge of media law and ethics, and afford you the space to specialise in your chosen areas.

When considering a journalism master’s you will want to look for programmes that have a balance of core skills, opportunities to nurture your curiosity and enthusiasm, and a playful, experiment-focused approach to working with social media, technology and a wide range of platforms, from print to tablet.

Will a master’s level course REALLY help me move on in my career?
There is an age-old argument that a trade such as journalism is best learnt on the job. But there are at least three good reasons now why master’s programmes will really help with your career.

Firstly, a master’s programme gives you the time and close tutorial feedback to develop your skills in the fundamentals of the craft: writing, interviewing, editing, media law, understanding government and power, and developing new media skills.

Secondly, most programmes now work with ‘live’ platforms such as student-run media hubs and websites, with on-hand professional staff, teaching as ‘newsdays’ in workshops, providing you with the ‘real-world’ environment of a job but with the safety net, and close formative feedback on your work, of the university programme structure. You should certainly consider how ‘live’ the practical experience of the programme is going to be if you are looking for vocational training.

And thirdly, across many areas of the media employers are now looking for guarantees that you will be employable from day one, and often what they look for are qualifications and industry-standard accreditation.

I’ve heard about accreditation. What’s that?
Many journalism courses are accredited by the NCTJ, BJTC or the PPA. These bodies are known and respected across the journalism industry and offer an extra guarantee to the teaching quality and professional nature of the course you are studying. They are, depending on the field of journalism you want to enter, essential for your CV to get noticed.

What you need to do is consider which part of the industry you want to go into, and whether or not accreditation is going to be of benefit to your entry and development, e.g. is it practical and vocational, or is it more theory-based. For example, in news, the NCTJ Diploma qualification is essential for later sitting the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ), which is only accessed after working for a minimum of 18 months as a reporter.

What about the money?
Master’s programmes range in price, and journalism is no exception. There are now funds available in the form of postgraduate loans.

There are also a number of bursaries available, such as the Journalism Diversity Fund, offered by the NCTJ. In the end, all education is an investment in yourself, either through personal or professional development. Entry-level careers in journalism are not, generally, the highest earning careers. But most journalists enter the profession because of a love of the media, of telling stories, and the excitement the career can bring if you’re determined to go and get it.

Is a master’s in journalism worth it?
From my experience of leading three master’s programmes in journalism for the last five years, I can definitely say ‘yes’. A master’s in journalism will stretch you, and it will give you both practical and intellectual development. If you want a career in journalism, or if you want to critically study the journalism industry, either a vocational or more theoretical programme will most definitely be worth it. But what I can also say from experience is that you will get out of it what you put in. You will need to bring your enthusiasm, your passionate interests, and even your courage, to make the most of these programmes.

Next Steps

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