The seminar in a chosen concentration (Arts & Culture; Science, Health & the Environment; Business & Economics; or Politics), taken in both the fall and the spring semesters, is the most intensive part of the M.A. degree. Taught by members of the Journalism School faculty and subject-area experts from Columbia and beyond, the seminars combine course readings, case studies, and visits with experts to provide a deep dive into the student’s chosen concentration.
The thesis is an integral part of the M.A. year, intended to give students the opportunity to explore a topic in depth and synthesize what they learn in a sophisticated manner. The end product is a work of long-form journalism (8,000-10,000 words for a print story, or the equivalent in another medium).
The M.A. thesis balances the demands of writing for a general audience with the need for thorough and nuanced journalism about complex issues. For this reason, the thesis is often advised both by a journalism professor and by a professor (or other expert) with knowledge of the subject covered by the thesis. The subject-area expert (or “outside adviser”) offers guidance and criticism relating to content. For instance, an outside adviser might suggest potential sources of information for the piece, including background reading and people to interview, or point out flaws or weaknesses in the student’s evolving argument.
With the help of these two advisers, the M.A. student sets out to complete the sort of work that an educated reader (or viewer, or listener) would consume with pleasure and that an expert in the field would deem informed and thoughtful.
This course teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and hypotheses, recognizing the ways that stories can distort the truth, and making sure that reporting firmly proves its points.
It begins with an overview of the history of journalism, focusing on the development of empirical fact gathering and the evolution of the concept of objectivity. After that, students are introduced to a suite of advanced research techniques for gathering and assessing information. Most working journalists don’t have these skills, but they are highly useful in journalistic work. They include statistical literacy, rigorous interviewing techniques, and understanding the work of experts.
A distinguished group of leading Columbia experts from outside the Journalism School help teach this course, which is overseen by Prof. Nicholas Lemann.
This course aims to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to being an effective journalist in the 21st Century.
Prof. Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, will open the course with three lecturers about the ways that technology is transforming the business and the practice of journalism.
After Bell's lecturers, the class will break into two groups. Each will get training in contemporary investigative techniques involving public records, internet forensics, and backgrounding of individuals and corporations. From there, the groups will move into data journalism, learning the key principles and concepts and then putting them to use through a group project. Students will work with a data set that is relevant to their concentrations and, in some cases, the project will dovetail with assignments in the subject seminars.
At the end of this course, students will be able to employ cutting-edge reporting methods in all their work.
Each M.A. student takes three courses outside the Journalism School: one in the fall and two in the spring. Students may enroll in almost any graduate-level course throughout Columbia University, including the other professional schools, provided it will deepen their understanding of the chosen area of study. Each student’s individual course selections are approved by faculty.