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 set 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.
Evidence & Inference is a one-semester course that teaches advanced research techniques for journalists, specifically skills in gathering and assessing information that are adapted from other disciplines throughout the university. These include understanding statistics, conducting rigorous interviews, and grappling with the work of experts. The course also teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and hypotheses, recognizing ways that narrative can distort the truth, and making sure that reporting is both solid and transparent.
A distinguished group of academics from Columbia University and elsewhere help teach the course. They include psychologist Tory Higgins, oral historian Mary Marshall Clark, and biostatistician Jessica Ancker.
Each student chooses two of four seven-week module offerings.
History of Journalism provides an overview of journalism from Colonial days to the present. It emphasizes the relationship of journalism to other institutions in a democracy, examining how the role of the press emerged, how it has changed. What can we learn from its historical continuities and discontinuities, and its global variations, about what journalism means?
Future of Journalism is designed to give M.A. students an understanding of the ways that technology is transforming journalism--from the ramped-up news cycle to high-tech methods of story construction, from the evolving culture of reader engagement to radically changing business imperatives.
Investigative Reporting: Through a case-study model, this module covers essential investigative skills, including how to background individuals and for-profit and non-profit corporations; how to recognize opportunities for and file public records requests; how to find and interpret a variety of public records, including court filings, real estate records, campaign finance and lobbying filings; and how to do basic Internet forensics.
Data Journalism aims to cover the complete cycle of a data journalism story: from the thinking process and the data collection to the analysis, narrative and visualization. By the end of the 7 weeks course you will also learn to work in multidisciplinary teams, where to find data, basic scraping, how to clean and transform your data using Open Refine and other tools, basic to advanced analysis and visual presentation.
Each M.A. student takes three electives over the course of the academic year: 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.
For instance, Arts and Culture students have taken Modern Drama, Planning the New New York City, Jazz and American Culture, and Victorian Poetry. Business students typically take accounting and corporate finance, along with courses such as Value Investing, Debt Markets, and Mergers and Acquisitions. In previous years, students in the Politics concentration have enrolled in SIPA's Intelligence and Foreign Policy, The Sociology of Urban Education at Teacher's College, Transportation Planning, and Global Urbanism. Students in the Science concentration have taken Restoration Ecology, The Carbon Cycle, History of Medicine, The Changing American Family, and Environmental Law.
All students may enroll in a digital skills class during the fall semester where they learn photography, video, or audio production.