Columbia Journalism School

The Master's Project

The master's project, which spans the autumn and spring terms (or the summer for part-time students), requires intensive research and writing of a substantial piece of journalism. The project is intended to demonstrate the students' ability to conduct and sustain in-depth research over several months, the ability to gather and organize large amounts of material, and the capacity to write that material in clear, accessible, and professional-quality prose. The project is also aimed at encouraging students to think beyond a daily deadline and to give them practice in the highest level of long-form reporting, writing, and producing. Although many projects end up being commercially viable, publication or broadcast is not the main goal. These projects offer a rare chance for students to experiment with topics new to them, and to practice a form of writing or production in which many journalists have little time to indulge until well along in their careers.

Master's projects are housed at Columbia University Libraries. The most recent five years' projects are kept at the Journalism Library, 207 Journalism (in the Stabile Student Center), and are indexed on the Journalism Library Web site. Earlier years may be found on the lower level of Lehman Library, in the School of International Affairs (118th St. and Amsterdam).
 

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Ranjini Srinivasan ’08 turns in her completed master’s project.

Master's Project
2 credits in Fall Semester (J6040x) 4 credits in Spring Semester (J6041y) for full-time students
6 credits in the Summer Semester (J6045) for part-time students

In its scope and duration, the Master's Project is the student's most sustained effort at the Journalism School. In terms of relative importance, credits and priority, however, it should be kept in proper perspective with the rest of the curriculum. The project is not a master's thesis in the traditional academic sense, but rather an in-depth exploration of a topic as a journalist would pursue it.

Master's Projects may be executed in print, audio, photo/print hybrid or video/print hybrid form.

The student receives guidance from an assigned faculty adviser who offers advice in selecting a topic, fixing its focus and working through an approach, conducting the research and doing the reporting and interviewing, and organizing, writing, rewriting (and recording and re-recording, where appropriate) and polishing the various versions. Some faculty advisers specialize in one or more subject areas, so you may wish to indicate the general topic you hope to pursue for your Master's Project.

We like to know early from students which type of project they wish to undertake-including the general topic. Full-time students should indicate their preferences, even if they are tentative, on the Fall ballot since an attempt will be made to match faculty advisers with students according to their preferences. Full-time students will begin meeting with their adviser in September and part-time students will begin meeting with their advisor in the Spring, and thereafter depending on the arrangement worked out between individual students and their adviser.

Requirements

Every student carrying out a project must meet the minimum requirements of 1) a proposal; 2) an early outline; and 3) three drafts or edits. Some variations are permitted at the discretion of individual advisers. The audio, photo/print hybrid or video/print hybrid faculty impose slightly different requirements.

Full-time students must meet with their advisers during the Fall to develop a topic. That topic must be fixed by early November. Serious work on the project will proceed during the Fall as well as over the holiday break. A "billboard" or brief description, preliminary outline and a list of likely sources must be submitted to advisers by early December. The results of your initial reporting and interviews are due by mid-December your adviser will specify what he/she requires. The first draft is due mid-January. The second draft is due mid-February. The third-and final-draft will be turned in the Monday after Spring break. Part-time students must meet with their advisers during the Spring to develop a topic. That topic must be fixed by late Spring/early Summer.

You should stay in close and frequent contact with your adviser, who will explain the school's expectations and stipulations for completion of the project.

Choosing a Topic

Students should consider a topic that is significant, interesting, and feasible and will sustain their interest over months of research. The faculty recommends that students choose topics about which they are passionate or that really interest them. One does not have to be an expert on the subject; indeed, a good reporter becomes an expert.

For both logistic and educational reasons, the topic must focus on the New York area that is, the student must collect most of the necessary information, and interview characters in person in the New York area. Some telephone interviews and computer-assisted reporting are likely needed, but they cannot predominate. Projects that require reporting in a foreign country will not be approved. Projects needing substantial reporting outside of the New York region also are discouraged.

Print projects should run between 4,500 and 6,000 words but may go longer if the material requires it and if the adviser so recommends. Those executing audio, photo/print hybrid, and video/print hybrid vary according to the complexity of the material involved; most are the equivalent of:

  • Hybrid - Approx 8-10 minutes of audio plus a 2500 word related print piece.

  • Full audio - 20-30 minute documentary or series of three 7-9 minuted related stories

  • A significant portfolio of images (25-30 photographs that present a coherent, in-depth photo exploration of a particular subject, issue or place that can be published as a complete narrative), plus a 1500-2500 word related print piece.

  • Video/Print Hybrid: 2,500-word print piece accompanied by a six minute video piece.

Hybrid Checklist 2015 |  Hybrid Master's Guide 2015

Master's Project Reference List

These are highly recommended as examples of the kind of journalism to which the Master's Project aspires:

  • Helen Benedict: Portraits in Print (Columbia University Press, 1991)
  • Joan Didion: Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Washington Square Press, 1991) and The White Album (Simon & Schuster, 1979)
  • Oriana Fallaci: Interview with History (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)
  • Frances Fitzgerald: Cities on a Hill (Simon & Schuster, 1986)
  • Samuel Freedman: Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church (HarperCollins, 1994)
  • Pete Hamill: Piecework (Little Brown, 1996)
  • LynNell Hancock: Hands to Work: The Stories of Three Families Racing the Welfare Clock (William Morrow, 2002)
  • Randolph T. Holhut: The George Seldes Reader (Barricade Books, 1994)
  • J. Anthony Lukas: Common Ground (Knopf, 1985)
  • William Lutz: The New Doublespeak (Harper Collins, 1996)
  • John McPhee: The John McPhee Reader (Vintage, 1976, originally published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • Jessica Mitford: Poison Penmanship (Knopf, 1979)
  • Sylvia Nasar: A Beautiful Mind (Touchstone, 2001)
  • Bruce Porter: Blow (St. Martin's Press, 1994)
  • Michael Shapiro: Solomon's Sword: Two Families and the Children the State Took Away (Westview Press, 2002)
  • In-depth broadcasts such as Frontline, 60 Minutes, All Things Considered, Nightline, and various radio and television documentaries

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