I’m launching an MA in Online Journalism

From September I will be running an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I hope it’s going to be different from any other journalism MA.

That’s because in putting it together I’ve had the luxury of a largely blank canvas, which means I’ve not had to work within the strictures and structures of linear production based courses.

The first words I put down on that blank piece of paper were: Enterprise; experimentation; community; creativity.

And then I fleshed it out:

In the Online Journalism MA’s first stage (Certificate) students will study Journalism Enterprise. This will look at business models for online journalism, from freemium to mobile, public funding to ad networks, alongside legal and ethical considerations. I’m thinking at the moment that each student will have to research a different area and present a business case for a startup.

They will also study Newsgathering, Production and Distribution. I’m not teaching them separately because, online, they are often one and the same thing. And as students should already have basic skills in these areas, I will be focusing on building and reinventing those as they run a live news website (I’ll also be involved in an MA in Social Media, so there should be some interesting overlap).

The second stage of the MA Online Journalism (Diploma) includes the module I’m most excited about: Experimentation – aka Online Journalism Labs.

This is an explicit space for students to try new things, fail well, and learn what works. They will do this in partnership with a news organisation based on a problem they both identify (e.g. not making enough revenue; poor community; etc.) – I’ve already lined up partnerships with national and regional newspapers, broadcasters and startups in the UK and internationally: effectively the student acts as a consultant, with the class as a whole sharing knowledge and experience.

Alongside that they will continue to explore more newsgathering, production and distribution, exploring areas such as computer assisted reporting, user generated content, multimedia and interactivity. They may, for example, conduct an investigation that produces particularly deep, engaging and distributed content and conversation.

The final stage is MA by Project – either individually or as a group, students make a business case for a startup or offshoot, research it, build it, run it and bid for funding.

By the time they leave the course, graduates should not be going into the industry at entry level (after all, who is recruiting these days?), but at a more senior, strategic level – or, equally likely, to establish startups themselves. I’m hoping these are the people who are going to save journalism.

At the moment all these plans are in draft form. I am hoping this will be a course without walls, responding to ideas from industry and evolving as a result. Which is why I’m asking for your input now: what would you like to see included in an MA Online Journalism? The BJTC’s Steve Harris has mentioned voice training, media law and ethics. The BBC’s Peter Horrocks has suggested programming and design skills. You may agree or disagree.

Let’s get a conversation going.

63 thoughts on “I’m launching an MA in Online Journalism

  1. renan

    wow. I would like to do that. Will suggest programming and designs, but Peter Horrocks already did that. Anyway, think are both skills very important to new journalists.

  2. Mark

    I’m so excited to see a course like this emerge. I am going to break my neck working towards gaining entry in two years time.

    I have a huge number of questions I’d like to ask and ideas I’d like to put forward, many of which will not be answerable as of now I’m sure, but, anyway, I can’t resist…

    2 Questions:
    Will this course be aimed largely at journalism or media graduates who already have a grounding in journalism and therefore can focus on the specific area of online journalism? (Or will it be open to English/phil, web design students etc who are considering working in the media but have little educational background there?)

    Will the course be centred on the methods of operation for online journalism or the technical side of implementing them? i.e. would students be learning how to cultivate interaction on a news website, or would they be learning how to build a website using HTML/PHP etc that would be best suited to encourage interaction?

    1 Idea (you’ve probably thought of it already but…):

    A group blog where students post about problems they have encountered or successes they’ve achieved for others to see and comment on. This could be public or private and could really generate ideas and develop on projects potential. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve told a friend about an online journalism project and they’ve said “oh yeah, you could do this to improve the SEO” or “you could put that to there on the screen and you’d get more clicks”… two heads and all that.

    Mark Coughlan

  3. Gemma K-R

    I think an online journalism course ought to cover copyright law on the internet. Online journalism’s strength is that it is easy to share content and add value to it, but this also means that people are often confused about who owns information. This would also include a foray into the world of Creative Commons licences and perhaps a potted history of notable legal cases and their outcomes – napster, pirate bay etc. Journos need to cover their backs, after all!

    I like how in the experimentation part of the proposed course work experience is built into the body of the course. Students have a lot to offer media organisations – it shouldn’t just be a one-way flow of information.

    And finally, online journalists should be able to type – 100 wpm?

  4. Scott Nelson

    A strong emphasis in entrepreneurship, as you see in some business schools. Much of the interesting online journalism, of course, is coming from ex-MSM’ers or people outside the MSM entirely. To start something like Muckety or MinnPost or ProPublica or The Onion requires as much entrepreneurial skill as it does journalistic chops.

  5. Paul Bradshaw

    @Mark – the course is aimed at those with media production skills, so yes, you should have either done a journalism degree or done some work as a journalist. I’m also open to web designers and developers with editorial ability as long as they accept they will not be learning basic journalism (it may be they develop a community editor role, for instance, which does not involve writing copy themselves).

    As for technical or interaction – opportunities for both, although I think the latter is most important. Students will have scope to develop their own path, though, so some may explore CMS more; others community interaction. But all will get an introduction to both.

    Group blog – yep, we’ll be having that as part of their Enterprise module.

  6. Paul Bradshaw

    @Gemma – yes, we’ll be covering copyright law online among other legal & ethical issues. Everything you mention there will be covered – some great ideas.

    Typing is a craft skill so we would have trouble justifying that as an MA level academic quality.

    @Scott – hoping we do get an Onion or ProPublica out of this!

  7. Alfred Hermida

    An MA in Online Journalism is a great idea and much needed for the industry. I think it needs to have a conceptual element that provides a deeper understanding of how journalism is changing – the shift from an closed profession based on controlling content, to a more open profession that embraces participation and connectivity. The practice should be balanced with theory.

  8. Remmy Nweke

    congrants on this innovation.
    I would however like to see journalism output that would focus developing continent, especially Africa as not only war/poverty revaged environment, but a potential social environment habitable. so may be consider introducing quality/balanced international journalism report, especially since it is to be an online process of engagement.
    This is not to say that every society does not have its ugly sides, but 70% focus in this precise area should be on building positive human/social network that can give hope for the poor.

  9. Katie Taylor

    As a current student in my second year of a Journalism MA course (or was it BA? I forget…) I’d like to congratulate you in trying to come up with something innovative but also highly useful in a practical sense.

    What most of my fellow lecture-goers often comment on our course is that although we’re learning very important industry-specific tactics, skills and background knowledge, when we actually get to graduation we’ll have no decent grounding in anything else. This will hinder us while other journalists who got to their roles through a more traditional path might have studied history or politics, and will therefore know much more about what they write about.

    Please put an emphasis on developing their styles – there are people who came to our uni who barely remember what to do with a semi-colon but have a great idea of what they want from their writing, but are rejected time and time again because of the inverted triangle, generic feature style etc etc. It leaves the majority of us frustrated too, because although we are aware we have a long way to go in creating and developing a style, our early attempts are being squashed in favour of ways that will simply get us marks.

  10. Paul Bradshaw

    If the demand is there (and it looks like it already is), I’ll try to offer a distance learning option.
    Katie – really interesting point about ‘developing a style’; would like to flesh that out more. Do you mean writing outside of the formulaic processes of traditional news? Developing an individual voice?


    i think this has been long overdue for us who have been in online journalism having written for especially the Highway Africa News Agency.
    the course would enable us explore more avenues as suggested. however i propose that it should include web designing.
    david muwanga

  12. Daniel

    I wish I had been given an opportunity like this in college. I graduated this last may and didn’t even have the opportunity to take an introduction online course. Journalism programs are really failing the future’s journalists across the world.

    I really dig your emphasis on entrepreneurship and independent thinking. Really something that was missing from my education. I had to go out and discover it on my own. Cheers to making a change!

  13. Katie Taylor

    Yes, developing an individual voice, certainly.

    For the majority of students on my course, the lessons we are given are adequate for their needs – for example, they want to become local news reporters.

    It’s people who want to specialise in features, or magazine writing that the teaching falls down a bit. I have been told on numerous occasions “You have to work your way up to feature/column writing”, which may well be true. This doesn’t really help much towards building our writing confidence though. Writing outside of the generic style would be extremely helpful to all journalism students, it would give them a chance to stretch out their creativity, which isn’t really encouraged on our course. I feel like they’d produce much better writers if everyone had been shown how to develop themselves in their style, rather than being told to go away and practice on a blog. It feels rather like the tutors don’t believe we even have a voice yet, and won’t until we’ve had 20 years in the game, and this is more frustrating than anything else.

    Anyway, they’re just my thoughts!

  14. Tim Holmes

    Mind you, I’m not sure about an MA that puts Diploma level before certificate 😉

    @Katie, I am a journalism tutor and I LOATHE all that business about having to “work your way up” to feature writing. Most newspaper-based courses teach such boring feature techniques anyway that it is actually unhelpful if you want to pitch work to magazines.

  15. Katie Taylor

    Tim –

    So what should students like myself do then, if our courses are teaching us boring techniques and aren’t trying to encourage us to think that we’ll possibly be able to persue our chosen career? Aside from quitting the course without a degree and going out to work, I mean…

  16. Maurreen Skowran


    That’s a good plan.

    In the startup or offshoot stage, you say students would build it and bid for funding. Would a prototype or demo be OK? Would students be required to make a real pitch? I’m thinking some might want to bootstrap it. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about investors who later disagree with the founder’s direction.

  17. paulbradshaw

    @Katie – thanks again. As for features, etc. I’m thinking of launching a magazine equivalent alongside this; details to come.
    @Tim – thanks for pointing out the typo! Now corrected.
    @Maurreen Prototype and bootstrapping more than welcome – although I probably won’t excuse them from pitching. Perhaps I should play a malevolent investor just to stir things up 🙂

  18. Helia Phoenix

    Wow – I’m studying for a pgdip at sheffield university at the moment, and while the course is great, I must say yours looks fabulous! A required module for me was taking journalism law – and the NCTJ law exam – which I’ve found incredibly useful since, even though a great deal of the law regarding the online space hasn’t been defined yet, it’s definitely good to know. Concentration on practical stuff – like skinning CMS, building your own website / using servers and hosting services and so forth would be good practical things to include. And information about working freelance or for yourself.

    Any chance you’d put the notes up online like they do for some MIT courses?? I’d love to follow…



  19. paulbradshaw

    @Helia notes will be put online, and most of the work will be blogged by the students.
    @Kdrah UK fees are £4,400 full time; overseas fees are likely to be in the region of £9-10,000 – still awaiting confirmation. Part time fees also available on a per module basis – again, details to come.

  20. Camilla-Luise

    Hi Paul!

    I am applying for MAs at the moment and your course is just what I am looking for. The problem is, I live in London. I heard you are planning on doing distance learning but would that be set for this year? I would not mind coming up once a week or so.

    I have just finished my BA in Media Studies Journalism (well, have 27 days left) and have worked as a Sports Journalist for 8 months for a non-league football newspaper.

    Questions. Are there still places available this year?
    And would I be able to apply, considering I can’t come up more than once, maybe twice a week?

  21. paulbradshaw

    Thanks for your comment. My advice would be to apply now – I’m hoping we can get part time support in place by September, but even if not I think coming up for 1 or 2 days per week would be viable (it will be a maximum of 2 formally taught days; the rest is independent study and online communication; more conversation – less lecture).

  22. Abhi Kumar

    Hi, I am interested in this course. I am a journalist, who has worked in both online and print domains in India. Are there positions available now and whats the fees for international students.

  23. Sara-Ellen Amster

    Dear Paul and other members of this group:

    I am lead faculty for journalism at National University, a fully accredited institution based in San Diego, CA, and our MA degree in digital journalism launches in October with a full slate of great classes to take aimed at working professionals and anyone who has a B.A. degree.

    The entire program will be offered online and take 13 months to complete. Please feel free to contact me at 949-307-8331 for details. I can answer all your questions. Our faculty include some of the best journalists out there. We have several Pulitzer Prize winners among them.

    Examples of classes: Multimedia Journalism, Video Journalism, Producing Online Publications, the Business of Journalism and International Journalism, to name a few.

    All of us at NU have been working on this degree program for at least a year or more. We are also very excited. You are not alone.

    Every best wish,

    Sara-Ellen Amster, Ph.D.

  24. Rob

    What would be truly innovative, would be an MA in online journalism, delivered online (as a distance degree) for people unable to attend your campus.

  25. Chris Horrie

    I’ve just re-designed and re-launched a BA journalism at the university of winchester, and I am launhcing a new MA in journalism as well. I am not calling these courses BA in online journalism or MA in online journalism because it is ALL online now, one way or another. The whole thing ill be based around live production and everything will be webcast. We are running three programmed webcast channels on mogulous already, with news bulletins within that. We have a magazine strand, and that is online (and interactive as well). I am very interested in your work at Birmingham and we should stay in contact and maybe organise joint webcasting using your studio and our studio – we could rebuild the old ITV network using colleges. No doubt we will bump into each other. In the meantime we should exchange links to sites showing student output and to our coursesites. see: http://journalism.winchester.ac.uk and http://www.winchesterjournalism and http://www.winol.co.uk. Cheers, Chris Horrie

  26. Chris Horrie

    Hi Paul – I relaunched a new BA at Winchester University and an all new MA journalism at Winchester (starts in Setember). This is all online and I am not even bothering to call it ‘online journalism’ – just journalism, as all journalism now has an online element o it. It has been great – like you – to have a fresh sheet of paper. Already we are webcasting three channels on mogulous and have a lash based online magazine (actualluy several) with flash, interactivity and lots of video. Putting together magazine journalism and video journalism has a powerful impact. Blogging also plays a key role – all winchester students now blog (it is sorted at induction0. What we need now is a national site where students on all the forward thinking journalism courses create this nationally. We can link our very nice new newsroom (see video) with yours and maybe have a joint news day. What do you think. Yrs Chris Horrie. (I will see if I can post a video reply). If not go to YouTube and search University of Winchester Journalism. Go direct to http://journalism.winchester.ac.uk or go direct to http://www.virtualnewsroom.co.uk/nwr.swf or http://www.winol.co.uk or http://www.winchesterjournalism.co.uk

    How about a joint CMS for the two courses linking students blogs or newsday, What about a joint news day with regional opt outs and opts in live.

    The economic backdrop is horendous but may be the birth pangs of new forms of journalism which are pretty exciting. All the walls are falling down now so we need a clearing house and a joint CMS site of some sort. I think dmaller/newer colleges could rally and prevernt (doomed!) attempts of larger more established colleges (eb Columbia) to dominate and ‘own’ it all.

    Yrs chris horie

  27. paulbradshaw

    @Chris – no word limit, but if you include more than 2 links WordPress thinks your comment is probably spam, and either holds it back for approval, or, in this case, just puts it in the spam folder. I’ve now found your comments and published them.

  28. paulbradshaw

    @Chris now that I’ve seen your comments – yes, I’m all for a networked approach and would like to explore the idea of linking newsrooms. It’s especially relevant when you consider the proposals floating around for similar relationships between broadcast and print news organisations.

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  30. chris horrie

    Paul – this is all so similar. We have got a blank canvas as well at Winchester. Has my colleague Brian Thornton contacted you. We would like to explore joint project and production work – eg linking newsroom for live news days. Tim Holmes at Cardiff may also be interested.

    On the video magazine side here is our female orientated magazine http://www.virtualnewsroom.co.uk/vault.swf

    and the male orientated one: http://virtualnewsroom.co.uk/shed.swf

    And a granta-type magazine http://virtualnewsroom.ac.uk/nwr.swf

    Here is our news and webcasting channel and BBC news online type channel – http://winol.co.uk

    And we have a breaking news newsroom simulator – http://virtualnewsroom.co.uk (News City)

    Have a look and play around with there things. It would be great to play News City competitively between groups of students in Winchester, Birmigham, Cardiff (and China) – what a buzz.

    Brian Thornton has contacted you I thinkto be on a judging panel for a new online journalism student award. Maybe we should share that as well – a little consortium of online led places with all-new courses would be great.

  31. paulbradshaw

    It is possible to get a scholarship but we cannot find one for you – you will need to find one yourself.
    I am talking to some news organisations about possible sponsorship but I am expecting this will depend on outstanding candidates – if you can let me know what you can offer to a potential sponsor in terms of experience, passion, ability etc. then that will help.

  32. Kountoupis Ilias


    A postgraduate degree on online journalism is a fantastic opportunity for someone who wants to stay on top of the fast-paced developments in the media industry.

    From my point of view, a writing course and a web design course could give this MA the competitive advantage it needs to stand out. I have been working as an online editor since last May and I know by first hand how important it is for an online journalist to hone his/her writing and designing skills.

    In the meantime, I have been looking for a MA like this one for a long time. It sounds provocative and influential. Yet, since I live in Greece, it would be great if you could offer it via distance learning. Will this be possible this September? Are you accepting TOEFL results? What else will you need for the application?

    Thank you for your time.

    1. paulbradshaw

      Thanks – writing for the web will be covered on the course and there will be an opportunity to explore web design if you want to do so.

      We do accept TOEFL – paper based 575 or above; computer based 232 or above is my understanding. I understand we won’t be offering distance learning until January at the earliest, sadly.

  33. Kountoupis Ilias

    Starting an online degree on January is absolutely fine with me. It will also give you the time to see and evaluate how the program works.

    Your efforts have raised the scholar bar!

    Thank you for your immediate response!

  34. simon

    Coming late to this discussion…. I am a British journalist but based in the US and would sign up if there was a distance learning option.

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  36. Abreham

    it’s exciting for me. i really need to learn but how can i assure that the on line course accreditation is valid? and how much it costs me? do i get any opportunity through which i can get an on line MA program with in a year?

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      I’m not sure I understand the question – this isn’t an online course, although we hope to have it taught online at some point in the near future.
      As for accreditation, the course is accredited by Birmingham City University.

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