Social journalism is here and coming at you in January 2015!

It is official: The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is launching a new Social Journalism Master’s degree program in January. On October 15, we got official approval from the state of New York to launch this program, so now we are moving fast to process applications and enroll a new class to begin soon.

As the brand new director of the program, I’m still trying to get everything figured out, but I’m pretty thrilled.

Here’s what I think is cool about this degree. I suppose you can dismiss this as as shameless self-promotion, but for real:

  • We are trying to reinvent journalism for the digital age and inject a much-needed mindset that envisions journalism as a service, not a product, with a relentless focus on engaging communities. At the end of the day, if what animates you is a passionate belief that journalism is vitally important to a functioning democracy, the only way we can hope to sustain it is to keep finding new ways to ensure that we can find audiences for our work and sustain it financially. It’s pretty simple, but that’s what I keep coming back to, over and over, throughout my career: Invent or die.
  • While I don’t think everything we are proposing is completely “new,” there is no doubt that we are not seeing large-scale execution of these concepts in the profession today. Many of the core ideas of social journalism have long philosophical roots and are tied to earlier efforts to improve journalism and its connection with its readers. But, even as more and more journalists have adopted social media and other digital tools, many still do so with a “broadcasting what we think you need to know” mentality. There are many notable pioneers in social journalism who are constantly finding new ways to engage audiences, but we need to help spread their techniques much more broadly.
  • As heart-warming as all this “serving-your-community” stuff is to do-gooders like me, evidence is mounting that this is all critical to the bottom line. Researchers like my friend Doreen Marchionni have learned that readers expect and demand interactivity and that conversation builds credibility and trust. Big brands are capitalizing on things like native content and using the same terms, like “engagement,” as crucial metrics because they give you more bang for your buck than pageviews.

CUNY sign

  • Jobs. Few things are more satisfying as a professor than seeing your students get jobs. Especially cool, interesting jobs. We’ve been told by both well-established traditional media organizations and startups that these are skills they prize and are often hard to find. For example, Meg Pickard, who helped to establish the Guardian’s leadership in interactivity and now is a consultant to the industry, told us that in her seven years of hiring, she found that direct experience with communities is missing from the talent pool. Since I started working here, I’ve gotten many emails or direct messages from employers that are ready to hire our graduates.
  • CUNY Graduate School of Journalism brings together a lot of folks with seriously impressive traditional journalistic chops and an experimental, entrepreneurial mindset.  I mean,  I’m new, I’m not totally biased yet – this isn’t just marketing. I’ve long thought journalism schools need to be leaders, not followers, in helping the industry know what it needs, given that overall in academia, we have lower risk. That is what CUNY aspires to do. And as a newcomer to New York myself, I can say these are the kinds of people you dream of learning from, not to mention that we are able to draw adjuncts and guest speakers from the many major media organizations and technology and social media companies that call this place home. Heck, we are practically next door to the New York Times!

All of this is what made me bid adieu to tenure at the University of Memphis. I think this is going to be a great ride at a place where your professors want to work with you rather than just talking at you about creating the future of news. As Amanda Zamora of ProPublica put it:

“That is why I’m in journalism, is to tell stories that need to be told, elevate voices that need to be heard, and I really want us to be talking about using social, using technology, using the internet to tell stories and accomplish some of these things, and not just focus on metrics and chasing our tails.”

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