King's considers master of journalism program

Proposed program begins long journey through bureaucratic maze

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Four-year journalism student Samantha Delaney at work. (Photo: Ezra Black)

Atlantic Canada is the only part of the country that does not offer a master of journalism degree.

This could change if the Dalhousie senate approves a proposed program for the University of King's College.

"The industry's going through huge changes," says Kelly Toughill, director of the School of Journalism at King's. "I think there are some additional skills that journalists need that don't really fit into the typical undergraduate curriculum and are not being taught in other masters programs."

The proposal is being discussed Monday by the Dalhousie Senate Academic Priorities and Budget Committee (SAPBC). The program has half a dozen more bureaucratic hurdles to clear, but if it does, King's could be offering the program as early as June 2011.

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The journalists of tomorrow. (Photo: Ezra Black)

"I think it's completely different from the other masters programs in Canada," says Toughill. "So I think there's a real need for programs that can teach data driven journalism and for programs that help students be really effective freelancers."

A document obtained by UNews says the proposed program is restricted to students who already have a bachelor of journalism degree and would be divided into two streams: investigative journalism and new ventures.

The former stream would specialize in research skills and investigative reporting, while the latter would focus on entrepreneurship and new business models.

The program would last 10 months and cost roughly $7,000.

Working journalists weigh in

Toughill says that 75-80 per cent of journalists in Canada have a bachelor of journalism degree, but Dan Leger, director of news content at the Chronicle Herald, isn't one of them. He has a say in the hiring and firing of employees at the Herald.

Leger says he put in a few years at Mount Saint Vincent University and a year at Dalhousie but none of it added up to a formal degree. But what he has done is write for newspapers since the age of 16.

"I learned the business through trial and error. Many, many errors I might add."

He's worked for dailies, weeklies, alternative newspapers and the Canadian Press. Still, he does believe in the value of an academic background in journalism.

"A post graduate education is an asset," says Leger, "just because I respect the discipline and organization it would take to complete one."

Leger says journalism is in a state of flux. Newspaper subscriptions are shrinking while the online readership continues to grow but fails to provide a reliable source of revenue. In such a competitive environment a master's degree might make the difference between employment and welfare.

If Leger were considering two candidates who were equally qualified except that one had a master's and the other only had a bachelor's, he would hire the candidate with the advanced degree.

Dan Arsenault is in his 15th year as a reporter for the Chronicle Herald. He graduated from King's in 1996 with a bachelor of journalism. He says that unless the print industry implodes he has no plans on going back to school. But he does think a master's degree could help a candidate's chances of being hired.

"The industry has changed since I graduated," says Arsenault. "There are fewer print jobs than ever, so maybe if you're serious about landing a print job. Getting a master's degree would give you an edge."

Maureen Googoo: a journalist with an MJ

According to her website Maureen Googoo was the first Aboriginal person the Chronicle Herald ever hired. On top of this she's worked for CBC Radio in northern Saskatchewan and been a news correspondent for the Aboriginal People's Television Network.

Tired of the daily grind at APTN, Googoo enrolled in the master of journalism program at Columbia University in New York City.

Googoo focused on online journalism. For her master's project, she and her partner Brian Howard designed an award winning website about the Aboriginal peoples of New York.

"It's opened up a whole new window for me," says Googoo. "I'm actually independent now."

Googoo has her own website, radiogoogoo.ca, that covers aboriginal issues in Atlantic Canada.

Googoo's master's degree also allowed her to teach at the university level. This year she will be teaching the advanced online workshop at King's.

"The reason I was considered for teaching is because I have a graduate degree in journalism," says Googoo. "It's kind of opened that door for me."

Students react

King's students have mixed reactions about the proposed program. Some of them seem open to the idea while others cringe in horror at the prospect of another year at school.

"I've been working my butt off for four years and I'm ready to go," says Samantha Durnford.

Durnford's work has appeared on Macleans.ca. She is currently assistant news editor of the Dalhousie Gazette.

"It feels like if I hold back for another year my colleagues are going to be out there getting the jobs while I'm still in school," she says.

Meaghan Philpott is in the one-year bachelor of journalism program at King's. She would consider a master's degree but wants to work for a few years first.

"I plan to do my master's when I find out what area of my profession I want to specialize in," says Philpott. "But personally I think if I were to do a master's degree at King's I'd wait until the first few rounds of people had gone through."

The Dalhousie senate, the King's faculty, the board of governors of King's and Dalhousie and the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission must all green-light the proposal, says Toughill.

"Nobody's going to rubberstamp this," says Toughill. "We're still in a position where we have to prove that this is a program that Canada needs and that King's and Dalhousie are the best institutions to deliver it."

 

 

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