CUNY-J Social Journalism FAQs

Not clear on what this program is all about? Read on

What IS “social journalism,” anyway? I still don’t get it.

Social journalists put the public at the center of everything they do. We view journalism as a service, not a product. Instead of producing an article or video and trying to seduce people to click on it with a sexy headline, we listen to citizens first to understand what they need and how to make important news relevant to them. We work with communities to produce impact in their lives. We experiment with everything from social video to bots to Snapchat to old-fashioned zines and events to engage people in our work and build trust.

….Why didn’t you call it “engagement journalism?”

We considered it! The work our students do is consistent with what many people with the word “engagement” in their titles in newsrooms do. We chose “social” because we were trying to avoid buzzwords and allow for a broad definition for what our students can do, but “engagement” would also be a good descriptor.

Social journalism student Jennifer Groff gives her final presentation.

So this is a degree primarily focused on how journalists should use social media, right?

No, although we definitely view social media as a critical tool for reporting and engaging the public, and we have a course that focuses on social media distribution and audience growth. But we use ALL of the tools at our disposal to engage people, including face-to-face and yes, good-old “shoe leather” reporting. The audience drives the platforms we use, rather than the other way around.

Does the “social” in social journalism stand for social justice? Is this a degree in advocacy journalism?

No. We have designed the program so that our students are prepared to cover many different issues and to work for traditional news organizations as well as startups and nonprofits. That said, however, many of our students DO come to the program with a strong interest in social justice and choose communities to work with that reflect that interest; we’ve had students work with the Black Lives Matter movement, formerly incarcerated women, sex trafficking survivors, and more. We also believe that journalists can and should care about the health of the communities they serve and help people find solutions to problems. We take a nuanced view of objectivity that recognizes that there are many more kinds of bias than political that we need to be aware of, and that transparency about our methods is a key way of building trust.

So, you’re saying social journalism students can go on to work in REAL newsrooms?

Why yes, they do! Among the organizations where social journalism graduates have or do work at include: ProPublica, NowThis, Sports Illustrated, The Marshall Project, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Racked, and Univision. We are also proud of having others at startups focused on improving the news process like Hearken and Groundsource, working as community managers at Meetup, and more. The skills taught in this degree are transferable to many jobs.

Is this the same thing as “solutions journalism?”

We love solutions journalism and think it is very closely aligned with our program, but we use a somewhat broader umbrella to describe all of the different kinds of listening and service to communities that social journalists do.

Will I be able to learn investigative reporting and multimedia skills in the social journalism program?

Yes. All of our graduates learn research and reporting skills, and we have continually augmented the photo and video offerings, even adding an additional multimedia course for 2018 to keep up with the exploding demand for social video skills. To take just one example, we had a career-changer with no previous journalism experience come to the program and, soon after graduation, sell a major freelance investigative piece that required data analysis, filing numerous FOIAs, and more to a respected news outlet.

What is the difference between the social journalism program and the general MA program?

The social journalism program has a stronger focus on engagement than the general MA degree. If you are interested in longform magazine reporting or documentary production, you will probably prefer the general MA degree program. We do not have subject concentrations; instead, students in social journalism choose a community to work with during their time in the program, defined broadly to include more than just geographical communities but people brought together around issues or interest areas.

Can social journalism students take electives from the regular MA program?

Yes. Of course, it can be difficult to find the time to do this with an already full schedule, but many students choose to do so in the final semester of the program, when their required courseload is lower.

Can students in the regular MA program take social journalism courses?

Yes, and we would love to have you, but unfortunately often our courses are completely full, and because they are required for social journalism students to graduate, they must take priority.

Who teaches the courses? When are they typically held?

We have a stellar lineup of instructors from places like ProPublica, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Quartz, NBC News, and our own experienced full-time faculty members. Our courses meet once a week, often, although not always, in the evenings. This is because many of our professors work full-time in newsrooms.

Learn more on our website, and apply!