Critical Thinking: Is the Price of an Advanced Journalism Degree Worth the Investment?

Critical Thinking: Is the Price of an Advanced Journalism Degree Worth the Investment?

The University of California at Berkeley recently proposed a tuition increase for students who wish to pursue a journalism master’s degree, making the total cost for California residents $52,100 for the two-year program. In the face of these rising costs, and a print journalism field where the future is uneasy, is the price of an advanced journalism degree worth the investment?


Chelsea Chenelle, 21, senior, Loyola Marymount University (Calif.)
Chenelle is an art history major and works as the digital managing editor at the student-run Los Angeles Loyolan. While she will not be going to grad school, she hopes to continue writing post-graduation.


I know full well the joy of holding the physical manifestation of hours upon hours of work in my hands, re-reading the same articles in their final format, until the newsprint bleeds onto my fingers. As a student journalist working at the tail end of the age of the paper, there is something about a print product that proclaims status. Despite the fall of thousands of newspapers worldwide, I can count on seeing my name in newsstands around campus, a testament to being a “real” journalist. But what makes a journalist? Definitely not $52,000 in student debt.

I also know that after I graduate, this luxury will be gone, because in the world outside my small campus, the digital world and the world of journalism have become irrevocably fused. And while traditionalists may never get over this cultural shift, I know quite a few millennial journalists who see this as their way into a seemingly impenetrable industry, relying on innovation and creativity rather than the crutch of paper.

This paradigm shift, where a good digital product is not only valued but preferred to a print product, means one big thing for aspiring storytellers: Anyone can do it. You no longer need a master’s from USC Annenberg. You do not have to fork over more than $52,000 for a piece of paper from UC Berkeley that proves you can define what a nut graf is. Instead, you need time to write, an active Twitter and an overactive imagination.

And that is the true benefit of this renaissance in journalism, the new accessibility it provides. It puts the power of storytelling in the hands of those with stories to tell.

Graduate school has never been on my to-do list because I believe the only way to truly learn and grow in this uncertain—and often terrifying—field is by getting our hands dirty. Maybe not with freshly-printed ink anymore, but with a renewed respect for the extraordinary every day.



Frank Denton, 69, editor, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union
Denton has been the editor of the
Times-Union since 2008. He  previously edited The Tampa Tribune and the Wisconsin State Journal, currently serves on the board of directors of the First Amendment Foundation, and is president of the Florida Society of News Editors.


 It depends on the student and the career she or he plans. I went to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and it changed my life. It was expensive then and much more so now—$60,000 in tuition and fees for the 10-month program (plus maybe $28,000 in living expenses). Education should be seen as an investment in one’s life, not just carefully ROI-justified preparation for a career. Carefully consider the curriculum and faculty and what you can learn. Earn scholarships, get a part-time job, borrow if necessary.

On the other hand, I must say that a journalism degree, especially a master’s, is not essential for a career in journalism. A good journalist must have strong values, motivation, background and skills, but there are other ways to develop those. Depending on the individual, I might recommend majoring in some other field, while taking advantage of some courses in a journalism school and getting practical experience and training. Over my career as an editor, I have hired many people, and I’m sure most of them did not have journalism degrees.

As for the uncertainty of print journalism, most of us in the struggle for the future of journalism are working on new economic and media models and having some good success. Print is still our best financial supporter, but others are emerging for the future. The digital technologies that have disrupted newspapers also offer fantastic platforms and tools to do far better and more effective journalism than print. Students need to think about a career in journalism, not specifically in newspapers.  People, including students, often ask me, worriedly, about whether journalism has a future, and I always answer: Of course, it has to, or neither will democracy.

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Published: November 21, 2014

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Is the Price of an Advanced Journalism Degree Worth the Investment?

  • November 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    It’s not the degree…the big question is, if you want to be a good reporter…are you an expert in any particular field? That’s what a newspaper really wants. Case in point: After I graduated from college, I applied for a job at The New York Times. ( I had worked there a few years before that in an Office Boy job I had during the summer.) After I graduated college, when I spoke with the HR person about a job as a reporter, she asked me if I was an expert in anything? I said something to the effect of “No, I had a liberal arts education with a major in radio, TV and Film.” She said that when they are looking for a reporter, they want a person who knows a lot about some field, whatever it is. So, is an advanced Journalism degree worth it? You might want to consider adding a secondary field in which you could gain some more expertise, be it business or politics or sports, or any other beat that a newspaper would want to look at. And if you want to go into journalism in TV, take some modeling classes and some acting classes, too. (And in radio…learn how to become an opinionated blowhard so you can get yourself a gig doing a talk show.)

  • February 7, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    It’s down to the curriculum. If that advanced degree is just more refinement of your writing/storytelling, then I’d say no. But if the courses arm you to evolve along new lines of knowledge, then consider the cost-benefit. I teach journalists about the effects of computers, search, evolving reader behaviors, and a business model being rewritten in real time upon their profession. Journalists working at the highest levels today have to be aware of a whole new set of algorithmic (and mathematical) forces that are reshaping the effectiveness of public communication. You shouldn’t pile a graduate journalism degree on top of an undergraduate journalism degree (something I see a lot). But there are a few disciplines that you should become expert in that are today entwined in the journalistic enterprise; learn to code so you can write a web scraper; make an API call to a remote database or two; learn how to gather and use the torrent of unstructured data to make a few people aware of what’s going on. Help address the dearth of understanding.



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