City University launches London's first MA in financial journalism

To sharpen up financial journalism, City University is introducing an MA devoted to the subject. It should fill a serious gap
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The Independent Online

If you hear breast-beating from a gloomy corner of media land, it's probably a financial journalist confessing he or she failed to anticipate the greatest story in a generation – the still-running financial crisis. How the story was covered has been controversial. But for City University, it's a golden opportunity. Its well-regarded Graduate School of Journalism, set in the heart of the City of London, the epicentre of the economic earthquake, is introducing a full-time MA in financial journalism.

The university is trying to remedy a serious deficiency. Although it has grown rapidly in recent years, financial journalism, in the UK at least, has retained a whiff of old Fleet Street amateurism. "What the crisis has shown is the importance of financial journalism. It's not just a subject which is important for specialists. It's important for all of us. It's more and more important that we have good people doing it," says Steve Schifferes, a former BBC economics correspondent who is the Marjorie Deane Professor of Financial Journalism at the school and the course leader.

The one-year course begins in September. Drawing on the school's extensive facilities, including sophisticated TV and broadcasting studios, it has five modules covering financial journalism specifically and journalistic practice generally. The course looks at major current issues such as the public finances. It studies topics such as financial markets, corporate finance and understanding financial statements. And it does not neglect economics and the politics of globalisation.

Two more general modules are on editorial and production and journalism practice. The first is designed to equip students with "craft" skills such as sub-editing, layout and design, interviewing and writing. The second is intended to help with spotting a story and understanding its impact on audiences. A critical ingredient – not least in the wake of the financial crisis – is to enable journalists better to reflect on their work.

Despite its name, the course is not purely financial. It will cover business in the broadest sense, introduce students to financial public relations and other intermediaries, and give them a smattering of company law and public policy such as competition law.

It also has a practical orientation. Each student will have to do a project based on real interviews, leading to a 30-minute presentation if you are a print journalist or a TV package if you are a broadcaster. The practical experience is reinforced by what the university claims is a unique guarantee: as part of the degree, all students will be eligible for a month's placement at the Financial Times or the BBC.

Announced last December, the course has already attracted potential students. "We've seen considerable interest from people who have worked as journalists for several years but want to get more specialist knowledge, and from people in the City who would like to step back and see things from the perspective of journalists," says Schifferes.

Schifferes expects the degree will appeal to students who want to specialise and become more professional, whether to embark on a career in journalism or improve their prospects in existing careers. But getting on to the course will not be easy. The first class will have only 15 students, who will be expected to be numerate. Students will be tested on their numerical skills during the course and given training if necessary. The school has received interest from one applicant with a double first in maths. "We are setting the bar reasonably high," says Schifferes.

At £7,495 for home and EU students, and £14,995 for international students, fees are not low. But Schifferes says the degree is good value for money. It is cheaper than competitors such as New York University and Columbia University, and has the advantage of being in the City, the world's leading international financial centre. City luminaries will contribute to the course, for example as guest speakers. The programme can also draw on the Cass Business School at City University.

But perhaps the strongest pull for students is the journalism school's record at helping students find jobs. Graduates include Faisal Islam, economics correspondent for Channel 4 News, and Stephen Foley, associate business editor of The Independent. Given the recession they will have to cover, budding financial journalists need all the help they can get.

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