As journalism evolves, qualifications are ever more vital, says Russ Thorne

Like so many careers, journalism is changing on all fronts. As different strands of media converge to create multimedia platforms on news sites around the world, employers are attaching more and more importance to higher-level qualifications such as Masters degrees.

For Gholam Khiabany, convenor of the MA in multimedia journalism at the university of Sussex, the growing complexity of journalism means the demand for a trained, aware and competent workforce has never been higher. “Just a quick glance at the range of subjects covered by news media indicates the diversity of topics and how informed reporting and analysis increasingly requires specialised knowledge.”

Sue Wallace, programme coordinator of Bournemouth university’s MA in multimedia journalism, agrees. “Lines between different kinds of media have become increasingly blurred. Having a range of skills makes you more agile and more able to work across different mediums.”

Entry to Masters courses isn’t limited to those with first degrees in journalism. In fact, Wallace notes that very few students on her programme arrive with formal qualifications in the subject. “Our students come from science, law, philosophy – any kind of background. We have mature students as well who want to boost their skills.”

Masters courses will also be of interest to those already in the industry or perhaps contemplating a career change, suggests Khiabany. He stresses that studying journalism at this level involves academic rigour as well as developing practical skills. “Our approach to journalism is based on openness, generosity of intellect and spirit, and [an acknowledgement of] important intellectual considerations such as the fact that academic engagement with journalism matters.”

To that end some elements of courses will have a decidedly “traditional" academic feel, even on programmes with an emphasis on technology. Media law, for example, is covered through formal lectures.

Other areas might be introduced through group work, workshops, written assignments and perhaps web design projects incorporating multiple elements – video, radio, written word – into a single platform.

Some courses, including Bournemouth’s, are accredited through organisations such as the Broadcast Journalism Training Council or have close links with industry. Sussex students work with Brighton Journalist Works to gain practical experience, while those on Newcastle University’s MA in international multimedia journalism spend time at the Press Association’s regional offices.

The practical value of these associations to students is obvious, but they also ensure that courses keep their fingers on the pulse, says Wallace.

“[Students] are constantly feeding in about what employers value.”

The goal of all the courses is to produce adaptable journalists who are prepared for the 21st-century media melee, says Khiabany. “Engaging and vibrant societies depend on open, critical and engaging news media. We are aiming for a highest standard of critical thinking, and curious and inquisitive students who are good at asking the right questions and are conscious of the role of journalism and its broader ethical and social obligations.”

Graduates of multimedia courses enter a variety of careers. “The [Bournemouth] course enables students to go into multimedia roles, but some also go on to be reporters, editors, gives them a range of options,” says Wallace.

Marta Clayton, a former Bournemouth student, left a job in PR to study and then set up her own PR company on graduation. “Because of the MA I now think like a journalist,” she says, “which has improved my writing and I get better results selling ideas and stories to journalists across different media.”

Employees educated to Masters level can benefit organisations in many ways, adds Wallace. “We’ve had students go into jobs where they’ve been the innovators because they’ve known the most about technology and multimedia skills; they’ve helped the organisation do new things.”

Even if students don’t go on to work in roles directly linked to their Masters, there’s much to gain from pursuing journalism at a higher level.

“Journalism is fascinating because it allows you to learn a lot about yourself,” says Wallace. “There’s a lot of interaction with people, as well as traditional skills like research and dealing with large amounts of information. Plus, you make a lot of new friends and a lot of useful contacts.”