Combining a journalism degree with a disparate degree, instead of pursuing multiple journalism degrees

A lot of people are considering getting a master’s degree in journalism, and I think that’s a fine choice if you have an undergraduate degree in something else and are looking to get into journalism or learn more about journalism, but if you have an undergraduate journalism degree, you would be doing a disservice to yourself and journalism by double-downing on journalism and not expanding our academic horizons.

Journalism needs practitioners with varied skill sets, and while there are programs that have different concentrations — digital media, magazine journalism, photojournalism, data journalism, etc. — that’s not quite the same as combining a journalism degree with a computer science degree or a design degree or a political science degree (imagine if more of our political journalists had taken constitutional law classes). I view journalism as a great way to apply what you’ve learned in a subject, and unless you want to be a journalism scholar or researcher, I’m not sure the wisdom of only studying journalism. Journalism is inherently an interdisciplinary field, and it would benefit from a greater breadth of academic and knowledge areas from its practitioners.

If you’re an undergraduate student considering a master’s in journalism, you’d be better off not majoring in journalism as an undergrad. Use that time to play the academic field. Learn about economics, statistics, political theory, computer science, design, sociology and more. Major in something that will compliment your future master’s journalism work.

Journalism school teaches you the ethics of journalism, how to interview and do research, writing, editing, first amendment law and other core journalism skills. These are important skills and topics to know. Taking this knowledge and marrying it with skills and knowledge from another field will only help make you a better journalist.

I’m getting a master’s degree in human-computer interaction, an interdisciplinary field of computer science, information studies, psychology, design and other fields. I’ve long been interested in computers, Web programming and other technical areas. I’m looking to add more to these skills and more rigor to my design and user interface work, and while I could have gotten a master’s degree in digital journalism or something similar, I believe there is a lot of value with studying outside of journalism with non-journalists.

I’m studying and working with people who don’t just want to become great technologists and user experience experts for journalists, but rather people who want to become great technologists and user experience experts. My fellow students have worked at user experience design shops, tech consultancies, academia, Web development shops and more.

When we work together on projects, we bring a vast array of experiences and skills together. I worked with two classmates on a project; one works in consulting and another had worked in Web design and is now looking to work in academia. When we were coming up with ideas for our final project (we had to make a prototype to present to the school to solve a problem) we had different experiences and ideas to lean on, and the ideas we came up with were broader and more innovative because of these differing backgrounds.

Imagine if instead my group was three people whose experience consisted of j school and working for newspapers. We may have come up with something awesome, but I fear we may have also suffered from group think and lack of aggressiveness and imagination. We all would have similar training and backgrounds.

I also fear this is part of what is affecting innovation at news organizations. Diversity in all facets can help lead to change and innovation.

Get a writer, a computer scientist and a designer together in a room and watch the sparks fly. Each one of those people will bring something unique to the table, and have people of different backgrounds working together to solve problems will lead to more solutions.

I’m a supporter of journalism degrees. I think it’s a fantastic undergraduate degree that will serve you in many fields, and a master’s degree in journalism is a good way to get into journalism or to get some more formal journalism training and rigor if you don’t have it. But if you have an undergraduate degree in journalism, is a master’s degree in digital journalism the best way to expand your skill set? Probably not.

There are people who would benefit from multiple journalism degrees. If you want to teach, multiple journalism degrees would be a benefit. If you want to be a scholar of journalism, doing research into journalism while pursuing a graduate degree in journalism makes sense. There are also a few tech-heavy programs that might be a good choice for someone looking to transition to that side of the field.

But I do think there is a lot of value in studying another field with non-journalists. When you’re an undergrad, it can be difficult to plan out your future, and so maybe this is conversation that j school faculty need to be having more amongst themselves and students. Part of it is bringing in professors with more diverse backgrounds to j schools, and part of it is encouraging future journalists to look beyond j school.

Getting a non-journalism degree while working in journalism is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It is arming me with skills and experience that are unique for my organization and helping me work with others at my organization to build new products that will serve our users well in the future. And I’m here to tell you Mr. and Mrs. Journalist that you can be successful in other programs.

What do you think, and what would you recommend to students?