Communications director at Planned Parenthood. UX/UI researcher at Google. Strategic marketing consultant on a mayoral campaign. These are all examples of potential careers that a graduate degree in Media Advocacy or Media Innovation + Data Communication from the School of Journalism can prepare you to pursue.
“People tend to think about journalism as newspapers or TV, but we’re really training you to tell stories using data and information,” says graduate programs director and associate professor John Wihbey. “It’s about being a highly employable worker in the digital economy, broadly.” Similar to a business degree, he says, these two master of science programs, along with the master of arts in journalism program, provide a core skill set that can be scaled up and applied in business, nonprofit, education and other industries.
Filling the skills gap between data science and how it’s presented by the media
Danica Jefferies epitomizes this flexible, adaptable ethos. “I definitely did not have a straight arrow career path to getting here,” says the second-year master’s candidate in Media Innovation + Data Communication. Originally from Virgina, Jefferies went straight from 8th grade to community college as a dual enrollment student, opting out of high school courses and finishing her associate’s degree within two years. At 16, she then transferred to the University of Virgina where she initially planned to be pre-med but eventually majored in biostatistics.
“It was an intuitive choice because it sets you apart when you have a really in-demand and interdisciplinary skill set. If you can do both, then you fill those gaps that are really needed in the industry,” she says. “A lot of statisticians don’t understand the media and a lot of people in the media get criticized for not understanding data and numbers.”
Jefferies is now filling that gap as a data graphics intern at NBC News, a position she’s held for the past three semesters, working in the national newsroom on a small team of editors, reporters, and designers to create visualizations that present data to the public in an understandable way. Occasionally, that means advocating for statistical accuracy that media outlets don’t always have the resources — or incentive — to prioritize.
“I remember my second day on the job, I was arguing with an editor from a different desk over why we needed to use a median over a mean, and I always insist on dividing data per capita” says Jefferies. “My background in statistics makes me very nitpicky on things like that, but it adds nuance to the analysis.”
But as she’s learned through graduate study, it’s not just about the numbers. At NBC, Jefferies has had the opportunity to write and report her own data stories on abortion laws, toxic herbicide usage, and psychedelic drug therapies. She also worked with professor Rahul Bhargava and the CoLab for Data Impact on a multinational computational analysis of hyperlinking in news, published in the journal Journalism Practice.
These research, coop and academic opportunities bring Jefferies out of her comfort zone in both journalism and computing, she says, citing a diverse range of assignments that have made her more well-rounded — from building a voting rights chatbot API to writing an obituary about a living person. (Prior to entering the program, Jefferies had never interviewed anyone. Now, it feels like second nature.) This semester, she is taking a course on coding for digital storytelling, working on interactives and honing programming skills she first developed in her first semester in Matt Carroll’s intro to data storytelling course.
At that time, she was still trying to decide which she liked better: data or writing. Through her coursework and research, she says, “I’ve found that a good data reporter has a mastery and knowledge of both how to work with data and how to contextualize it and communicate it so that it makes sense.”
That’s why Jefferies says she chose the program: unlike more traditional journalism schools she toured, “Northeastern is focused on where the future of journalism is going.”
Making political communications more empathetic and practical
After Leon Jones graduated from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff with a B.A. in political science, he knew he wanted to work on the advocacy side of politics — helping the candidates and organizations he believed in communicate their goals. To learn more skills and build a network, graduate school felt like the right next step, but the typical path through a masters in political science or law degree seemed like it would be too cloistered or lack practical application. The Media Advocacy program stood out, providing a variety of courses through the Northeastern University College of Arts, Media and Design and the School of Law. “Northeastern was the only school where I felt like I could get a well-rounded degree that wouldn’t limit me to one career choice,” he says.
An eighth-generation Arkansan, Jones worked last summer on the Chris Jones gubernatorial campaign and loved “going around my state, meeting people, getting to know my roots.” Currently wrapping up his second semester, he hopes to bring home the knowledge and skills to work on future campaigns or for advocacy organizations based in the state upon completing the program next year.
In the courses Jones is taking in his first year, he’s learning the reporting and research skills needed to understand policy — and the coding and design skills to communicate it for a digital, general audience. “I think public policy has been missing empathy,” he says, noting that combining journalism with the law “reinforces that people are real and it’s OK to take those experience and emotions into crafting policy or for people in political communications to incorporate those stories when conveying why policy proposals are needed.”
Jones is currently working on a class project on restorative justice that will be published later this year in The Emancipator, the online newspaper published by the Boston Globe and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research. He says the collaboration with the publication makes the coursework more meaningful, lending urgency to every interview, social media post or line of code he creates as he considers the stakes: “Are we going to be able to win hearts and change minds?”
Shoring up the interdisciplinary skills to make social change possible helps Jones feel prepared for however the field evolves. “For people like me who got a liberal arts degree and want to get that practical reinforcement on how to apply it, this program is great,” he says. “I think it’s at the forefront of what degrees will look like in the future.”
Both the Media Advocacy and Media Innovation + Data Communication programs are master of science degrees. The Media Innovation + Data Communication M.S. degree has an official STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) designation.
The School of Journalism also offers a master of arts program in Journalism with both a Professional and Media Innovation track. The Media Innovation track offers a Video Innovation Scholarship for prospective graduate students interested in new video storytelling techniques including animation, VR and AR.
Apply to graduate programs in the School of Journalism here. The final deadline for the Fall 2023 semester is May 1 for international applicants and August 1 for domestic applicants.