Social Journalism


In January 2015, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism launched a new Master of Arts in Social Journalism aimed at helping future leaders in news recast journalism as a service that helps communities meet their goals and solve problems, using a wide range of new tools and skills involving relationship-building, data, social media, and business.

Social journalism is about more than producing “content” and filling space. It is also not just about social media, although we think it is vital for today’s journalists to understand and master these tools. Social journalism is first and foremost about listening.

Whether communities are brought together by geography or shared interest, social journalists serve them best by building relationships and helping them produce tangible impact that goes beyond page views or clicks or “likes.”

Often, doing so will involve writing stories, but it will also include sophisticated use of data, connecting people with each other, and helping a community to organize and take action.

Social journalists need a variety of skills beyond writing, reporting, and other traditional course offerings. This degree will teach students how to use data to inform and understand as well how to best use a variety of cutting-edge platforms to connect and share with audiences. It will also give them the opportunity to practice interacting with and learning from diverse communities, and will include business training so they understand what it takes to keep news organizations financially viable.

This initiative will help prepare students for jobs in areas that still see high demand among both traditional and nontraditional journalism organizations, even in an era of contraction in the industry. For example, the recent New York Times Innovation Report called on the newsroom to experiment with new ways to engage audiences, noting that readers expect participation and interaction. And some of our most innovative journalism upstarts like ProPublica have put a premium on engaging readers, connecting people with stories before they are published and providing numerous opportunities for readers to get involved.

For more information our new master’s degree, contact Carrie Brown, director of the Social Journalism Program, at

Program duration

The 33-credit M.A. in Social Journalism degree requires one year to complete, including the summer. Two semesters of coursework and an intensive, real-world practicum in which students work in their chosen communities are required.

How to apply

Simple. Just submit an application.

When are applications due?

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis for the January 2016 program.

What kind of candidate are we looking for?

Minimum requirements include a college degree and English fluency. Ideal candidates have some professional experience in journalism, media, technology, design or community organizing, but we thrive on diversity and will consider all candidates on the basis of their individual strengths. We are also looking for candidates who already have some ideas about what communities they want to serve, and some digital and social media proficiency.

When will I know if I’ve been accepted?

Decisions for the 2016 program will be made on a rolling basis. Final decisions will be made by December 2015.

How much does it cost? Tuition and fees as of Spring 2015 is $5,516 per semester for in-state residents, $11,766 for non-residents, and $11,766 for international students. A $100 fee is charged in the second semester of the program to cover the cost of workshops. Tuition and fees are subject to change without notice. Please see our tuition and fees page for more information. You may be expected to purchase a laptop and smartphone if you do not have them.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. Scholarship funding is available at varying levels for exceptional candidates.

Who teaches the courses?

Located in the heart of New York City, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism boasts an impressive faculty with a wealth of journalism experience. In addition, this program will feature specialists in other areas as instructors and guest speakers, including data journalists, business mentors, developers, community ambassadors, and so on. We also hope to draw on knowledge from outside our field, bringing in community organizers, cultural anthropologists, and others with different areas of expertise to speak to and work with students. Students will also have the opportunity to be mentored or coached by many social journalism pioneers.


Five Pillars of Social Journalism

The Social Journalism program is based around five key skill areas:

Listening Starting with the public to discern goals and needs

Journalism Gathering and presenting the information communities need

Data Measuring impact, reporting, and developing a better understanding of a community

Technology Working with social media and other tools the public uses to interact, curate, crowdsource, and inform

Business and Entrepreneurship Building a sustainable news organization

Required Courses

Semester 1

Data Skills This course will present the fundamentals of data gathering, analysis, and presentation. Data skills are critical to effective public engagement work — analyzing signals (such as location, demographic, interest, behavior) to discern information about communities; analyzing audience behavioral data to inform design and offerings; gathering and presenting credible information for a community; and assessing outcomes. This course will also address common pitfalls in misinterpreting data.

Community Engagement This is a course in listening to a community: understanding and empathizing with its needs and learning how to help it share its own knowledge. Students will be exposed to ambassadors from a wide array of communities of various definitions – geographic (neighborhoods, towns), demographic (ethnic groups, age groups), interest-based (parenting, sports) or business-related (catering to a specific industry or job description). As the course progresses, students will begin to identify and interact with the communities they plan to serve in the practicum.

Information Gathering and Reporting This course will help students learn how to find and best present the information their communities want to know. Students will identify the best sources in the community, including other media. In coordination with the community engagement course, students will profile communities and meet people in them.

Social Media Tools Students will gain an understanding of the many popular and some obscure tools that communities are already using — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, NextDoor, SeeClickFix, etc. — focusing on their capabilities,  how their use affects interactivity and the quality of information, and how they could be used to better inform communities. They will learn how to verify information from social media.

Semester 2 (Proposed)

Writing for Social Media  This class will build on the previous semester’s journalistic course to offer more advanced skills in reporting, crowdsourcing, interviewing, fact-checking, and the like. Students will learn not only how to find and interact with sources and uncover information some would prefer to keep hidden, but how to work collaboratively with a community to find accurate and trustworthy information. They will then determine the optimal form and means for presentation of the information, whether as a text story or a visual story or an event, on a website or through a social network or alternative media tool. They will learn how to create that content as appropriate for the community, the need, and the medium.

Design and Development Students will delve into what is known as design thinking, a discipline developed at Stanford and Ideo to observe community members’ behavior, listen to their needs, brainstorm solutions, and build or adapt tools. Students will work with developers to better understand what is possible and how to express their technical goals. The goal is not to attain proficiency in coding but to be highly fluent in technology so they can better communicate with technology partners and produce better and more effective products and services for communities.

Ethical and Legal Considerations Students must understand the ethical implications of working with communities. They cannot barge in uninvited with their own presumptions about a community’s needs, nor can they arrive one day and then the next desert a community that has come to depend on them. To succeed, it is vital that they develop a relationship of mutual trust and understanding. In this seminar, students will discuss these considerations and anticipate pitfalls to avoid. They will also receive instruction in legal issues such as libel and copyright as well as freedom of speech and information rights.

Metrics and Outcomes Students will learn how to gather and analyze behavioral data and other signals to understand what does and does not succeed with a community. They will learn that metrics can be corrupting — for example, that striving for more unique users and pageviews can lead to crass sensationalism and degraded value, credibility and reputation. They will need to instead carefully select the metrics they will use to judge impact and devise plans to measure effectiveness with their communities.

Semester 3 (Proposed)

Business Skills Brief and intensive training in running a community service as a business, with focus on content, revenue, marketing, and technology. This instruction builds off the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s expertise in entrepreneurial journalism as the first school to create a master’s degree program in this area.

Community Practicum Every student will have selected an existing community – whether defined by geography, demography, interest, or business — to serve, using the skills and tools he or she has learned in the prior semesters. As a capstone experience, students will assess the unmet information needs of the community and find ways to help serve those needs. Each student will be assigned a mentor to monitor and improve the quality of students’ work, helping to identify and solve problems and evaluate success. Students will then graduate already doing work in their field. They may then start their own enterprises or seek related jobs in media, technology, or other companies.

For more information on our new master’s degree, contact Carrie Brown, director of the Social Journalism Program, at

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About Zoran Opalic

Professional in design and publishing industry. Conceptualize and orchestrate designs and redesigns that effectively reinforce and build brand images. Proven ability to drive record-high campaign in increasing publication sales and execute successful product launches...


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