Northeastern launches media innovation program for journalists

The journalism field is changing. The tools and skills reporters need to tell a good story are no longer limited to a notebook, pen, and the ability to ask the right questions. Today skills such as coding and videography are essential to sharing news with the public—and keeping readers engaged.

To help working journalists learn those 21st-century skills, Jeff Howe, an assistant professor of journalism in the College of Arts, Media, and Design at Northeastern University, has developed a media innovation track in the graduate journalism program.

Earlier this month, the program’s new track received a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts.

“I believe this is by far the best time to be a journalist,” Howe said. “It’s a really awesome time to tell true stories, but you have to have extra skills.”

According to Howe, those skills include coding, information visualization, videography, database management, and game design—all of which are part of the media innovation track.

The pilot program will start this fall with four to six students; depending on results, it could grow to as many as 20 students by the 2015-16 academic year.

One of the program’s inaugural students is Stephen Daly, AS’88, associate director of communications in Northeastern’s Office of Alumni Relations. Daly, who worked for newspapers in New Hampshire for more than 20 years, said the new program gives veteran journalists the chance to stay relevant in an ever-changing profession.

“As a seasoned journalist this is just an opportunity to remain relevant and acquire some skills that will make help me advance in what I do,” Daly said, adding that he is most looking forward to learning how to code web pages. “This graduate program is taking it to another level and will help people who have already established themselves in the industry standout even more.”

Howe began developing this program when he joined the Northeastern faculty about three years ago. “You are motivated to give students here the very best education you possibly can,” he explained. “Then you have to keep an eye on how journalism is changing and how education needs to change as well.”

In Howe’s view, Northeastern’s media innovation program stands alone in its commitment to interdisciplinary education; instead instead of journalism professors, he’s tasked professors in other disciplines such as computer science and the arts to teach students the skills they’ll need for to succeed in the digital age.

But Howe also noted that this track is designed to enhance—rather than replace—a traditional journalism education. “I would never suggest the innovation program should exist in lieu of more traditional programs,” he said. “It is a great way to bootstrap a journalism career.”