This month, July of 2022, I completed the master's degree in journalism program that I started in 2019 at Ball State University.
My diploma is not yet in hand but all course work is completed and all credit requirements are satisfied. I'm quite proud to be at this milestone, and I'm grateful for what I've learned and experienced along the way. Here are a few highlights and reflections:
My program focus was on "reporting and storytelling," which covered a range of topics and disciplines including reporting and storytelling itself, a lot of theory and analysis work, developing and practicing my academic research skills, learning data journalism tactics and tools, exploring past, present and future models of journalism, thinking about what voices and perspectives are missing or under-represented in local news, and more.
Here's a full list of the courses I took:
- Studies in Journalism and Communication Theory
- Social and Cross-Media Storytelling
- Journalistic Judgments
- Data Journalism
- Emerging Technologies
- Diversity & Media
- Intro to Statistical Methods
- Media Audiences and Content Strategy
- Social Media Analytics and Engagement
- Capstone Creative Project (2 semesters)
- Evolution of Remote/Distributed Newsrooms
That list represents three years of study, hundreds of book and article chapters read, hundreds of pages written for various papers and assignments, hundreds of hours of lectures and presentations, various articles, podcasts, websites and videos completed, and a lot of time and energy.
For the first half of the program I took one class at a time and that worked well for my professional schedule and for the first year of pandemic living. In 2021 I bumped it up to two classes at a time and that pace was a bit hectic, but I'm glad I did.
Capstone creative project
For my final creative capstone project, I collaborated with the folks at the Bloomfield Information Project, a community news service in Essex County, New Jersey that launched in March of 2020 to respond to that community's need for news and to help it be more informed, engaged and resilient. Like some of my own efforts in the community where I live, they are focused on helping residents have the context and information they need to make good decisions for their lives, families and neighborhoods, and to be more engaged and involved in the life of the community.
I reached out to them for my project after hearing founding director Simon Galperin on the It's All Journalism podcast because I saw an opportunity to contribute to their "news harvest" process with my own blended interests and skills in journalism, software development and civic engagement and to hopefully further their efforts while adding something broader to the world of local news. The end result was several software tools and workflow improvements that I created or contributed to, a project website documenting all my work, several open source software repositories and a 45 page paper that brought together my research, work and projects in one place.
One of my faculty project advisors said it was among the best creative projects he had seen in his time at the University. I'm also excited to be continuing my collaboration with Simon, his team and the project as a volunteer well beyond the end of my degree program.
Asynchronous and remote studies
One of the reasons I chose the Ball State program was that the program was offered both online and in person. I thought I would be able to mix those together since I live fairly close to campus, but the Covid pandemic hit soon after I started the program and I ended up doing it all online.
If I have any critique of the journalism program at Ball State and their approach to online education, it's that there's still a lot for them to figure out in creating interaction and community within and between students in a given course or program cohort. I rarely interacted with other students and most of the interaction with faculty was done via assignment feedback or formal office hours. There were a few great exceptions to this but for the most part I found a big gap between my hopes for building connections with others throughout this learning process and the reality of a mostly isolated and self-directed student experience. My positive experiences in other distributed organizations and teams where we did find ways to successfully build cohesion and connection over a distance perhaps amplified my disappointment here.
Still, I'm thankful that my studies were not significantly disrupted by the pandemic and that I had the flexibility to pursue them from wherever I was at the time.
What to do with my degree?
If you've been following along, you know that studying journalism and completing this degree is more about a trajectory I've been on for a while than it is some kind of sudden shift in my interests or profession. I've already been applying this learning in a few places; I certainly include the capstone project described above in that, along with my work on the WayneCounty.info community news aggregator website as well as in my consulting work with the Western Wayne News local newspaper. I suspect some of my personal news consumption, analysis and sharing habits have changed along the way, too.
Looking forward, I'm pursuing some new ideas for ways I can weave together this experience with my other interests in software development, civic engagement, entrepreneurship and local community building. I'll have more to say about those plans soon.
There are a lot of people who contributed in some form to my reaching this milestone, through their encouragement, support, excitement, time, questions, expertise, mentorship and more, including:
Kelly Burk • Ava Hardie-Burk • Erin Martineau • Bill Engle • Brenda and Jim McLane • Dr. Robin Blom • Dr. Natalee Seely • Dr. Gabriel B. Tait • Dr. Nancy Green • Eric Marsh • Steph Yiu • Emmett Smelser • Mickey Johnson • Andy and Barbara Miller • Laura and Mike Pulfer • Simon Galperin • Davis Shaver • Len and Mary Jo Clark
While she was no longer living when I started this particular journey, my mom Cynthia Hardie also contributed much to it, from her own early work as a journalist to perhaps naming me based on how my byline might appear 😀 to modeling thoughtful questions, great writing and tough editing at every turn.
Thank you, all.