Social Journalism Degree Aims to Frame Journalism As a Service


The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism wants to create a new generation of journalists with its recently launched master’s program. Instead of treating audience members as one large mass, the Social Journalism degree aims to teach students how to connect better with communities and individuals.

In a video filmed at the 2014 Online News Association Conference, Jeff Jarvis, the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, explains the goals behind the new curriculum.
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“This is really turning journalism on its head. Rather than starting with the idea that we make content, it starts with the idea that we serve communities. And how do we start? By listening to those communities, understanding them, understanding their needs, and then serving them with all the tools we have at hand.”

One of Jarvis’s main points is social journalism goes beyond basic social media practices such as merely using it as another way to spread content. It’s about listening and building relationships with the public—figuring out their particular needs and how to meet them.

Whereas Google knows where he lives and works, said Jarvis, his newspaper doesn’t know anything about him as an individual. Social journalists will be trained to use data to identify unique people and communities, but also to measure their success in reaching them.

Next Steps

Could social journalism become the new standard for newsrooms? According to CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the demand from media companies for reporters trained in its practices is high throughout the industry.

Instead of simply waiting for new graduates to fill these open spaces, agencies can act now by reframing how they view news production—as a two-way interaction rather than a one-way conversation. In fact many media outlets already place a high value on engaging readers before publishing a story.

This is often done through crowdsourcing and taking a different approach to social media. Here are some interesting and successful examples to learn from.


In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to access a large audience. In hearing input on events form a mass of people, it helps increase accuracy with multiple accounts and raises community connection with stories.

ProPublica used this method with its project on the patient safety in the United States. In 2012, It offered an online contribution form for people to share their stories and received more than 1,000 responses. Another recent example of collaborative journalism is from The Guardian, which launched a crowdsourced project on police shootings called The Counted.

Rethinking social media

Most media companies view article clicks and shares as the main measures of engagement, says ProPublica’s senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora.

However, growing an active community of people who will discuss issues important to them is crucial to the publication’s success in crowdsourcing. For example, ProPublica’s Facebook group on patient harm has more than 3,000 members, two of whom were speakers at last year’s U.S. Senate hearing on preventable deaths in hospitals.

Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a Facebook page with nearly 230,000 members, was applauded by the White House for doing what traditional news organizations cannot. It connects residents so they can receive and share developments in real time. Beyond simply offering a service to communities affected by storms, it provides news from a multitude of perspectives and from areas many reporters won’t have the resources to access.

Is social journalism the future of news in our constantly evolving digital age?

Image source: Online News Association