Patricia Bellanca, PhD, directs the Journalism Graduate Program. She is also the director of the writing programs at Harvard Extension and a head preceptor in the Harvard College Writing Program.
Q: What is the focus of the Extension School’s Journalism Graduate Program?
A: We want our students to develop excellent reporting and writing skills. The field of journalism may be changing, but it isn’t going away. We offer courses on digital journalism and on special topics such as community journalism, but people need to be able to write well for both digital and traditional media. I like to think that students leave the program with up-to-date skills but especially with that core ability to communicate effectively.
Q: Who is this program for?
A: We have a range of students, from recent college graduates who work full time on their degrees, taking four courses a semester and completing the program in a couple of years, to career-changers with full-time jobs who can take only a course or two a semester. They take longer to complete the program of course, up to five years.
We see a lot of people who are looking to develop the skills and contacts they need for freelancing. Many of our students are excellent writers who’ve always wanted to be published—to be paid for the work that they love to do. But they have not known how to do it: how to approach an editor, how to pitch an article, how to develop an audience for a blog, and so on. They learn these things in our courses.
Some of our students are new to journalism; others are already journalists. All our students share the desire to learn what they need to know to be more marketable now in this challenging and transformative time for journalism.
Q: What sets this program apart?
A: One thing is its flexibility. Students can take all three of the preadmission courses online before applying to the program. This means that students in California—or in Cambridge!—don’t have to leave home to explore the possibility of getting a degree here.
There’s also some flexibility in the program requirements. We have an optional internship. And we offer a wide range of courses for students to choose from, including courses outside of the field of journalism in such things as multimedia and website development. We want students to focus on their particular interests and to tailor the program to meet their needs.
Another thing that distinguishes our program is that it’s a Harvard program, the only program at the University that offers a degree in this field. Our students have access to Harvard resources—our faculty, our facilities—that other universities simply don’t have.
Q: Is there a networking potential?
A: Yes. Many of our instructors encourage students to send their work out for publication. By the time they graduate, most students have made contact with editors of local and online publications and have a file of clips. The capstone project, one of the requirements for the degree, gives students the opportunity to work closely on an independent project with an experienced journalist.
Students have worked with editors at the Boston Globe and at GlobalPost, and with Extension instructors who are also editors of some of Harvard’s publications, ReVista and the Harvard Gazette among them. The experience and the contacts are essential in a competitive field.
I mentioned the internship a moment ago: students may do an internship in place of one of their electives courses. We highly recommend the internship because it provides enormously valuable experience and contacts. Students have interned at Boston.com and C-SPAN; at such publications as El Planeta, the Harvard Gazette, and Body and Soul Magazine; at WBUR and at National Public Radio. One student even interned at the United Nations. It’s not uncommon for students to be offered positions where they intern.
Q: Who teaches the courses that count toward the degree?
A: Our instructors are experienced journalists who are also great teachers. For example:
Martha Bebinger, who teaches JOUR E-140a New Reporting for the Web, Print, and Other Platforms, covers healthcare and a wide range of other issues at WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston. She blogs at CommonHealth.org and freelances for a dozen digital, print, and broadcast outlets.
June Carolyn Erlick, who teaches JOUR E-125 Watergate to Wikileaks: Journalism Ethics Through Film, serves as a program advisor. For 14 years, she reported on Latin America for Time Magazine, the Miami Herald, and the National Catholic Reporter. She’s now the publications director at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard.
Several of our instructors once worked exclusively in print journalism and now work primarily, even exclusively, online. It’s become a truism to say that journalism isn’t dead—it’s just changing form. Well, our instructors are among the people who are changing it.