Digital Journalism and Design M.A.

What We Do

As of fall 2018, the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication will offer a single Master of Arts degree with a variety of courses and course presentation available to all graduate students: a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism and Design (DJD). The degree can be taken fully online, or in a hybrid version in which some classes are offered face-to-face, while others are offered only online. (The four core courses must all be taken online.) In addition, we offer a graduate certificate program in Food Writing and Photography.

The DJD degree prepares students for careers in print, electronic and digital media production and publication, and provides a foundation for those students who elect to continue their studies at the Ph.D. level or teach at the post-secondary level.

The 33- to 39-hour degree program may be completed in one year, but many students take four academic semesters (two calendar years) to complete the degree. Graduate students have up to five years to complete the M.A. degree, but may petition for leaves of absences as needed. Time spent on a leave of absence does not count in the five maximum years to degree.


multimedia workshop with laptop

Graduate study differs from undergraduate work in substantial ways. Students are accepted into the graduate program based on disciplinary focus and relevant background. Students often leave their graduate studies with educational or career goals different from when they began, but the focus will usually remain in digital production or publication, journalism, mass communication or media studies. Graduate study requires that students engage in analysis, interpretation and original inquiry. These features are usually not emphasized in undergraduate study.

While undergraduate courses feature lecture or skill-building formats, the staple of our graduate programs is the seminar. The word “seminar” implies an interchange of opinion, information and ideas. Seminars encourage informed dialogue and debate, and depend on active student participation.

Many undergraduate programs involve a structured, highly directed path to a degree, but graduate students receive greater latitude in developing a plan for accomplishing their goals.

Undergraduate classes often require grade incentives for reading, study and attendance. None of this is deemed necessary in graduate classes, where students are expected to go beyond the assignments or stated expectations in exploring topics, issues and problems. For many students, undergraduate work focuses on learning the fundamentals of their craft. Graduate study calls for reflection, introspection and deeper understanding. Ideally, it is a time of satisfying, rewarding discovery for students and instructors.


Graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships are available on a competitive basis. Students must be formally admitted to the M.A. in Digital Journalism and Design program and must be full time (nine credit hours) for the term in which the assistantship is held with the exception of the final semester in which the student is completing a culminating project or thesis and all other degree requirements are fulfilled. The duties and responsibilities of graduate assistants vary, and may include research or service support as well as assisting instructors with undergraduate journalism and digital communication courses. Students on provisional or conditional admission are not eligible for graduate assistantship until they successfully fulfill conditions.

Assistantships are usually awarded to begin in the fall term. Deadlines for a graduate assistantship or other departmental support are March 1 for fall consideration or October 1 for spring consideration. Graduate assistantships that become available at mid-year are advertised to current and potential graduate students as they become available.

To apply for the assistantship, complete the JDC Assistantship Application and email it to the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication by the deadline.

Exceptions of Students Receiving Departmental Support

Regardless of funding or title, all students receiving departmental support are expected to perform of service to the department throughout each semester of support. All funded students will be called Graduate Assistants regardless of the source of their funding. While students are each assigned to a faculty supervisor, students may also be called on to assist in other departmental duties. Graduate assistants should recognize that they are perceived as leaders by the faculty, by their fellow graduate students, and particularly by the undergraduate students that they help mentor. Graduate assistants are expected to participate in all departmental activities to which students are invited, including lectures by visiting scholars and professionals, end of the semester gatherings, and Kappa Tau Alpha inductions. They are expected to encourage other students to attend. Graduate assistant attendance at these functions will be noted and be considered in the review process for subsequent semester support.

Eligibility for support

Minimally, applicants for graduate assistantships and departmental-funded fellowships must have an undergraduate G.P.A. of 3.0 or above, a score on an admissions test that places them in the 75th percentile or above, and demonstration of accomplishment in previous work or academic environments. Current students must maintain the grade of B or better in all of their course work and must  demonstrate their commitment to the department or the field to continue in the assistantship. All support is awarded on a competitive basis. There are always more qualified candidates than supported positions. Graduate assistants are reviewed at the end of each semester and may lose funding based on academic or work performance. No student on academic probation may receive departmental funding.

Applications for support for Fall term are due no later than March 15. Applications for support for Spring term are due no later than October 15. Support funding that becomes available after these deadlines will be offered to applicants or students who previously were not offered support, but who have been wait-listed. NO support will be provided without a completed support application.

Types of support:

  • Tuition Waiver – The Department provides support at the level of one semester’s in-state tuition. This is deposited directly into the student’s university account.
  • Stipend – The Department provides support at a set amount paid out over a semester that is generally equivalent to a semester’s tuition waiver.
  • Hourly pay – Depending on the source of funding, the Department may pay a student a set hourly rate that is determined in consultation with HR.

Sources of funding: College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Assistant Funding

The amount that the Department receives each semester in this funding line varies and may be directed support, in that it limits student services to a particular function, such as online course support.

Poynter-Jamison Foundation Scholar

The Poynter Jamison Chair in Media Ethics and Press Policy may select a student with an outstanding academic background who has also demonstrated an interest in ethics or responsible media practices. This scholar will provide teaching and/or research assistance to the Poynter Jamison Chair of Media Ethics and Press Policy.

Tampa Bay Times Fellow

The Tampa Bay Times fellowship endowment may be used to support eligible students who bring strong interest or professional experience in media presentations of those who have traditionally been underserved by mainstream media. The Tampa Bay Times Fellows often work as teaching or editorial assistants for the departmentally-supported Neighborhood News Bureau or reach out to underserved communities in other ways.

Financial aid and loan programs

Loans, scholarships and other forms of financial aid are also available. However, graduate students are not covered under several state and federal aid programs, such as Federal Pell Grants, reserved exclusively for undergraduates. Contact the USF Office of Financial Aid, Scholarships & Veterans Services.


student studying outdoors

Students in the Journalism and Digital Communication M.A. Program must complete a culminating project after completion of coursework and after passing the comprehensive exams. Students may choose between doing an academic thesis and completing a professional project project suitable for publication in a trade or lay venue. To review past culminating projects, please visit the Nelson Poynter Library’s Digital Archive.

Thesis Option

A thesis is a work of original scholarship that adheres to commonly accepted rules of academic publication.

The thesis requires academic research that uses at least one of the following six research methodologies: analytic, historical, legal, clinical or ethnographic, qualitative, or quantitative research. Any academic research involving the study of living human beings requires prior review and approval by USF’s Institutional Review Board.

Analytic research includes examination of text or visuals for themes, framing, comparisons, or other content analyses. This type of research also includes ethical analysis of cases or issues.

Historical research includes examination of media accounts or others’ perspectives of issues or past events or the close examination of the life of a notable individual. The intent is to form new understandings from previously-published data.

Legal research involves the study of legal cases, issues, or an aspect of legal theory.

Clinical or ethnographic research includes in-depth presentation of a particular case. Material may be gathered through document collection, interviews, and through participant-observation.

Qualitative research involves the collection of human opinion or belief through surveys, questionnaires, or interviews.

Quantitative research includes statistical interpretation of data gathered from documents, field observation, surveys, interviews or experiments that compare test groups with control groups.

Most theses include a combination of methodologies. For example, the literature review, which is required of every thesis, is a form of historical research. The methodology for exploration of particular hypotheses or research questions will be determined by student and thesis chair.

Theses usually include an introductory chapter outlining the subject, its significance, hypotheses or research questions, and the methodology employed. The second chapter is often the literature review, which relates other research in the area to the student’s research in context that shows why the study is valuable. The third chapter should explain the methodology in depth, discussing and defending the process by which the hypothesis will be explored or research questions answered. A fourth chapter should include results and may be presented visually as well as through text. The last chapter concludes with the discussion and need for further research, which provides a complete analysis of the findings and how they relate not only to the research questions but to larger issues as well.

Style manual

The standard style guide for use in the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Thesis Proposal Requirements

A thesis requires a 3-4 page proposal including the following sections:

  • Statement of purpose. A concise statement explicitly stating what the proposed research aims to accomplish.
  • Justification. What is the significance of the thesis in advancing knowledge in journalism or mass communications studies? How is it theoretically relevant?
  • Statement of problem. Describe the research objective (or topic) either in terms of the hypothesis (or hypotheses) or a set of research questions to be explored and answered. A hypothesis is a clear statement(s) of conjecture about a problem, expressing a relationship between or among variables. If the problem is, instead, posed as research questions, it will contain a series of connected questions that explore the full range of the issue or topic.
  • Definition of terms. Define words or terms that have a meaning special to the thesis.
  • Limitations. Establish the scope of the study, explaining what will and will not be included, and why.
  • Methodology. Specify in detail what you will do to solve or explore the thesis problem. Explain how information or data will be collected (observation, questionnaire, survey, content analysis, etc.) and then, how the data will be analyzed and interpreted. If you will be using human participants in your study, state that you will be seeking IRB approval.
  • Bibliography. Provide a substantial, although preliminary, list of sources.

Applied Research Project Option

The project is a serious, culminating experience in journalistic production and presentation for print, electronic, or website format. The topic may be the investigation of an issue or problem related to journalism/mass communications or the piece may be itself an example of in-depth journalistic work. But, it should be intended to be published for a lay, trade, or professional audience. Applied research projects may be visual presentations, such as photography, Web design, or video or may be text-centered. The project offers a creative and professionally-oriented approach to an in-depth study. Students should plan to spend 45 or more hours completing the ARP, to fulfill the requirements of a 3-credit course of study. While the project is a different mode from the thesis for illustrating developed skills and competencies, we hold our students to the same degree of rigor as that required of the thesis.

The project gives students a wide degree of latitude but requires that they put together a substantial piece of work beyond what they have done for classes.

For example, a design-oriented student might come up with a well thought-out approach to redesigning all or a section of a print publication or a website. A student might report and write a series of articles on race relations, integrating the elderly into community life, crime and violence, or any other issue that affects the community. The project is expected to demonstrate a new and fresh approach to thinking about the topic or the student may write an in-depth article intended for a publication intended for trade or professional audiences.

The Applied Research Project proposal consists of the following:

  • Statement of purpose. A concise statement explicitly stating what the proposed project intends to accomplish.
  • Justification. What is the significance of the project in advancing knowledge or performance in journalism or mass communications studies? A formal literature review is not required, but relevant academic and journalistic sources may be used to provide context and to show the need for the project.
  • Approach. Specify in detail which approaches will be used to accomplish project objectives. Explain how information will be collected and how it will be analyzed or interpreted. (Every project, no matter what format, must be accompanied by a typed text explaining its purpose and significance, not only why the specific topic was chosen, but why the researcher collected and dealt with data in the particular ways chosen.)
  • Sources. Include intended sources including interviewees and primary documents.
  • References. Please include a reference list in APA style.