Feb 25, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Specialized Journalism (MA)

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The Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism is a program geared toward experienced journalists seeking subject matter expertise and toward experienced professionals in other fields seeking journalism skills to advance their expertise. The program is also open to recent School of Journalism graduates with records of excellence in their university classes and internships and a demonstrated aptitude and commitment to developing an expertise in a specialized field of reporting.

In the SJ program, award-winning, experienced journalists guide students toward publication in professional outlets, generating “impact journalism” that makes a difference.  Students are encouraged to explore documentary, investigative, and narrative journalism genres through a range of specialties and disciplines, including international reporting, social justice journalism and reporting on religion, climate change, sports, entertainment and other subjects. Under the guidance of faculty advisers, and with a wide range of electives for study throughout the university, students craft their own unique master’s degree.

Students must begin the program in summer term, enrolling in a required 3-unit, intensive session course focused on journalism and society and on digital media. In addition to the formal classes, the course includes multimedia skills workshops. This gateway course provides the master’s students with a working knowledge of the specialized journalism and the multimedia storytelling skills necessary for study in the program. Students also are required take a 2-unit class in media law and a 1-credit course in narrative nonfiction in the summer. These classes set the stage for two semesters of access to courses as substantively broad as a major research university such as USC makes available and for advanced courses in the School of Journalism’s graduate program.

In the fall semester, students will enroll in the required “Power of Narrative” and “Critical Thinking” courses for journalists in the School of Journalism. They will also select from one of the reporting tracks or reporting platforms. With the advice of their academic adviser and faculty mentors, students will select elective course work appropriate to their fields of specialization. These courses will be drawn from regular graduate and 400-level courses taught in Annenberg or across the university. Students also will begin research for their master’s professional project. Thesis topics must be approved in advance by faculty. These projects will be extended works of journalism, such as a full-length magazine article, similar radio, television or multimedia treatments or the equivalent in their professional field. In addition, students will choose one or more concentrations from the available reporting tracks and platforms. These include additional required classes of a minimum of three units each.

In the spring semester, students will enroll in approved electives. Students will also enroll in elective course work, depending on their chosen concentration, selected again from offerings across the university and in consultation with their faculty mentors. Finally, students will complete their master’s professional project.

Reporting Tracks

Race and Social Justice

Develop the skills, critical thinking and expertise to report on the ongoing struggles over race, equality and justice in America. Students will deepen their understanding of the struggle for racial equality and justice through the study of critical theories of race, the lived experiences of journalists of color in newsrooms, and the history and coverage of race and justice in California and beyond.  Students will understand the way history, global discourses, newsroom dynamics and technological change are shaping foundational social issues, forming practical knowledge of how race manifests in and shapes reporting in the media today. Students will apply these ideas in the service of producing compelling, deeply-reported stories on race and justice, for publication in local, national, and international media outlets. 

Sports and Society

Tap into Annenberg’s vast resources to produce deeply- informed, socially-aware sports journalism in LA and around the world. USC Annenberg’s location in downtown Los Angeles positions students at the hub Southern California’s sports media landscape, close to major networks and digital outlets. Students cover the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, Rams, Chargers and Sparks, plus top-level college athletics and Olympic competition. Annenberg faculty have built unparalleled relationships across multiple media platforms and including athletes, coaches and content creators. Students produce on-site field reporting, write longer-form and investigative sports stories, and meet leaders and executives from the NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL and MLS. Students will also learn the social, political and economic context of sports in American society and culture, equipping them with the tools for both top-notch reporting and critical analysis in a rapidly changing, global sports media environment.

Entertainment and Pop Culture

Go beyond the red carpet to produce deeply reported stories on the culture, social impact, ethics and economics of entertainment and pop culture. Entertainment journalism has a profound impact on how people view politics, government, race, gender and international affairs. With Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, as the backdrop, students will be steeped in the content, social impact, history, ethics and economics of entertainment and pop culture reporting in the United States and the world. Building on this understanding, and critical skills of research, interviewing, writing and production, students will produce groundbreaking reporting on journalism and pop culture. And, they will be introduced to key players, leaders and celebrities, to understand and challenge those who are making decisions that are having an impact on our lives. 


Through Annenberg’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion, explore the intersection among religion, politics and culture to write complex stories reported domestically and internationally. Religion plays a crucial role in domestic politics and international relations. Spirituality – the individual search for meaning – shapes our sense of self and our orientation to the world. Report on what gives nations, communities and individuals meaning, identity and purpose whether through arts and entertainment, sports, climate concern, racial justice, politics or humanitarian outreach. Each year, the class travels abroad for an immersive reporting experience focused on religion, politics and culture in countries such as India, Indonesia, South Korea and Israel/Palestine.  


Combine on-location global reporting through Annenberg with study of international issues across USC, to build top-notch international reporting expertise. To report on the world, you must know the world. Students who opt to specialize in international reporting explore international relations, public policy, religion, health, immigration and environmental studies across the university in tandem with their journalism courses at USC Annenberg. Students have traveled to and reported from countries like Greece, Ireland and Indonesia. As an extension of their coursework, students have also partnered with various media organizations like The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Daily Beast and Public Radio International to have their stories published.


Work with top climate journalists and experts in science and public policy to build top-notch climate reporting expertise. From devastating hurricanes to annual record-breaking heat waves, from “sunny-day floods” in southern Florida to the annual new normal of a California on fire, climate change has reached deep into the American landscape, its economy, politics, even its collective psyche. With these effects has come new awareness, and an urgency to tackle the problem. Never has there been such a need for an original, compelling and accurate accounting of the threat of climate change, and the promise of constructive measures to address it. Students will sharpen their expertise in climate science and social policy, and consider agriculture, water and food sustainability, while producing groundbreaking narrative, documentary and investigative reporting on a central issue of our time.

Reporting Platforms


Report beyond the news through in-depth storytelling and analyses of issues you are passionate about, and contextualize them for a broader audience. The documentary sequence at USC Annenberg provides an opportunity to report beyond the news. You have the opportunity do in-depth analyses of stories that you are passionate about and learn ways to contextualize them for a broader audience. Completed docs are eligible for publication on Impact, a student-produced series that is featured on the Annenberg Media website, and is broadcast by Spectrum News1, L.A.’s 24-hour news channel. You will learn advanced ideas centering on visual literacy, production, techniques to manage large amounts of content, and organized approaches to building documentaries for multi-platform distribution. These are skills that translate to all aspects of journalism.

Data and Innovation

Enhance new forms of storytelling, develop smarter platforms to deliver news, explore techniques in data mining and work on new business models to increase the value of journalistic content. Journalism is at the midst of a bold transformation. The Data and Innovation track is designed for students who are seeking to embrace the technologies that have opened up new frontiers for the profession and to capitalize on this moment by charting the next phase of the communications revolution. Students work closely with leading players in the industry to: (1) enhance new forms of storytelling; (2) develop smarter platforms to deliver news; (3) improve reporting techniques and data mining; and (4) work on new business models to increase the value of journalistic content.

Podcasting and Audio

Explore the power of audio storytelling through advanced production and mixing techniques, narrative point of view, and the history, economics and journalistic range of the podcast. The Audio and Podcasting track gives students grounding in the production and business of podcasting as an outlet for their journalistic work. Students will explore the power of audio storytelling, from classic public radio-style productions to innovative and experimental podcasts. They will learn advanced production and mixing techniques, narrative point of view and the history, economics and journalistic range of the podcast. They will develop a discerning ear for quality audio content and the best practices for effective oral communication. Course work will also expose students to non-production aspects of podcasting such as branding, marketing, distribution, analytics, monetization and legal issues.   


USC Annenberg is seeking students and early-career journalists of exceptional promise who aspire to journalism’s highest calling: producing stories that expose harm, wrongdoing, abuse of power. Stories that matter. Building on the work of the Beacon Project, profiled in The New York Times, you will work on a major investigative project under the mentorship of award-winning journalists who will help place deserving stories in professional news outlets. You will learn how to find documents most reporters would not even think to look for; persuade reluctant or hostile sources to reveal their secrets; obtain and analyze data; protect your sources with digital-security savvy and counter-surveillance techniques; bulletproof your stories against libel actions and write compelling stories for text, audio or video.


Immerse yourself in myriad ways of nonfiction and longform storytelling, learning from award-winning authors and magazine writers the best ways to produce compelling narrative journalism. Top narrative journalists will show you how to cut through the crowded content landscape to tell the stories that matter. In the narrative track, you will learn nonfiction storytelling techniques across a range of styles and interests of your choice – from the arts to religion and social justice issues, from climate reporting to sports and entertainment – to tell the stories that matter. In the process, you will examine fundamental principles embedded in all good narrative journalism: in-depth, empathetic, and creative storytelling. Work that makes a difference. Here you will learn how to create the “journalism of the heart” – groundbreaking, deeply-reported, humane storytelling that bears witness to the world around us.

The 11-month program has been designed for a fall and spring semester enrollment cycle; however, students may also elect to complete the program over a longer time span on a part-time basis, but must start with the intensive summer course.

Studies toward the Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism require 34 units of prescribed courses and approved electives. No more than 10 units of 400-level course work may be applied toward the Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism.


The Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism can be completed in an 11-month enrollment cycle that includes the seven-week summer session, plus the fall and spring semesters. These programs may be attended on a part-time basis.

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirements

There is no foreign language or research tool requirement for the master’s degree.

Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation (GSP)

Journalism and strategic public relations graduate students are required to complete an online tutorial about Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation (GSP) and pass the GSP test before the end of the fall semester of their first year. Students who fail to complete the GSP tutorial and pass the test will not receive a degree from the School of Journalism.

Note: Students with disabilities may register with the Office of Student Accessibility Services (OSAS) so the OSAS staff can assess the nature of the students’ disabilities and recommend the appropriate accommodations to be provided for each student.

Master’s Thesis

MA in Specialized Journalism students normally enroll in JOUR 594a  (2 units) and JOUR 594b  (2 units) in their single year of study.

For complete admission requirements refer to the section on the School of Journalism  page. 


Choose one reporting track or platform.


Required course:

Data and Innovation

Required course:


Required course:


Choose at least one course:

Race and Justice

Required course:


Required course:

Sports and Society

Required course:

Total units: 34

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