Bachelor's degree programs give students a foundational knowledge of the principles of visual journalism, while master's degree programs focus on the practice of visual journalism through actual assignments. Certificate programs are shorter than degree programs and tend to focus on multimedia journalism, such as Web publishing.
Bachelor's Degree in Visual Journalism
Bachelor's programs teach the techniques for storytelling through imagery. Students are also required to learn basic journalism skills and responsibilities, including self-editing skills and how to manage project deadlines. Some programs in visual journalism allow students to choose a focus in Web and magazine design or photojournalism. Required classes include lab work, lectures, and assignments in the field. Internships may be a required or encouraged part of the curriculum. Common courses include studies in:
- Technical photography instruction
- First Amendment rights
- Issues and ethics in public communication
- Broadcast and print beat reporting
- American and world politics
- Death reporting
Certificate Program in Visual Journalism
Certificate programs in visual journalism focus on areas such as multimedia, emerging media journalism, and photojournalism. Many certificate programs are directed toward working journalists seeking to keep abreast of current trends in visual journalism, particularly Web publishing; some partner with publication professionals who can share current, real-world experience. Most certificate programs require a bachelor's degree in a related communications field prior to acceptance. Certificate classes, which may also be available online, include topics such as:
- Graphic design
- Multimedia design
Master's Degree in Visual Journalism
Many of the master's degree programs partner with nationally recognized publication and news media professionals to give students practical lessons in emerging technologies. Unless the program is research based, the degrees tend to require final projects rather than a thesis. A portfolio or writing samples may be required for admission. Courses refine students' skills in photojournalism and expand these skills into other areas of visual journalism. Typical courses include:
- Writing and reporting
- Visual journalism
- Advanced visual design
- Photographic criticism
- Advanced multimedia lab
- Editing and production
Career possibilities include photography editor, documentary film photographer, and studio photographer. Skills acquired in a master's program prepare graduates for a wider range of jobs in larger markets, including remote correspondent, visual reporter, and video editor.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
More than 60 percent of all professional visual journalists and photojournalists work on a freelance or contract basis. Competition for staff positions in this field is keen. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary for photographers of $31,710 (www.bls.gov).
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) offers continuing education workshops and seminars in such areas as multimedia immersion studies and capturing the heart of the story through imagery. Some of their seminars can be taken as online courses. They also offer a professional development mentoring program in which novices shadow veteran NPPA members.
To summarize, students may begin visual communication studies at the bachelor's level and continue their studies with a graduate certificate or master's degree. Graduates are more likely to be self-employed than to work as staff photographers.