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Embattled News Industry May Offer Options for M.B.A.'s

But some media professionals say it’s unnecessary to go to business school.

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There are new opportunities in journalism for people with M.B.A.'s in areas such as navigating content pay walls, digital strategy, and community engagement, say media professionals.

"Smart people with M.B.A.'s might have a role to play in figuring [a business model] out, maybe more than editors," says Barbara Selvin, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University—SUNY's School of Journalism.

An M.B.A. degree could also make a candidate more attractive to a business editor, but writing skills will always be the most important credential, Selvin says. "I'm a huge advocate for the idea that journalism students need to understand business and know how to use numbers—two areas of weakness for many journalists going back to the '80s when I was in journalism school, and probably before that," she says.

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Matthew Borenstein, a former reporter and online producer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says he will hunt for jobs on the business side of journalism after he graduates from the M.B.A. program at Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Management.

"I can see where having a business understanding is certainly something that will help newsroom managers in the future," he says. "Newspapers can't just print the news anymore. They have to be looking at new channels, new apps, [and] new products."

Some business schools have joint M.B.A./journalism programs, but those programs don't seem to be attracting much student interest. At the University of Texas—Austin's College of Communication, only one student had enrolled in the joint journalism and M.B.A. degree in the last five years. "Maybe this degree is becoming obsolete," admits Sharon Barrett, associate director of M.B.A. admissions at UT—Austin's McCombs School of Business.

Stony Brook's joint journalism B.A. and M.B.A. has attracted a total of 5 to 10 students since it was created in 2009, according to Erica Robey, a graduate program coordinator. Philly Bubaris, a current student in Stony Brook's five-year program, says she understands why very few students decide to pursue these two degrees simultaneously. "At my school, [journalism] is a very difficult major, so the thought of taking on a master's at the same time as a major probably scares people away," she says.

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Bubaris believes the program is a great opportunity for students who share her desire to work in journalism—a field she thinks will always be necessary, although it requires a new business model to be successful. "Someone with an M.B.A. in the journalism field is going to have to be the one to solve the problem," she says.

But others question the value of an M.B.A. in journalism. "I don't believe that an M.B.A. is required to effectively run a media organization, but some business acumen certainly can't hurt and probably should be required," says Matt Sheehan, director of the 21st Century News Lab at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

"But in personal experience, leaving the newsroom to get an M.B.A. makes jumping back into the newsroom difficult; you don't fit in the traditional box, and with fewer news gathering resources there is less incentive to take a risk of an unconventional candidate," says Sheehan. "There may also be a perception of M.B.A.'s being too expensive [for struggling journalism outlets]."

"Nobody in their right mind would get an M.B.A. to become an editor," says Jonathan Knee, the director of the Media Program at Columbia Business School and coauthor of The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies.

[Learn why it's a great time to be a journalism major.] 

Although some top editors—such as Martin Baron, the editor of The Boston Globe, and Subrata Chakravarty, a former assistant managing editor at Forbes—are M.B.A.'s, none of the more than 800 jobs currently advertised on JournalismJobs.com state that an M.B.A. is required or preferred.