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Columbia Spectator Staff

The Journalism School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are planning their first ever dual degree—and the first of its kind in the United States. Last Friday, the University Senate unanimously passed a proposal, written by a group of SEAS and J-School professors, for a "Dual Master of Science Degree in Journalism and Computer Science," which the University hopes to implement in fall 2011. The proposal, in an unusually fast process, went through the Education Committee and then was passed along to the full Senate, which approved it. Letty Moss-Salentijn, co-chair of the Education Committee, said the proposal still needs the approval of the New York State Education Department as well. "News organizations have not embraced the digital revolution in the same way as other industries that have made a more successful transition," the proposal states. "The lack of professionals with an adequate understanding of both the message and the mode of delivery is hindering innovation," it adds, referring to the lack of journalists with advanced computer skills. The program, which would focus on digital media, would start with a group of 12-15 students who will take classes in journalism and computer science at both schools over five semesters, which includes a summer term. "Students will have to meet the strict standards of both schools to gain admission into the program," the proposal says. Duy Linh Tu, digital media coordinator and assistant professor of professional practice at the J-School, said that the program will allow students to create their own technologies. "These students in many ways won't be dealing with consumer-level applications. They will be developing applications. So, it's a different way of looking at technology," he said. The program is slated to have a specialized digital journalism curriculum, which will require a final project with a strong computer science component. According to Julia Hirschberg, a professor of computer science who has helped develop this program, it will require students to take four of six core courses based in computer science, with alterations to give them a focus in journalism. "This was not a hard sale among our faculty or the faculty in the Senate," said Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs for the Journalism School, referring to the pressing need for a program like this amid the changing atmosphere of journalism. Tu said this program will produce journalists who can work competitively in the changing industry. "We are finally able to help the industry in ways we haven't been able to before. ... We can help the industry save itself," he said, adding, "I think it [the program] will evolve organically." Jonathan Landman, deputy managing editor at the New York Times and Journalism '78, said that the program will be useful in "narrowing the conceptual gap" between these two groups of people. Landman was involved in the initial discussions of the program. "How we [reporters] get a story isn't changing. What is changing is how we tell stories--an increasing combination of new and old technologies," Andrew Springer, a student in the Journalism School and one of their representatives on the University Senate, said in an email. "The J-school has done a good job teaching students these new skills and this new degree program is the next obvious step in that progression." "Everybody here wants Columbia to be on the cutting edge of journalism," he added. amber.tunnell@columbiaspectator.com

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