M.A. Online: Curriculum


Our challenging curriculum addresses the issues reshaping media and communication today. Students learn concepts and skills with an emphasis on applied research and critical thinking.

The 30-credit program consists of nine courses taken over two years and one summer term (two courses per semester, one during summer), followed by a final thesis project in the last semester. There is a set curriculum, a prescribed list of courses that are designed to be taken in order.

Students also participate in two required on-campus experiences, a two-day orientation at the beginning of the program and a five-day summer residency the following May.


Fall 1

On-campus Experience: Orientation

Students begin the online master’s program by gathering in person for an August orientation on campus in Chapel Hill. A week before classes begin, you’ll spend two days in Carroll Hall getting to know the curriculum, your faculty, graduate students from other MJ-school programs and your cohort of fellow working professionals.

You’ll learn about the format and expectations for your first-year classes and hear from program alumni about strategies for learning online and balancing school with family and work responsibilities. Training sessions about library resources and technical tools provide the technical details you need to get started.


MEJO 711: Writing for Digital Media

Digital media combine and converge skill sets, tools and technologies. They also blur the traditional roles of producer and consumer, publisher and reader, message sender and message receiver. This course is about writing — clearly, precisely, accurately, with energy and voice, and for specific audiences. Good writing is valued on screen just as it is on paper. Effective writing is, as an editor at the Los Angeles Times website once said, about putting the right words in the right order.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Further develop your abilities to write clearly, precisely, accurately, with energy and voice, and for specific digital audiences
  • Learn practical skills for writing and developing content for digital publishing and delivery
  • Understand how to purposefully blend text, graphical content, multimedia and links
  • Explore how trends in personal publishing and social media are transforming journalism and public relations


Andy Bechtel

Professor Bechtel teaches editing for print and digital media. He's interested in headline writing, social media and alternative story forms.



MEJO 716: Research Methods and Applications

Knowledge of the logic, conduct and ethics of research is essential and empowering. Communication professionals have more research tools at their disposal than ever before, and they are under more pressure than ever to measure and evaluate the impact of communication products and services. This introduction to research methods and applications will help communication professionals make better and more informed decisions about why, how, when and where to use research and what methods of research are appropriate given the compelling research challenge and resource opportunities and constraints (time and money). This course provides both a broad overview of relevant research methods and practical experience in conducting research.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to research
  • Evaluate discipline-relevant research studies
  • Articulate a research problem and questions
  • Explain why particular research methods would answer the questions posed
  • Write a research proposal


Nori Comello

Dr. Comello's research focuses on developing and testing messages to promote health and other prosocial issues, guided by theories relating to identity and self-concept.



Spring 1

MEJO 713: Digital Data and Analytics

This course explores the fundamental concepts and principles that underlie techniques for extracting useful information and knowledge from data, particularly focusing on modern digital platforms. The primary goal of the course is to help you view problems from a data perspective and understand how to systematically analyze such problems. More importantly, the goal of this class is for you to learn what data actually mean and how you can use data strategically. This data-analytic thinking can then be applied in a variety of ways, from data-driven storytelling to the creation of actionable insights.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Understand the types of questions that data can and cannot answer and how data are used in a variety of communication fields
  • Understand the ethical implications of accessing/using data
  • Understand the basics of data analysis
  • Learn how to best communicate and present the results of your analysis


Joseph Cabosky

Dr. Cabosky's research and creative work focuses on diversifying public relations by better appreciating the differences among publics and how this diversity should lead to better ways to build relationships with publics and stakeholders.



MEJO 715: New Media and Society

The creation and diffusion of digital media and other communication technologies, combined with the rising sophistication of computer software and hardware, have transformed the ways that individuals, organizations and corporations communicate. This course is designed to introduce you to cutting-edge trends and the latest advancements in the information technology landscape. It will focus on theoretical models and frameworks that are relevant in digital environments as well as practical applications of those models and frameworks. Through a combination of lectures, readings, assignments and projects, you will develop a nuanced understanding of diverse new media topics.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Learn about a variety of new media technologies and applications
  • Become familiar with research into the use and effects of digital media and the accompanying ethical implications
  • Translate conceptual understandings of new media into practical applications
  • Learn strategies for critiquing new media research
  • Develop a theoretically grounded set of digital communication best practices in an area of personal and professional interest to you


Deb Aikat

Dr. Aikat theorizes about the evolving roles of media and journalism in the digital age.



Summer 1

On-campus Experience: Summer Residency

Following the first year of instruction, students attend a weeklong residency (Monday-Friday) in May. In addition to further connecting with your classmates, you’ll work with MJ-school faculty and equipment to shoot and edit an audio-visual storytelling project. You’ll also receive leadership training and have other chances throughout the week to get to know school faculty. Your summer and second-year instructors will introduce themselves and their courses.

Significant time during the residency is dedicated to preparing students for the final thesis project. The program director will outline the project process and requirements. She will meet with you individually to discuss your preliminary ideas, and a panel of alumni will share their experiences.


MEJO 717: Information Visualization

This course explores the overlap of several disciplines: cognitive science, design, information visualization, data visualization, information architecture and storytelling. In this course, you will learn the basic rules of graphic design and information visualization through readings, discussions on real-world examples and the design of several projects. The goal is not that you become a designer, but that you learn to visually organize information to communicate.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Investigate forms of information design, information graphics and data visualization
  • Demonstrate understanding of design principles and information visualization
  • Articulate cognitive theory as it applies to information design and data visualization
  • Identify and analyze effective or misleading data charts, maps and visualizations
  • Produce static and interactive information graphics and data visualizations
  • Effectively communicate and defend visual communication strategies and opinions
  • Develop and produce in-depth data and visual storytelling projects


Elizabeth Shell

Professor Shell is a journalist and designer of visual storytelling for multiple platforms. She focuses on how to get those stories in front of new audiences and to those who need them.



Fall 2

MEJO 720: Strategic Communication

This course explores marketing communication, which is being transformed by non-traditional practices and digital communication. Students integrate the knowledge they’ve learned in the program to identify a business challenge and use concepts from the course to evaluate the situation and propose a comprehensive marketing communication plan (using a combination of owned, paid and earned media) to advance the objectives and goals of the organization.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Understand the role of research and planning in successfully engaging with stakeholders
  • Understand the differences between paid, owned and earned media; describe the impact of digital media on traditional marketing strategy; and integrate paid, earned and owned media into effective marketing communication campaigns
  • Evaluate integrated marketing strategies and plans for a brand or an organization
  • Create an integrated advertising and marketing plan for a brand or organization to solve a business challenge
  • Measure, monitor and calibrate integrated advertising and marketing strategies for a brand or organization


Josh Carlton

Professor Carlton is fascinated by the intersection of decision-making, cognitive thinking and tech. He has solved digital and brand marketing problems for more than 60 companies in nearly every industry, across more than 20 categories.



MEJO 721: Usability and Multimedia Design

This course introduces you to the basics of digital design and helps you develop expertise in their application. Understanding users and their behaviors will lead you to becoming an effective creator of digital products. By reading, viewing and discussing the writings and works of UX professionals, journalists, artists, Web developers, photographers, usability experts, graphic designers, educators and researchers, you will deepen your appreciation for each distinct media form. By examining the latest eye-tracking research and conducting usability research, you will be able to critique and assess the practical application of concepts. Through original creations and exercises, you will work to expertly integrate all this knowledge into well-designed packages.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Understand and employ usable design and user-centered design
  • Incorporate and evaluate appropriate elements of digital storytelling, including layout, organization and visual resources
  • Assess effectiveness of information delivery through understanding user testing


Laura Ruel

Professor Ruel teaches design, user experience and interactive media for the school’s visual communication sequences.



Spring 2

MEJO 718: Media Law for the Digital Age

Just as the internet has jolted the communication business, it has sent a shockwave through the field of communication law. Professional communicators and legal scholars are struggling to understand how “old” law applies to “new” technology, and to figure out what, if any, new law is needed. This is the subject of this course: traditional media law and its application to new communication technologies. You will explore the delicate balance that traditionally has existed between freedom and control of the communication media and how the internet has shaken that balance. You also will study both theoretical aspects of the law and how the law applies to your professional work.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Become familiar with the U.S. system of freedom of expression, including its historical and philosophical bases
  • Understand the judicial system and process
  • Develop a working knowledge of media law so that, when working as a professional communicator, you can assert your legal rights and avoid needless infractions of the law
  • Improve your ability to read critically and to analyze and synthesize what you read
  • Introduce you to legal-research skills so you can research legal issues and keep abreast of changes in the law in the future


Tori Ekstrand

Dr. Ekstrand uses critical and mixed methods approaches to studying media law and policy – with specific research on conflicts between copyright law and the First Amendment and on web accessibility for people with disabilities.



MEJO 719: Leadership in Digital Media Economics

We are living through a period of immense economic disruption in the media industry. The creation of the internet and all that it has wrought—interconnectivity, immediacy—set in motion the destruction of the business models that supported traditional news organizations such as newspapers, broadcast television and radio for decades. In this course, you will learn what it takes to survive and thrive while leading media and technology companies in this tumultuous era. We will examine in depth the critical strategic choices facing executives in both start-ups and established companies. You will be introduced to applied concepts in organizational behavior, managing change and branding.

This course is designed to help you:

  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the critical decision-making skills you will need to succeed in the media industry in the 21st century
  • Develop a framework for better assessing future opportunities and risks of business enterprises and innovations they will encounter or are contemplating


Mark Briggs

An author, entrepreneur and executive, Professor Briggs focuses on digital strategy, business development, workplace transformation, audience and revenue building, teaching and collaboration.



Fall 3

MEJO 992: Non-traditional Thesis

After completing coursework and a final examination, student work in the MATC culminates with enrollment in MEJO 992: Non-Traditional Thesis, a three-part final project that includes:

  • A written proposal for the final project
  • A written document that summarizes the final project
  • A formal presentation and oral examination in which the student presents the completed work to his or her committee

The final project involves a study around an issue or challenge facing an organization or business with a digital media focus. It emphasizes both scholarly and practical application in line with the professional orientation of the program. The subject of the project may be the student’s employer.

Students complete the final project under the direction of a full-time School of Media and Journalism faculty member, who serves as chairperson of the student’s final project committee. Two additional faculty members and/or industry professionals join the chairperson on the committee.

The goal of this project is to provide you a platform to:

  • Synthesize concepts and skills covered in the program
  • Demonstrate mastery of the subject matter
  • Apply knowledge to industry problems and concerns
  • Receive substantive feedback on methodology and findings

Students have used their final projects to tackle real-world work challenges. Some program graduates have credited the project—and accompanying deliverable—as the key to a new job or promotion.