Media and communications have never held greater global relevance or significance, making degrees in these subjects among the most exciting and widely applicable today.
In terms of media and communications, we live in a very exciting age. While traditional media such as film, television and radio are still hugely significant, and, of course, no one goes without a mobile phone, the dawning of the internet age has really changed the paradigm.
And it really is still a dawning – though we might struggle to imagine or remember how things used to be, a decade ago most online households were still using dial-up modems, and ten more years back it the internet was unheard of!
In this short space of time, media and communications have become even bigger business than they were before. Think of the companies and brands whose names have dominated the past ten years or so – Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Apple, Nokia – and you’ll notice that they all fall under the media and communications umbrella.
Any claim, therefore, that media and communications studies are ‘soft’ or irrelevant, is rendered null and void. Real and immensely pertinent global issues and phenomena which affect the lives and livelihoods of vast swathes of the world’s population – think of the role played by social media in the Arab Spring for instance – are put under the microscope by these subjects.
They are, therefore, hugely significant, whether studied from a practical viewpoint in order to gain the skills needed to participate in the industry or from an analytical viewpoint in order to understand their significance.
A multidisciplinary approach
Professor Marita Sturken, Chair of the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University (NYU), describes media studies as follows: “The analysis of media in all potential forms, from the medium of paper and writing to visual media and sound/audio media, photographic, electronic, and digital media.
"As an academic discipline it is interdisciplinary, encompassing study of the news media, media industries, visual and sound studies, technology studies, art media, media history, global media, and the politics of media.”
So we’re talking about a very wide subject area here, and this only really considers the social science side of the analysis/practical spectrum inherent in media and communications studies.
At graduate level, this means that relevant university departments will offer courses and specializations as diverse as creative writing, advertising, desktop publishing, marketing, cultural policy, film studies, print and electronic journalism, public relations, and, of course, the now ubiquitous social media, to name but a few.
Analysis and training
The range of careers into which you might move after studying one of these disciplines is as wide as the subjects themselves, and it is with one specific career in mind that many graduate level students will choose their discipline.
And with media and communications permeating all of our existences more and more, those with analytical skills will have as much of a role to play as those with vocational ones. Many courses will feature elements of both.
That said, it must be acknowledged that these are very competitive fields at the best of times. Breaking into them at a time when employment levels are not at their strongest, therefore, will necessitate high levels of drive and commitment. Of course, having a graduate qualification will certainly help.
You’ll also have given yourself another advantage. As Professor William McDonald, cinematography professor and Chair of the Graduate Council at UCLA puts it: “Film, Television and Digital Media are probably THE globally relevant subjects in today’s world.” Your degree, therefore, will be advantageous to you nearly anywhere in the world.
However, where you want to work is certainly something you should take into consideration when choosing somewhere to study, as different parts of the world have different media and communications needs.
These subjects, it has been noted, are particularly popular in Anglophone countries (though certainly not limited to them!). This is borne out in the 2012 QS World University Rankings by Subject: Communication and Media Studies, in which we can see that universities in North America, the UK, and Australia dominate the table.
But there is no shortage of quality provision elsewhere, and as media and communications become more and more significant, it seems likely that universities across the globe will increasingly turn their attention to these dynamic and exciting subject areas.
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