USA Today Ranks Emerson, BU Among Best Journalism Schools in America

The Boston schools beat out high-profile programs at NYU and Syracuse.

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USA Today released its ranking of the top 10 journalism schools in America, with two Boston programs topping list.

Emerson College took top honors, while Boston University placed fourth, behind Northwestern University (2) and University of Texas at Austin (3). Emerson and BU beat out high-profile programs like New York University (7) and Syracuse University (9).

“My first reaction was surprise,” Paul Niwa, chair of Emerson’s journalism department, tells Boston magazine. “We don’t necessarily check rankings, so it hit my mailbox, a congratulations from one of my faculty, and I was in disbelief. It’s not something we monitor or try to rank high, we just try to have a creative, forward-looking experience for our journalism students, regardless of what opinion polls or rankings might be.”

Niwa attributes Emerson’s success to the program’s willingness to stay flexible during a period of industry upheaval.

“We recognized very early that journalism needed to transform itself, and we’re talking about 15 years ago, going through a conversation about this—not yesterday or two years ago,” Niwa says. “But now, we’re seeing that multimedia journalism, digital journalism, is one of the fastest-growing jobs in America. And our alumni have been on a multimedia curriculum for more than a decade, and that’s why they’ve become more adaptable, and why the unemployment rate for our digital journalists is extremely low.”

“It’s an extremely promising career if you want to embrace the future. It’s a very dismal career, no matter what occupation you’re in, if you’re not thinking about your next step and willing to embrace it,” Niwa says.

William McKeen, chair of the journalism department at Boston University’s College of Communication, was similarly surprised when he learned of USA Today‘s list, if a bit disappointed his alma mater, Indiana University, was left off.

“Rankings like this happen all the time, and I’m not sure the methodology, what makes one school better than the other,” he says. “Naturally, I’m happy to see us named in the top five.”

USA Today teamed up with College Factual to develop the list, taking into account a “unique selection of characteristics,” including each school’s overall quality and the starting and mid-career salaries of graduates.

McKeen says the unique relationship between BU faculty and students is what sets the school apart.

“I think it’s a different kind of faculty. It’s not a faculty assembled because of its academic credentials, although I think the faculty members here are brilliant. It’s a faculty assembled because of their professional background. Not only because of what they’ve done, but because of what they continue to do,” McKeen says.

“The mindset around here is that the faculty looks at students as younger colleague. I think there’s a greater sense of camaraderie between faculty and students than you’ll find elsewhere.”

Boston magazine’s editorial staff boasts three Lions and seven Terriers (including the author).