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In Response to the Journalism Merger

PHOTO/ pxhere
PHOTO/ pxhere

By Sandy Mui

Published: May 2nd, 2018 

I am a Brooklyn College junior majoring in journalism and media studies (JAMS), but minoring in journalism. It’s sometimes confusing to explain to people. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

As someone who’s gotten the “best of both worlds” by being a part of both programs, I was more than thrilled to learn about the journalism merger that will take place in 2020, even though I won’t be able to experience it. In the words of a few JAMS and English journalism professors I’ve spoken to, the merger “only makes sense.” “It’s about time.” 

Similar to the experiences of many other students in either journalism program, it was tough for me to decide which program to join. In the fall of my sophomore year, I was taking the introductory courses to both programs; for English journalism, it was “News Writing: An Introduction to Journalism (ENGL 2401),” and for JAMS/Television & Radio, it was “Introduction to Mass Media (TVRA 1165).” I figured I could prolong my decision by doing this, as well as test out both departments to see which one I liked more.

I was eventually convinced by John Anderson, the founder and current director of JAMS, that JAMS could help shape me into a well-rounded individual who has a deep understanding of the vastly-changing media landscape. Still, I didn’t want to completely abandon the English journalism program, and why does it have to be one program or the other? (Cue the “Why not both?” meme.)

My decision to declare a minor in English journalism kind of came on the fly. I learned from Ron Howell, my news writing professor, that I’d have to declare the minor by the end of the Fall of 2016 to guarantee the program’s classes would be available to me during my time at Brooklyn College. The backstory for why this was the case is a bit more complicated, and to learn more about that, you can catch up on The Excelsior’s coverage of why the journalism merger initially didn’t happen. Still, declaring the minor technically wasn’t a forced decision for me, since I had valid reasons to be interested in the English journalism program’s classes. 

First and foremost, before anything else I do as a “multi-platform journalist”— a term I coined after Googling what exactly to call myself a few months ago—I am a writer. I entered the journalism industry as a writer, and I will always be one. Writing will forever lie at the core of every aspect of journalism, be it social media posts, radio scripts, or even the caption of a photo.

That was my rationale for wanting to take extra courses in the English journalism department. Sounds reasonable, right? As many journalism students become aware of early into their studies, however, even writing—the foundation of journalism—isn’t enough.

Given the current media landscape, it’s nearly (if not entirely) impossible to survive as a journalist by only having the ability to write in your repertoire. Media companies are looking for students who can code, cover many topics, work across many different platforms…and the list goes on. It’s pretty insane and kind of unfair to expect students to have time to acquire so many skills while they’re still in school. Unfortunately, that’s the reality we all have to live with. That’s why the journalism merger is the perfect marriage between two programs that teach skills in different aspects of the journalism industry. 

You know me as the web manager of The Excelsior. I’ve also done many other things, from podcasting to curating newsletters. I’ve embraced all these different journalistic tools, even though I didn’t realize it at first.

Both programs have their strengths and flaws. I’m not here to point out the flaws, since I’ve gained valuable skills and knowledge from both programs. 

The benefits of JAMS were apparent extremely quickly, ironically through two of the toughest courses I’ve ever taken. In the spring of my sophomore year (the semester I started JAMS classes), I enrolled in John Anderson’s “Journalism and Society” (TVRA 2726W) class and Jason Silverstein’s “Tools of Storytelling” (TVRA 2032) class. Anderson opened my eyes to the issues that plague the media industry, which introduced me to the fascinating theoretical aspect of journalism. Silverstein’s class was a mix of many things—from the class name, literally the “tools of storytelling,” but our final project was also an in-depth feature that required original reporting. (By the way Jason, if you’re reading this, thanks so much for teaching me how to write a proper lede for a feature.) From there, I became heavily invested in honing my craft across different platforms, and it’s now my ultimate goal to determine how to properly use all of these different journalistic tools together. 

To prospective journalism students, you unfortunately won’t be able to learn from Anderson since he’s leaving after this semester. 2020 is a while from now, so it’s unclear whether Silverstein will still be at BC at that time, but he expressed confidence in the journalism merger.

“I’m glad the merger is finally happening because it’s the only sensible way to teach journalism today,” Silverstein told The Excelsior. “Keeping the programs separate put students on each track at a disadvantage—they had to choose between focusing on either writing or digital skills, and then they’d have to compete with students form other programs that teach it all. So I expect that it’s going to help every journalism student at this school.” 

I realized the advantages of the English journalism program one semester after JAMS did, only because that’s when I had time to begin my minor in journalism. In the fall of my junior year, I enrolled in Jessica Siegel’s “Multimedia Magazine Journalism” (ENGL 3405) class. My decision to take this class stemmed from the subtle interest I had in feature writing from the final project for Silverstein’s class, but I had no idea this would be the beginning of another chapter in my journalistic career. In Siegel’s class, I wrote four features—two feature profiles and two in-depth features—and really learned the process behind putting together a good feature by dissecting already-published feature stories and zeroing in on the art of observation. Since then, feature writing has been my primary focus in journalism.

To the anonymous student from The Excelsior’s story last week about the journalism merger, I, too, am slightly concerned about how much emphasis the new program will put on writing. I can tell you that JAMS currently does not emphasize writing, which is truly a travesty because everything in journalism revolves around writing. But, knowing the prestige of the current English journalism program, I’m sure the English journalism professors won’t let writing completely slip away from the new program.

One thing I greatly wish to happen with the reformed program is more communication between the people heading the program and the students. Last semester, Dr. Katherine Fry, the head of the Television & Radio department, made an unexpected visit to Claire Serant’s Fundamentals of Newswriting class. During her visit, Dr. Fry tried to reassure students that there’s nothing wrong regarding the future of the JAMS program, and she emphasized the department would maintain an open line of communication with students to inform them which courses would be offered in future semesters. It seems those were empty promises, since I found out via CUNYFirst a little prior to Fall registration that “Information Curation and Verification” (TVRA 4042) would not be offered, even though it was originally listed as an offered class for the Fall.

If that isn’t revealing enough for you, I found out about the journalism merger through The Kingsman’s article that broke the news. When Zainab Iqbal, The Excelsior’s managing editor, asked me for quotes for her story last week, I had countless questions for her because I literally knew nothing about the merger. 

It isn’t too late for the leaders of the Television & Radio department to rectify this little communication with students. I assume that the department would like to see their students be successful, and it can only help the students if the department informs them about important changes. It’ll be difficult to make the transition from two separate programs in two separate departments to one combined program in the Television & Radio department, but students will want to know what’s going on every step of the way.

I have high hopes for the journalism merger, and I wish all parties involved the best of luck and success.

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