What it means for students, for professors, and the dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
By Zainab Iqbal
Published: April 25th, 2018
After five years of pushing for a merger between the English journalism program and TV and radio journalism (TVRA); after reported nixes and internal drama; after journalism students having to make a very important program decision; the merger is finally set for the year 2020.
There’s no turning back now.
“I am very happy it’s happening,” Dr. Katherine Fry, chairperson of TVRA, said. “It will be a full integration of both curriculums.”
The new program, which would be called Journalism and Media Studies (JAMS), will be placed in the TVRA department rather than English. A JAMS program currently exists, but students in that program and students currently in the English journalism program will be taught out to make room for the merger. “Teaching out” is a process where students currently enrolled in the program will continue working on their degree and no new students will be added.
“This program will be in JAMS, a title that will truly describe what we will do there,” professor Anthony Mancini, director of the English journalism program, said. “It will finally be the real journalism and media studies program.”
The current JAMS program came into the picture in Fall 2016 after curriculum reviews, talks of merging, and self-studies. It was an improved version of TVRA’s previous Broadcast Journalism program. Professors in the English department thought it would make sense to combine the college’s two journalism programs into a big one. But talks of integration caused a whole lot of internal drama—including professors not being cooperative—and essentially the current JAMS program was created and English journalism remained where it always was. The only thing that changed was that new courses were added into the English journalism curriculum and professor Paul Moses, who had pushed for an integration, retired from teaching.
“The English department fought for the integration very hard,” Moses said. “As we were debating on how to do it, TV and Radio pulled out and suddenly didn’t want to integrate.”
Then last October, something snapped. Mancini was suddenly stripped of his title. Ellen Tremper, the chairperson of the English department, felt he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. There was also a bit of internal political drama concerning a hiring line the English program thought it was going to get, but didn’t. After students, professors, and alumni got involved, Mancini got his title back. Perhaps that was what was needed to get the integration discussion rolling again, because a few months after that, professors within both departments were requesting a meeting to restart the conversation.
On Feb. 26, a meeting took place. The verdict? There will be a merger once and for all.
“I’m thrilled we were able to reach this point,” Fry said. “It was an effort from everybody.”
At the meeting, curriculum changes were discussed. The English program will be bringing over its courses including newswriting, digital news lab, and beat reporting, among others. Courses which overlap with the current JAMS program will be combined together, also allowing students with many more options of courses to choose from. The new program will also provide students with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree.
Mancini will no longer hold the senior position and a search for the new director will begin.
“It takes sacrifice and I’ll lose my seniority but that doesn’t matter,” Mancini said. “I’ll still be advising and I’ll still be teaching.”
English Journalism professor Ron Howell will also continue teaching, and he’s happily awaiting 2020.
“It was wasteful and embarrassing to have two journalism programs in two departments,” he said. “I’m finally glad it’s getting resolved.”
The new program will also bring new changes for prospective students, as they will no longer have to scratch their heads deciding which program to focus on. Students will have the ability to learn extensive writing skills all while learning multimedia—both of which are essential to journalism today.
“Students will have more options and more platforms to pursue whatever they want,” Mancini said. “They’ll have the basic grounding in nitty, gritty journalism that we teach, without having to jump from one program to another.”
Fry very much agrees with Mancini: “It will be less confusing for students when they know journalism will be in one spot. It also means that we can put all of the journalism resources in one space, so it’s really, really good for everyone.”
“This means a lot to me because journalism is the craft of truth-telling,” Howell said. “I’m confident it’s going to live as long as the country does.”
Some journalism students feel the exact same way. Sandy Mui is the web manager at the Excelsior. She is also majoring in JAMS with a minor in English journalism. Why? So she could get the best of both worlds.
“From what I can tell, the merger will help address two problems with the current JAMS program,” Mui said. “Firstly, JAMS stresses theory much more than writing, which makes sense since the program is in the Television & Radio department. However, writing is still a fundamental aspect of the journalism profession. Secondly, a major issue JAMS currently faces is the lack of offered classes.”
Mui was looking forward to taking Information Curation and Verification (TVRA 4042) next semester, but when she looked at the course schedule, she saw the class wasn’t being offered in the fall. She assumes that has much to do with “the lack of faculty in the department, as well as how difficult it is to bring in someone who’s capable of teaching such a complex course.”
“Combining both journalism programs will help this problem in the sense that students will have more of a variety of classes to choose from, and professors from both departments will be at the college’s disposal to teach these courses,” she said.
But some students are also concerned. One student spoke about how combining the two programs will put less emphasis on writing, something which was heavily pushed upon in the English journalism program. He brought up a point: What if so much emphasis is put on making videos and taking photos, that we forget how to write?
Sarah Bartlett is the Dean of City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism. She has been in the graduate school since its opening in 2006 and only learned about BC’s two journalism programs three years ago. Before that, she was well aware BC had a “very strong, robust journalism program,” as the applications she was reading from BC students were well articulated.
To answer the student’s concern, she had this to say: “I’m sure everyone at Brooklyn College appreciates both strands of journalism. You can’t be successful in TV and radio journalism if you’re not good at reporting and writing. We offer TV and radio courses here, but we also offer and expect anyone who’s taking these courses to also take reporting and writing. Journalism is a big ball of wax and you have to be given both of those skill sets.”
In 2015, both journalism programs were conducting reviews to better understand what they were dealing with. Bartlett was asked to help with the review, where she spent about three days speaking with students, faculty, and administration to “get a better handle and make some recommendations,” she said.
“I felt there should be one program. I thought it didn’t serve students well,” Bartlett said. “It saddened me to learn that students in one program did not even know, in some cases, that the other program existed, or that there were courses that would’ve been relevant to them. That felt like a terrible, missed opportunity. I think the concept that there should be a single undergraduate journalism program at BC that was robust made a lot of sense.”
She, along with others, believes that students will get the strengths of the English department version, which includes reporting, writing, and the ethics of traditional journalism, and would be able to combine that with more training in TV, radio, and digital skills that are present in the TV and Radio department.
“It’s really the perfect blend of those two very important parts of a new journalism career for a student,” she said.
Though Bartlett didn’t personally insert herself into the internal debates, she did stay in touch with then-BC president Karen Gould and the current president Michelle Anderson, to “try to get them to embrace a merger.”
Journalism professors hope that the transition to the new program runs smoothly and that the new program is effective for future students.
“I think it’s great for students. It always was,” Moses said. “I hope we had done it three or four years ago. This is great for future students and a great asset to see the two programs united.”