By Zainab Iqbal
Published: February 15th, 2017
This semester, Brooklyn College welcomed new professors in various departments, ranging from Film, Kinesiology, Music Composition, and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. Among those is 25-year-old Professor Jason Silverstein, who teaches Tools of Storytelling in the Journalism and Media Studies (JAMS) department.
The Buffalo native is currently a news writer at the New York Daily News, where he has been working for the past three years. He writes multiple stories a day while jumping across different beats, though he says stories on crime and criminal justice raise a particular interest. News reporting, he believes, involves dealing with a lot of difficult situations and getting to the truth of things. He believes it’s harder and comes with more responsibility, than other fields of journalism such as arts or entertainment, but it’s rewarding. As of this point, Silverstein has written a total of 2,087 articles at the NY Daily News—a number that came as a total surprise to him.
“I’ve had a role in covering some of the biggest stories happening in the country—most of them tragic things; mass shootings, terror attacks,” said Silverstein. “Last month I was in DC covering the protests at the inauguration and the women’s march.”
Silverstein is also a graduate from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and that’s where he says part of his motivation for teaching comes from—but not in the ways one would think.
“The education is inadequate. The biggest thing is that they have a name brand they can fall back on. And that leads to a lot of complacency,” said Silverstein of the graduate school. “They don’t necessarily have to be great, or innovative, or ahead of the curve, because they are the only journalism school within the Ivy League. Therefore, people are always going to be applying, always going to be wanting to go.”
He went on talk about the high acceptance rate, saying “When you accept as many people as they do, they will inevitably produce a lot of people who perpetuate this idea that if you go there you’ll be really successful.” He decided to teach because he wanted to give students the education that he believed he wasn’t getting “for all the money [he] was forking over to them.”
But why teaching? Silverstein believes that once someone is working, they start to miss the academic environment. While pursuing a career, there are several paramount questions a person usually wonders, such as what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. It’s hard to contemplate such questions during a work day, which is why Silverstein sought an opportunity like the one he has now at Brooklyn College.
Silverstein discussed the lack of full-time working journalist professors at any given journalism program. Even some of the best professors aren’t working in the industry full time, he said. In fact, many of those who are working, have a senior position of some sort that “the people they’re teaching can’t realistically expect anytime soon.”
The young professor doesn’t think of himself as the best of the best. As a full-time journalist, he believes he has a realistic mindset to prepare journalism students for the current media environment. “I have a first hand perspective of what you need to do to get hired now, and what it’s like to be in the trenches of the newsroom, and see all the changes that are happening—and what you have to do to flow,” he said. “I don’t have a Pulitzer or 25 years of experience, but if there’s anything I have, it’s that.”
Last year, Brooklyn College created a journalism program within the TV and Radio department focused on multimedia, called JAMS. The traditional journalism program, on the other hand, is a part of the English department. Students in the field have found it difficult to choose between one. But according to Silverstein, this merging is a necessity.
“There are a lot of journalism schools, including Columbia, that have always taught it that way, where they thought about journalism and technological journalism as separate things,” said Silverstein of the two departments. “To teach anybody one of those things, you need to know all of it and be prepared for all of that to keep coming together. There was one period where all you had to do was work at a newspaper, or a TV station, and now you need to be multi-employable. You could have any number of jobs. It’s a wise idea to start putting those things together as much as possible.”
Silverstein reiterated the quickly evolving industry of journalism. Every year there is something new added, or taken out from the field. For example, right now multimedia reporting is at its peak. Reporters take to various media outlets such as Twitter to tell their stories. It is a quick and convenient way for articles to reach an audience of over a thousand people all across the world. And that is what Silverstein aims to teach his students.
“The most important thing you can learn is to have an open mind about these changes. And a mentality in where you’ll be willing to learn about the new things that come in the industry,” said Silverstein. “That’s more important than having to learn how to tweet; because anyone can do that.”
An example he had about the ever-changing industry, was the time he was 14 years old with a journalism job—yes, you read that right. He was a stringer at his local newspaper, writing for a weekly teen section. Right now, though, it’s completely difficult to find even an internship, let alone a job. Fortunately, Silverstein understands that completely.
“Right when I finished high school, they cut that section from 12 pages a week to four, and from every day a week, to only the school year,” he said about his previous job. The industry is always changing, reiterated Silverstein, “I can tell you how to get a job at 14 if this was 2005, but it’s not.”
Is he ever right about that. The past year and a half has brought a new face in the political atmosphere: President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has managed to insult every race, ethnicity, and media outlet in America—citing any news “against” him as “fake news”. The president wholeheartedly believes that the media is out to get him. So where does that leave the news industry?
“What the press can do is continue to be the credible, fair opposition to the people in power. Because that’s how it was always supposed to be,” said Silverstein. “We did as much as we could by exposing his falsehood and conflicts. No one should go into journalism because they expect to be respected, or expect to be liked, or expect people in power to work with them. That’s never been a part of the bargain at all.”
So what advice does Silverstein have for young journalists seeking a future in the fast-pace, hated-by-the-president industry?
“The time you’re working in is always going to offer opportunities at that moment,” he said. “It’s a matter of trying your best to seize an opportunity at the moment.”