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Two Journalism Programs, One Campus What Happened?

By Zainab Iqbal

Published: April 5th, 2017

After self-studies beginning in 2013, curriculum reviews, administrative meetings, and talks of merging, the TV and Radio (TVRA) department’s Journalism and Media Studies (JAMS) program was initiated this past fall and has about 40 new students in the curriculum already.

“I found the broadcasting program to be wholly deficient,” said Professor John Anderson, the director of JAMS, regarding the old broadcast journalism major. “It was based only on television and commercial TV. We’re a department of television and radio, and it didn’t even mention radio.”

For years, Brooklyn College students interested in journalism had had the option of joining one of two different programs: Journalism through the English department or Broadcast Journalism through the TVRA department. Three years ago, The Excelsior reported a possible merge between these two programs. It is 2017, and there is no merge. What happened?

The journalism professors in the English department were the first to bring up the idea of a merge with the new TVRA journalism program—after all, both are designed for students intending to pursue journalism.

“Professor Moses and I saw the stupidity of two journalism programs in one institution,” said Professor Anthony Mancini, the director of the English journalism program. “At the time, it made sense to have two different programs, because they both were completely different departments: one was broadcast, the other was print. Over the years, the landscape of journalism changed to a degree where there’s very little distinction between electronic and print.”

Soon after the issue was brought up, the chairs of the departments and the provosts met to talk about an integration.

“I wanted the merge for the sake of the students. It didn’t effect me, I was still going to get a salary,” Mancini said.

According to Anderson, they’d all initially decided on the classes that the English journalism program was going to bring over—and “that’s where the discussion ended,” he said, after both programs couldn’t agree on the classes.

Mancini, on the other hand, had only one thing to say, “That’s just not true. We had discussions with the administration and provosts and received a positive reaction from everyone. After self-studies and outside observations, the decision was made that it was a waste of resources to have two programs at the same college.”

After the agreement, there were constant meetings with administration where Mancini believed, “it was pretty clear the merge was going to happen, since they were all making progress.”

But then according to Katherine Fry, the chairperson of TVRA, the “discussion ended” after the summer of 2016.

“We wanted to have a meeting with everyone from both programs, but that wasn’t possible,” Fry said. “We couldn’t get everyone to meet. Someone was across the country, someone couldn’t make it… and it just wouldn’t work.”

So on November 3, 2016, Fry sent out an email to all of the parties involved. The email highlighted the future plans of the JAMS program.

“The Department of English Journalism program will remain in place, and current Journalism majors will be allowed to finish their degree-plan. This teaching-out process will require the continued energies of the Department of English Journalism faculty, and will take a number of years to complete,” the email stated. “The Department of Television and Radio is engaged in a similar process where students who enrolled under the old Broadcast Journalism curriculum can finish their studies under that plan.”

According to Fry, in no way did that email suggest the idea of not merging. To clarify, the TVRA department was open to the idea of an integration, until they believed it wouldn’t work out for the better.

“First of all, it’s not a good excuse to say we didn’t have the meeting because someone wasn’t in the country,” Mancini said. “Every time we tried setting up a meeting, during the summer and the Fall semester, we would either get rejected or there was radio-silence.”

Mancini believed that what Fry was suggesting was a bad idea. She was essentially asking the English journalism program to “teach out” their students. Teaching out students is a process now being done by the old Broadcast Journalism program to efficiently end the old program. Students currently enrolled in the program will continue working on their degree; and no new students will be added. But if the English journalism program did that without the confidence that the merge was going to happen, then they wouldn’t have any students the following semester.

All the back and forth bickering essentially led to two separate programs, just as there had always been. But while the English program will remain the same, the TVRA program will be called Journalism and Media Studies. The question is, did the TVRA department whole-heartedly believe in a merge?

Both Anderson and Fry agree that the philosophies of the two programs are highly different.

Anderson, along with Dr. MJ Robinson (a faculty member in JAMS), went to graduate schools and got PhDs. According to Anderson, that is very important.

“We focus on how to think about journalism before we teach students how to do it,” Anderson said. “It’s very hard to understand how to do something well without understanding the larger context in which it exists.”

The mission statement of JAMS is “to cultivate a critical, ethical, and deliberative paradigm from the practice of journalism as a public service.”

According to Anderson, it’s important to teach students to think outside the box. He wants his students to “be change agents in the world; to inform themselves, be critical, and to engender a similar sentiment among who they communicate with, collaborate with, and generally touch.”

Anderson then went on to explain how the professors in the English journalism program, “are wedded to traditional practices of journalism,” he said. “I think all scholars and teachers who enter the profession are driven by the notion of things can’t remain the same. I don’t get that same sense from my colleagues over in English.”

“I have been teaching for 37 years. I would say we know how to teach,” Mancini said. Mancini was an award-winning reporter and editor at the New York Post, as well as other publications, and is also a novelist. According to him, experience matters a whole lot.

“Look at the feedback we get from our students,” Mancini said. “Look at our record. If students want to become journalists, write and report stories, and have the ethics of a shoe leather journalist, then we do better than they do.”

Among the many people that have graduated from the English journalism program, Glenn Thrush is one that sticks out. Thrush is a New York Times White House correspondent, and before that, was a reporter at Politico. “I got him his first job,” Mancini said proudly.

During a recent interview with The Excelsior, Thrush said he saw no distinction between online and print news reporting. “It’s the same priority,” he said. Though he said he couldn’t comment on the merge, because he didn’t know much about it.

Thrush then credited Mancini for his success in journalism. “Without Professor Mancini, I wouldn’t even be in the business,” he said. Mancini—or Tony, as Thrush called him— did in fact help him get his first job at a local newspaper in the city.

Depending on how one looks at it, the way journalists are perceived in this country has been changing for the past year and a half. Journalists are constantly questioned on their ethics and legitimacy. Big news corporations such as the New York Post and even the New York Times are taking a more biased approach.

According to “Journalism and Silicon Valley: The Balance of Power,” an article at the Columbia Journalism Review, the future of journalism will change in ways hard to imagine.

“Print ads continue to decline, stripping newsrooms of their most robust revenue source. Much of the activity of publishing—packaging and distributing information—is moving off homepages and onto social platforms,” wrote Nausicaa Renner. “Local government coverage in many places gets even more scarce. In five years, there may be fewer jobs, and… little accountability, for journalists.”

And both journalism programs aim to prepare their students for what’s to come.

“In English, technological change was always affected; even back to the days of the telegraph,” Mancini said. “But no matter what the medium, the news and the substance never changes—a good story, factually grounded, and thoroughly reported.”

Professors from both programs agree on the fact that journalism is a vocation rather than a simple profession.

“Don’t go into journalism for the money, don’t do it for the bylines, or the headshots, or the notoriety, or the blue checkmark on Twitter,” Anderson said. “Do it because you’re driven to actually want to make for a better and informed public that can be more actively engaged in dealing with the crises that affect modern American societies. You have to love the act, not just the process.”

Professor Ronald Howell teaches the English journalism program. He too, agrees with Anderson.

“I often say that being a journalist is like taking a vow. And it’s about being as fair and balanced as you can, with the people you’re reporting on but also the people you’re reporting to,” Howell said. “I consider it a craft that’s almost on its own. I think it’s one of the few where people will choose to go into it without wealth being the prime motive.”

Objectivity.

The term is a very confusing one in the field of journalism; because what does it really mean?

According to the American Press Institute, the term “objectivity” was coined during the 1920’s where it called for journalists to “develop a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.” The definition then evolved—if journalists could write their facts in such a way, then the truth “would reveal itself naturally.”

Anderson believes that the term “objectivity” is used by many journalists as a “cop-out.” He believes it is the way of refusing to follow through the hard work of informing the public. “As a journalist, you should look at the evidence and say if there’s a prominence of evidence on one side, then your analysis can actually let the reader or viewer know,” Anderson said.

“As I was growing up, it was ’90 percent of scientists say climate change is real, and here’s ten percent from the oil industry that say it’s not. You decide,’” Anderson said. “I tell my students to be skeptical of old, tired conventions like that. Not that they can’t be useful in certain contexts, but it’s certainly not some sort of rule.”

The journalism professors from the English department have a similar view to Anderson’s when it comes to objectivity—which is quite contrary to what Anderson believed.

Howell thinks of objectivity as “air quotes around the term,” he said.

“I think there are too many journalists who use the term objectivity to show that they are the ones to be believed,” Howell said.  “When the fact of the matter is that people have their own experiences, their childhoods, that influence them. Not to mention religions—that influences what you think about the world. So objectivity has to be explained.”

Both journalism programs are filled with students who have passion for news and the truth. Since the JAMS program is in its early stages, it’s hard to predict if students would be able to find jobs—and find the program worth it. The English journalism program has been at this institution for more than 25 years, and has graduated hundreds of students. In fact, Mancini calls his program “a legacy for students who say it’s life changing. And that’s the legacy I don’t want to see tampered with by people who just started off.”

Students seem to agree.

“[Mancini] is a God. The man teaches you the basics of journalism and pushes you to the next level,” a student commented on the infamous Rate My Professors website ten years ago.

The English journalism program enables students to cover legislative hearings, court trials, and press conferences. The program even has its own website, the Brooklyn News Service, where students can get their stories published.

Anderson encourages his students to do the same thing.

“Half of your education comes from your classes, and the other half comes from extracurricular activities such as the two campus newspapers and the radio station,” Anderson said. “You should be blogging, or running a YouTube channel, or doing a podcast. You should be developing a brand of your own on social media. You need to be involved in the work in order to develop the experience, because the more you do it, the better you get.”

Both programs also agree that there can no longer be a merge—as the English journalism program has already started improving its curriculum, and is waiting for approval from the faculty council.

But students say otherwise.

“I think the merge should’ve happened a long time ago,” said Stephanie Farrier, a JAMS student. “I wasn’t familiar with the English journalism program, but now that I’m taking classes, I think it’s important. The field of journalism is changing—being a journalist is changing. We, as students, need to learn the foundations of being good writers, as well as learning how to do it.”

Graduating in 2012 with an English journalism degree, Natalie Musumeci believes print and online news reporting are essentially the same thing.

“To view print media as separate from broadcast media or any other type of media is kind of irrelevant now,” Musumeci said. Musumeci has been working at the New York Post for three years now, and doesn’t consider herself just a “print reporter.”

“Journalists really have to be jack-of-all-trades now,” Musumeci said, “so I think while in college if you can gain as much knowledge as possible in the journalism-broadcast journalism-other media field, the better.”

Both programs say they are different than the other, but are they really? It is unfortunate that faculty members could not collaborate for the sake of the students who have passion for journalism. Nobody enters the field of journalism to be liked. Those who do join the field are students with a love and hunger for the truth. These are students who whole-heartedly believe in their job to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” as Finley Peter Dunne once said.

“I proposed the merger in 2013 because it’s right for the students and it’s right for journalism,” said Professor Paul Moses from the English department’s journalism program. “Our friends in the Television and Radio department supported it enthusiastically—I would never have put the idea forward without that—but someplace along the line that changed, much to my chagrin. I worked my heart out trying to make the merger happen. I’m sorry, for the students’ sake, that the effort failed. The students are the big losers here.”

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