Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


July 9, 2009

Starting From Scratch

The dean of CUNY's graduate journalism program on why it's never been a better time for journalism education.

Cody Brown

Now that Twitter is getting three times as many visits as the New York Times's website, starting a journalism school might seem like creating a law school in the middle of a national political coup. But the City University of New York gave it a shot anyway.

Launched in 2004, CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism has gotten off the ground during a brutal revolution of the profession. The school started humbly, with board members saying that their emphasis was on strong traditional reporting and editing skills, but this quickly changed. CUNY recruited two seemingly disparate personalities: Stephen Shepard, the former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek; and Jeff Jarvis, a media consultant with a popular personal blog,Buzz Machine. The result has been a fascinating mix of new- and old-journalism initiatives, such as, that have put the program on the map—or at least on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Shepard, CUNY Graduate School of Jouralism.
"We are teaching the critical and ethical values that were taught in journalism school 10 to 15 years ago, but we are taking advantage of all the possibilities that digital now allows."

Photo courtesy of Stephen Shepard, CUNY Graduate School of Jouralism.

In the following interview, which was conducted over the phone and has been edited for clarity, Shepard shares his thoughts on what interactive means, how to train today's journalists, and why it's actually a great time to start a J-school.

Gelf Magazine: How much does it cost to get a graduate degree at CUNY's Journalism School?

Stephen Shepard: $12,835

Gelf Magazine:When CUNY's journalism school launched, a member of the board said, ''Our emphasis will be on making sure people are strong reporters and editors.'' What is the emphasis of the program now? Has it evolved?

Stephen Shepard: Yes, it's changed. The internet has had an impact on our curriculum. Tom Rosenstiel says it best: "We are the Prius generation, the hybrid profession." We balance the internal verities of being good reporters with the new world of digital technology. We are teaching the critical and ethical values that were taught in journalism school 10 to 15 years ago, but we are taking advantage of all the possibilities that digital now allows—specifically in multimedia and interactivity.

Gelf Magazine:The CUNY program seems to be attached to the idea of "Interactive Journalism." What do you mean by it? How does CUNY teach interactive journalism?

Stephen Shepard: Doing interactive means offering something different than multimedia. It means building the links in, and interacting directly with, the audience. It's soliciting story ideas from them in the first place, crowdsourcing, comments and response, and, in some cases, building the community itself. In many ways, it's learning to be a blogger.
Most importantly, it's no longer just a supplement. Interactive is a new way of thinking about how to do a story, and it involves constantly asking for input on what the best way is to tell this particular one.

Gelf Magazine: CUNY Journalism school created the New Business Models for News Project. How has it influenced the graduate school's curriculum?

Stephen Shepard: Let me answer that question by backing up a little. Part of the curriculum of CUNY is a course called Entrepreneurial Journalism. The course is taught by Jeff Jarvis, and it has been in the curriculum since the start of the program. The idea is that students come in with a new journalism product and spend the course first refining it, and then pitching it. The McCormick Foundation has donated money and at the end of the semester a panel funds the standout projects.
The class has evolved into a center for journalism innovation, in which a big chunk of the center is dedicated to new business models for news.

Gelf Magazine: What are some of the interesting findings of the New Business Models for News project?

Stephen Shepard: We are concentrating on two different types of projects. The first is a hyperlocal project for a small town and the second is a news organization for a bigger city. We are presenting our findings this August in Aspen.

Gelf Magazine: How has the program developed a following in such a short amount of time?

Stephen Shepard: Jeff Jarvis helps. He's very visible.

Gelf Magazine: Is now really a good time to be starting a journalism school?

Stephen Shepard: It's a great time to start a journalism school; there is something brand new to learn. We didn't have to un-do anything. We could design it from scratch.

Gelf Magazine: If you aspired to be a lawyer but the bar exam was in the process of a massive overhaul, would you still go to law school?

Stephen Shepard: Journalism doesn't have a bar exam. The closest thing is whether or not you get a job, and in that case, you are better off going to journalism school. I think that what's going on now is very beneficial for journalism education. There is something brand new to learn for the first time and there is an excitement that journalism is being re-imagined. Our applications are up 50 percent.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think journalism school will start to become more like film school, with students entering for the love of the craft over steady job opportunities?

Stephen Shepard: Yes. I think certain journalists will do freelance journalism like independent filmmakers do indie features. There will be a kind of a cadre of people who don't have a job in the conventional sense, but have a passion for journalism and will express it whenever possible.
There is going to be a lot more of that than there was before. Some people like that idea. We had some students who didn't want a job; they wanted to freelance. That's why they want to be trained to do it on their own. They still need the skills and they know it.

Gelf Magazine: Many of your professors are prolific Twitter users. I follow them and feel like I'm enrolled in CUNY. Is this a problem for you guys?

Stephen Shepard: No. What is there to be proprietary about? I'm not afraid of giving away too much information. We are very open about who we are and what we're doing—as a university should be.

Gelf Magazine: If there is one big takeaway from a student leaving your program, what would it be?

Stephen Shepard: Be a converged journalist. Use multiple platforms without sacrificing the traditions of the craft.

Cody Brown

Cody Brown is a student at New York University.

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Article by Cody Brown

Cody Brown is a student at New York University.

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