Dean’s Corner: Happy Fifth to the CUNY J-School
It was hot, about 90 degrees, on that day in August, 2006, when 57 eager students showed up to form the pioneering class of the new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. They didn’t know what to expect, and we weren’t so sure either. Wires hung from the walls, some of the computers weren’t hooked up, and almost as many construction workers were on site as faculty members. But the dust soon settled, students and faculty dug in, and the School took off. Now, here we are, about to mark our fifth birthday.
There are many things to celebrate. First, of course, we have our students. From the first class on, we have been able to attract a strong, diverse group of motivated students. As the only publicly supported graduate school of journalism in the entire Northeast, we have opened up opportunities for aspiring journalists seeking a high-quality program at a reasonable price. Many of them made CUNY their only choice, but others chose us over Columbia, NYU, Northwestern, and other top programs.
Over the past five years, our demographic profile has remained fairly constant: Our students are 25 years old on average, 63% of them are women, and more than one-third are students of color. One thing has changed: We have now developed a national footprint, with 46% of our students coming from out of state, up from 15% when we started. Overall, about 80% of our students receive financial aid from the J-School, thanks to generous donations from so many foundations, media companies, and individuals.
In many ways, we were fortunate to have started this School when we did. We knew the journalism profession was changing – from the traditional world of print and broadcast to the digital world of interactive, multimedia journalism. We didn’t have all the answers, but we were able to create from scratch a new school for a new age – an innovative three-semester curriculum that blends the eternal verities of traditional journalism with the imperatives of new media, a strong faculty hired with change in mind, and a new facility equipped with the latest wireless technology and high-definition equipment.
The J-School came up with other innovations as well: We started a January Academy to offer workshops in specialized writing and the new tools of our trade. We created a NYCity News Service to syndicate student-written stories and videos to media outlets. We offered five subject concentrations to allow students to specialize in a particular beat – whether arts & culture, business & economics, health & science, international, or urban reporting. And we established a summer internship program for our students, the only one I know of that guarantees all students a stipend.
We have learned that many of the problems that ail our profession today are not about journalism per se, but rather about the new business models needed to sustain quality journalism in the digital age. To help find solutions, we have created the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Pending approval from the New York State Departent of Education, we are getting ready to offer the nation’s first M.A. in Entrepreneurial Journalism – a unique blend of business, technology, and journalism for students ready to change the world. We are undertaking research on new business models for news, even as we help students and mid-career fellows incubate new products and services.
We are delighted with the reception our students have gotten when they’ve graduated. In a difficult time, they have found jobs just about everywhere – in both mainstream media and startups alike. You’ll find CUNY J-School grads at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, WNYC, and a host of community newspapers. You’ll find them working at places that didn’t exist when we started: AOL Patch, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post.
What’s left to do? Plenty. We’ve started to raise money for a new Center for Community and Ethnic Media that will help the extraordinary number of local newspapers – some in different languages – that serve their communities. We’ve already conducted online training programs for their staffers. And we’ve just acquired two important programs from the New York Community Media Alliance: “Voices that Must Be Heard,” an online newsletter that aggregates content from a variety of community and ethnic newspapers, and the Ippies Awards, which honor outstanding journalism in that media sector.
We are now close to full capacity – 100 students entering every fall. We intend to raise enough money to make our scholarship and internship funds self-sustaining. We will also try to do our part to train journalistic entrepreneurs for a profession struggling to find its way.
Perhaps most important, we hope to maintain the spirit of a startup, eager to try new things, unafraid to toss out what doesn’t work, and always ready to roll with whatever new punches technology throws at us. It is humbling to realize that as young as we are, Facebook was born about the same time we were, while Twitter and the iPad didn’t exist when we opened our doors five years ago. There is a revolution going on – there is no other word for it – and we are happy to be part of it.
Stephen B. Shepard
Founding Dean, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism