Passing the Torch

  • By CUNY J-School Staff
The founding dean and his successor
The founding dean and his successor

As we ring in 2014, I shall step down as founding dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

It has been nearly nine years since I walked into CUNY headquarters to begin planning a new graduate school of journalism, the first publicly supported program of its kind in the Northeast, a school that would open opportunities for a talented, diverse group of students. Starting from scratch at a mo- ment of critical disruption for the journalism profession, we wanted to create a new school for a new era. That meant combining the eternal verities of traditional journalism – in-depth reporting, fine writing, critical thinking, and ethical values – with all the digital skills of the interactive, multimedia world.

With the indispensible help of Associate Dean Judith Watson from Day 1, we have succeeded beyond my most ambitious musings, fulfilling the mandate of then-Chancellor Matthew Gold- stein: Build one of the best graduate programs in the world. “I don’t want just another journalism school,” he told me. We are now competing with the best schools for students, faculty, and grants. Our curriculum is on the cutting edge, and we are the only school I know of that pays students to undertake summer internships. We have launched a book imprint and three academic centers: for entrepreneurial journalism, for ethnic media, and for business journalism. Best of all: More than 90% of our graduates are working in the profession.

As a graduate of City College, I feel privileged to have served as founding dean of the CUNY J-School. I identified with the mission of access and excellence and relished the chance to build a school that would help a struggling profession. I will stay on for a time as university professor, taking on some special projects and doing what I can for this wonderful school.

I am delighted that we have an outstanding new dean in Sarah Bartlett. I have known Sarah for nearly 30 years. When I was editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek, she was an assistant managing editor who sat in the office next to mine. When I came to CUNY, I asked her to help us develop the curriculum and get the J-School launched. She has played a major role in our success ever since – as teacher, mentor, strategist, and fundraiser.

Let me tell you a bit more about Sarah. She was born in Buffalo, where her father was a successful Buick dealer in the 1950s and 1960s. Because her parents lived much of the time in the Bahamas, she and her older brother at- tended elementary school for several years in Nassau – a racially and economically stratified place that left a deep impression on her. She intuitively grasped the importance of economic development in poorer countries and began a lifelong interest in indigenous cultures.

When it came time for college, her father sat her down for a talk. A child of the Depression, he wanted to instill in her the values he had learned the hard way – including the importance of earning your way in the world. Rather than pay her tuition, he said, he would lend her the money for her college education, which he expected her to pay back. So Sarah decided to go to school in England, where the public universities charged very modest tuition and where she could gain her degree in three years instead of four. Off she went to the University of Sussex, where she earned a B.A. in political science and a Master’s degree in development studies. And, yes, she repaid her father’s loan.

After graduation, she worked as a researcher for a Dutch filmmaker who was making TV documentaries on development in third world countries. For the next 21⁄2 years, Sarah travelled the world – to Jamaica, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Chile, and other hot spots. She provided background research for six documenta- ries and began freelancing pieces on economic develop- ment issues. “I loved the writing,” she recalls.

Back in the U.S. after eight years abroad, she signed on as a researcher at Fortune magazine, then joined BusinessWeek in 1983, writing stories about finance and Wall Street. Five years later she moved to The New York Times, where, among other things, she covered the leveraged buyout craze of the early 1990s, later writing a book called “The Money Machine,” which penetrated the world of Henry Kravis and his KKR firm. I persuaded her to return to BusinessWeek in 1992 as an assistant managing editor after the birth of her first child, Emilia, now a senior at Vassar. Her son, Ian, is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. At BW, she presided over many of our best investigative stories during the Wall Street scandals of the 1990s.

Sarah left BW in 1998 to become editor-in-chief of Oxygen Media, an early startup targeted to women that sought to combine television programming with the content being developed for Oxygen’s website. In 2002, she was appointed to the Bloomberg chair in business journalism at Baruch College, part of the CUNY system.

Sarah drafted the syllabi for both the urban and business/economics reporting programs, then transferred to the Journalism School faculty when we opened in 2006. “I was fascinated by what journalism education could be in this new era,” she says.

The CUNY J-School is in very good hands. Welcome to the deanship, Sarah.