Student Journalism Should Be Serious Journalism – Part I

Students in my journalism writing classes are required to publish or perish, and I remind them that they are engaging in real world journalism and that they need to be serious about what they are doing. I also tell them that because they are student journalists they need to prepare themselves for the big jolt: They will not get the kind of respect that they deserve because student journalism is not regarded well.

There are student publications garnering serious respect but much of that has to do with the reputation of their colleges and universities. Too many student news operations, however, publish editorial material so poor that their efforts help generate the disdain that haunts student publications.

For example, if this Hunter Envoy story had been submitted as an assignment for one of my news writing classes, I would have graded it F-minus. 

Normally, I give students T-grades on their first drafts, and, depending on the quality of the rewrites, T-grades on their second drafts and a final grade on their articles submitted to be published but the draft for this article would have earned an F (the F-minus being an exaggeration, of course).

Did Envoy reporter Prakirti Nangia actually interview anyone? The article reads as if the reporter essentially lifted information from Hunter-L and from other news reports without doing any significant independent reporting. Now, it’s true when I worked at the Post, it was not unusual for the night staff to take material from the Daily News and print it under a Post byline if the day crew missed a story (or if a night editor decided in his supreme judgement – there were no hers working nights as editors – that a story had been missed). And the News did the same thing. So, in a sense, it appears that Nangia did nothing more than what has been done by pros for years. But so what?

The Envoy reporter erroneously referred to the Department of Film and Media Studies as the “Media Department” and spelled my first name as “Greg.” And the story was headline, “Protests and debate ensues at Hunter and beyond” even though there were no protests and no debate at Hunter. And, yes, reporters are not responsible for headlines of their stories though they can take heat for what their ediors/copyeditors decide.

Some might call those minor quibbles (and I did take a poke at a colleague who originally posted information on Hunter-L about the controversy though that poke could hardly be called a debate). 

And the reporter used a quote from a message I wrote in on Hunter-L: “Several students in my in-depth writing class said the Post cartoon was racist. And then we argued.”  Wouldn’t a serious reporter want to know what the argument was about? Know if there were other students who didn’t believe the cartoon was racist? Besides me, only one other professor posted about the controversy and there was one student response. That’s enough to write a 700-plus-word story that had no local angle (that I could determine) for a campus with an undergraduate and graduate student enrollment of 20,000+?

My students, if they are planning to use posts from Hunter-L,  are required to contact the posters for  corroboration and clarification. And also to provide enough info so that readers don’t get suspicious about the sourcing of the story.

“Critics believe the chimpanzee was a racist reference to the African-American heritage of President Barack Obama,” wrote Nangla. The age-old symbol, they contend, calls to mind a long history of oppression of African-Americans in the United States,” the Envoy reporter wrote. I don’t believe the image of the monkey was “age-old,” and I believe The wily Reverend Al Sharpton saw an opportunity to do an impressive spin job so that he could attack the Post, which has a history of printing and publishing material denigrating and insulting New York’s black communities.

The Post has often targeted Sharpton but a Village Voice Press Clips column once published comments that the Post and the Daily News many years ago gave the Reverend a lot of good publicity in their preferences for him over other activists from New York City’s black communities. They preferred him, according to the Press Clips column, because they didn’t take him seriously.

And much of the rest of the Envoy article reflected pretty shabby reporting and editorial standards. The last paragraph was awful, an insidiously gratuitous quote if there ever was one. “I really didn’t think the chimp was meant to portray President Obama,” said one Hunter student who asked to remain anonymous, claiming that he was part of a minority at Hunter who felt this way. Citing one of his favorite comedians, Carlos Mencia, the student asked, “When did we get to a point in this world where we have to be politically correct about anything and can’t make jokes about the things that racially, culturally, and religiously differentiate us? Maybe the way to get rid of racism is to reduce it to nothing but a joke.” 

Why criticize a student publication? Well, one, my name was in the article. My students can’t include names of Hunterites whom they haven’t contacted for comment. Second, because I take this business seriously, even so-called student journalism.

And one more thing. Envoy editors need to reconsider the publication’s logo. Suggestion: Calling itself a voice for Hunter students would be better than the voice of the college.

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