My name appears in every issue of the Kingsman – and yet I haven’t written a story, sold an ad or delivered a bundle of papers.
I don’t do much of anything, really: I offer free advice, to the extent the staff wants it. That’s because I’m the faculty advisor, and this is a student-run newspaper. I’ve played this role most years since I joined the faculty of the Journalism Program in 2001 after 23 years in daily journalism.
But now that I am retiring from teaching (and beginning a third career back where I started, as a freelance writer), I asked the editors if I might write a farewell column. They were nice enough to agree.
Some colleges run their student newspapers through the journalism department. But I think it’s best for student media to be the independent voice of the students, not run by their profs.
A major part of a journalist’s job is to hold those in authority accountable, and that’s why it’s important to have a news media as independent as possible.
The Kingsman has a strong record of accountability journalism this year. A few stories even got immediate results. Kingsman stories led CUNY to correct a problem with the CUNYFirst system that had caused teachers to misidentify transgender students in some classes. Another story led the college to release more data about campus crime reports than it had in the past.
There was a story about the loss of the lay advocate program, which once provided students with legal assistance. Other stories documented the poor physical condition of the campus: broken clocks, suspect water fountains, dormant security cameras, malfunctioning bathrooms.
I admit to getting vicarious pleasure from all this – it puts me back in the newsroom. Of all the activities I’ve been involved in at BC over the past 16 years, advising the Kingsman is my favorite.
I especially enjoy it when the students ask me how to get an elusive story. It’s a great chance to teach. I give the same advice I would have given the reporters when I was city editor at Newsday. What I mean is that although I am proud to work for Brooklyn College, I’ve never skewed my advice to protect anyone from truthful reporting in the student papers.
College students are quick to catch on to hypocrisy, and I would have lost credibility as a journalism professor if I ever gave anything but solid journalistic advice. Besides, the tough-minded but fair reporting student journalists do is a service to the college.
That’s what journalism is all about – and our country seems to be relying more than ever on reporters to dig up the truth.
That starts at campus papers like the Kingsman and Excelsior. It’s a good bet that the students you see coming up with big campus stories today will be doing the same in the future for major news organizations. One of the great pleasures of teaching in the Journalism Program and advising the Kingsman is that I’ve gotten to follow the success of so many alumni.
So I read former editor-in-chief Elizabeth Elizalde ’15 in the Daily News, and the coverage editor Rachel Silberstein ’12 is doing from Albany for Gotham Gazette. Or editor Laura Albanese ’06, a sports writer for Newsday. Editor Brandon Bain ’04 left a reporting job at Newsday to be a successful jazz singer – and I got to see him perform in Jazz at Lincoln Center. The list is long. Quite a few Excelsior staffers I know through my classes belong on it, too.
But the editors haven’t given me the space for that and, as I said, it’s their paper.