Open Letter to the Columbia SPJ Board
Renee Giordano, executive director of the Business Improvement District, Sunset Park, said she won't talk to students anymore unless she sees the stories after they're done. She has to account for her time, she said. She's asked before, but hasn't seen anything yet.Sick and tired of giving interviews for articles that they know will never be published, some New Yorkers are asking why Columbia Journalism School – supposedly the nation’s most prestigious journalism program – has no published outlet for its students' work.
Every week, 200 talented, ambitious young reporters file stories to Columbia Journalism School professors who read them before dispatching them to the circular file never to be seen again. Because Columbia has no student-driven publication during the fall semester, (Bronx Beat and Columbia News Service both operate in the spring), this great mass of citywide reporting largely goes to waste when it could be illuminating neighborhoods all over town.
Out on my beat in Melrose, I routinely hear flak about J-school students who appear once and then are never heard from again. The animus has gotten so bad that some community leaders are refusing to meet with us at all. In order to get an interview with a prominent Bronx activist who had forsworn Columbia J-school students, I told her I was simply “a freelance reporter.” It worked.
It’s a real shame, because we care about the communities that we’re covering and we’re pouring our hearts into our stories, only to see them disappear. Is it any wonder why our sources express bewilderment? We spend hours interviewing sources – only to find that we have nowhere to print our stories.
Which is too bad, because we’re really good. In less than two months, J-School students have published stories in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, the Village Voice, the Christian Science Monitor, ABCNEWS.com, Wired, the Amsterdam News, the Greenpoint Star, the Harlem Citizen, and others. During the Republican National Convention, J-Schoolers were firing off dispatches to regional newspapers around America.
200 Columbia J-Schoolers, the best and the brightest, can't generate enough good stories to justify their own citywide newspaper? Nonsense. We're sitting on a motherlode of talent - let's put it to work.
We’ve got the juice – we just need the dispenser. Just imagine what Columbia Journalism School students could do with a dedicated New York weekly featuring our best and most inscisive work.
Therefore: SPJ should make its #1 priority for this year the establishment of a two-semester New York City metro newspaper whose coverage would include every beat assigned to students, an editorial board composed of J-school students, and a budget to pay writers and photographers. In the spirit of euthanasia, The Bronx Beat should be retired with the dignity it deserves, in full recognition that it is time to create something new - an outlet for future J-schoolers to publish the stories that they produce in good faith every week. The SPJ should immediately appoint an ad-hoc board to draw up plans for the new publication, establish a website and begin publishing.
All we need are some editors.