Administrators at the City University of New York announced recently that they would open a graduate program of journalism some time next year. That’s good news for aspiring journalists who can’t afford pricey degrees from places like Columbia University, where they offer instruction in not giving offense.
Officials described the program as a one-year “boot camp” open to CUNY students. Boot camp? What a wonderfully charming phrase to describe what is needed now more than ever in our city: a boot camp for the new working class, the financially challenged, debt-strapped recent immigrants who don’t have what my generation had-a free college education at CUNY with teachers who challenged us every day to think.
The first move that CUNY officials announced, however, was a major disaster, and hopefully will not portend plans for the curriculum. They said they were looking for campus space in midtown Manhattan, which is already crawling with journalists who aspire to become toadies for the people who run the city and country.
CUNY has campuses throughout the five boroughs in the most diverse of neighborhoods, and that’s where aspiring journalists can find out about the real New York, far away from the vacuous glitterati of midtown Manhattan. That’s where our journalism students should study, at one CUNY campus a month.
Beyond the traditional journalism classes taught from textbooks, the assigned readings should be every major book about New York City over the last 50 years, including but not limited to The Power Broker and Gotham . Students, in return for free tuition (paid for by the media conglomerates that make billions in profits every year), will be required to sign a pledge promising they will never write one word about Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, Barry Bonds, Woody Allen, models, actors and actresses, Al Sharpton and all the other annoying media hounds who hog far too much space in our newspapers.
They will be given a free house on Governors Island, within walking distance to a golf course, swimming pool, gymnasium and spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline-but only if they promise to stay in town for the next five years and irritate those in power. In the process, they will overcome the stereotype that A.J. Liebling once wrote about the media: “You can buy most reporters in New York with a beer and a cheap steak.”
They must start their day by annoying the Mayor, the Governor, the City Council Speaker, every elected official and every executive assistant to the deputy mayor-just on general principle. The courses will be taught for free by reporters who are not yet burned out and cynical and who still believe that one person can make a difference (please, no mail from the professors’ unions-you will still have plenty of work). It will be their way of giving something back, as a partial payment in honor of their immigrant parents and the mentors who helped them along the way.
In return for free space on the idyllic island (they can also write about why the Mayor still hasn’t figured out how to use it, years after the federal government gave it to us for a buck), they will give up the perks that destroy the creativity of writers. No free eats and booze at the nightly openings, and definitely no appearances on those insipid New York 1 cable shows.
Our CUNY recruits will never write about Candice Bergen and Lorraine Bracco being “police commanders” for a day; instead, they will grill Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, asking him why he insists on hobnobbing with these people at crime scenes as the debate about whether we are prepared for another terrorist attack swirls around him.
They must have a heavy dose of economic theory, so they don’t wind up like the “reporters” who were outclassed on that topic in May during a debate with Stuyvesant High School students. This will help them in explaining the various flimflams of Wall Street and city leaders.
One of the courses offered, according to the CUNY administrators, will be “how to spot a story.” That is the easiest part. It’s called taking the subway every day to the end of the line and walking around; reading the Law Journal , to see who is suing whom, and the City Record , to see how the Mayor is selling or leasing your land; attending community-board meetings, where the rubber hits the road on civic issues. Turn off the TV and read the weeklies; they have more information about our neighborhoods and their changing ethnicity in one issue than all the dailies combined.
Of course, there is one major dilemma with all this theory about how to cover the real news of our city, the news that affects all eight million of us.
Where would any of it get published?