CUNY Journalism School Gives a Rousing Send-Off to its Fifth Class of Graduates

By Jane Teeling
Class of 2012

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, told members of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Class of 2011 that their most important responsibility as journalists is to exert pressure on power. “If you are not involved with that along the way,” he said, “something is deeply wrong at the core.”

Remnick said reporters today must constantly assess their moral purpose. “Ask yourself,” he urged the 82 graduates during graduation ceremonies Dec. 14 at The TimesCenter in midtown Manhattan, “What kind of journalist do I want to be? What purpose do I serve? Whom do I serve? What should I do, and what should I not do? What are my limits? What are my moral and material goals in what I am about to do now?”

Remnick compared American journalism with its counterpart in Russia, a country he has covered extensively throughout his career, including in his 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.” Despite widespread corruption and government oppression, he said, some Russian journalists remain determined to tell the truth.

Journalists everywhere need to measure their success differently than other people, Remnick said. Even though the American press is relatively unhindered, he added, its journalists must constantly question the moral purpose and integrity of their work.

Alva French, chosen by her classmates to speak on behalf of the Class of 2011, promised that a new generation of journalists will speak truth to power. “Many of us come from underrepresented groups, a status hardly reflected in the mainstream news decision-making world,” she said. “We are the voices of many and a force to reckoned with.”

Dean Stephen B. Shepard encouraged French and her classmates to continue the tradition of excellence that they have helped to cultivate since the School opened in 2006 as the first publicly-funded graduate journalism program in the Northeast.

The new graduates should seek their individual advantages in journalism, he said, and discover what they are good at and what they love to do. Citing the need to develop new models for journalism, Dean Shepard advised the graduates to pay close mind to the business of media, a duty he said many of their predecessors failed to fulfill.

“It is a mistake for journalists to abdicate responsibility for the strategic direction of the media companies they work for, or to steer clear of product development,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to be a part of the solution to sustain quality journalism for the generation ahead.”

The J-School’s fifth commencement also included remarks by CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, “the prime mover in the establishment of the graduate school of journalism at CUNY,” according to Shepard; CUNY Trustee Freida Foster, and Class of 2008 alumna Annie Shreffler. Associate Dean Judith Watson once again served as mistress of ceremonies.