University media relations: help or hindrance for j-schools?

College and university journalism schools offer their students a built-in community to cover: the institution that houses their program. A campus offers practice in covering politics, budgets, race, education, crime, social trends – in short, many aspects of life in the wider world.

The institution’s media-relations personnel can play a key role in helping – or hindering – journalism educators who use the campus as a teaching tool. They can help students find scholarly and administrative sources for their stories, whether for class assignments or for the student media, or they can use their power to block access and prevent students from gaining needed reporting and interviewing experience.

The argument can be made that students must learn to deal with recalcitrant media-relations personnel, whom they will surely encounter as professionals. But questions arise: When does learning this lesson cease to be useful? What is the responsibility of a university administration to aid in the pedagogical efforts of the journalism program it sustains? Where the relationship has been problematic, have the parties resolved tensions and established useful working relationship? If so, how? What makes a good working relationship possible?

At Stony Brook, the opening of our School of Journalism in 2006 coincided with the departure of the university’s longtime spokesman, a former Newsday sportswriter. His replacement was the spokeswoman for the university hospital, who added the rest of the campus to her responsibilities. She has one assistant. And no journalism background. She claims that university officials are free to speak with student journalists, but in practice, she has created an atmosphere in which nearly every administrator refers all questions to her. Those who spoke to student journalists directly in the past have gradually stopped doing so. Officials deny student reporters access to any event that hasn’t received her explicit approval for coverage. Last month, one of my colleagues had his broadcast students turned away from a hot-dog eating contest because she hadn’t signed off on their presence.

My colleagues and I chafe at these restrictions, and our frustration is growing. We wonder whether such policies and practices are the norm or an exception. I’m told that at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which houses one of the oldest journalism programs in the nation, student reporters have unfettered access to any professor or staff person on the 42,000-student campus. No one filters their requests, and the university lives with the consequences of having stories published by students engaged in the process of learning to be journalists.

I’ll be looking into this question systematically in the coming months and would welcome comments about how the relationship plays out elsewhere, particularly at public universities. You can reach me privately at Barbara.Selvin@stonybrook.edu.

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    • Rachel
    • October 9th, 2010

    It’s a shame this person is doing everything in her power to hinder learning and growth in students-the very thing the university is tasked with. I can’t see a positive side to her incessant blockage of SOJ student from school events and staff. Yes, it will give them a taste of how people in the real world also fail to do their job but will certainly curtail learning. The administration needs to step up and act on this issue, as their responsibility is to their students, not to a grumpy employee.

  1. I am the media relations representative in question, and thought it important to respond to the many inaccuracies in this blog posting. I will approach them one by one…

    1) At Stony Brook, the opening of our School of Journalism in 2006 coincided with the departure of the university’s longtime spokesman, a former Newsday sportswriter.

    Fact: Former spokesperson left in November 2007.

    2) His replacement was the spokeswoman for the university hospital, who added the rest of the campus to her responsibilities.

    Fact: I was asked by the former president to serve as interim media relations officer of the University while continuing to serve in my appointed position. A search was initiated and the NY State budget fell through the floor as a result of the Wall Street debacle. A soft hiring freeze was put in place and the search was cancelled. I remain as an interim appointment for the University and remain active in my duties as Media Relations Director for the Medical Center, responding to media requests with the help of two staffers, and writing/distributing press releases on behalf of the students, faculty and staff of the University at large, including in support of SOJ initiatives.

    3) …and no journalism background.

    Fact: I have been paid to report news at an award winning publication.

    4) She claims that university officials are free to speak with student journalists, but in practice, she has created an atmosphere in which nearly every administrator refers all questions to her.

    Fact: University officials are free to speak with student journalists. If asked, the media relations office will assist reporters at every level of his or her career to secure accurate information from the appropriate source at the University. Some of the questions that are received are easily responded to by the media relations office, and it is within the spokesperson’s job description to do so. If an administrator chooses to respond directly, it is their choice to do so. If the administrator requests assistance from the media relations office for any reason, the media relations office will respond.

    5) Those who spoke to student journalists directly in the past have gradually stopped doing so.

    Fact: Unfortunately, SOJ faculty and students have lost some credibility with certain administrative departments in large part due to a circumstance in which a journalism student requested access to a specific department for a class assignment and indicated the story would not be published. When something occurred during the experience that appeared to be breaking news, the student wrote about it for the assignment, and then was encouraged by a professor to submit the story to one of the student newspapers for publication consideration. The student contacted the department to secure additional facts and told them the story was now being submitted for publication. That department and other departments this situation touched found this to be a serious breach of trust, resulting in recalcitrance from some (not all) administrators when it comes to J-school students. For the most part, administrators (including those in the media relations office) enjoy working with the journalism students and genuinely want to help them.

    6) Officials deny student reporters access to any event that hasn’t received her explicit approval for coverage. Last month, one of my colleagues had his broadcast students turned away from a hot-dog eating contest because she hadn’t signed off on their presence.

    Fact: What is stated here does not represent media relations policy. As a public institution, there are no restrictions to filming or reporting stories around and about the open campus. It is more likely that the individual approached (not a university employee, but one with auxiliary affiliation) was either following departmental policy, or just did not want to answer questions.

    The media relations office does not have the authority to mandate anyone speak on camera or to a reporter, and supports an individual’s decision to decline to give an interview if they so choose.

    7) My colleagues and I chafe at these restrictions, and our frustration is growing.

    Response: The media relations office, with support from administrators, has extended multiple invitations for open discussion with SOJ faculty to discuss and establish guidelines. To date, only administrators in the SOJ have accepted this invitation.

    8) We wonder whether such policies and practices are the norm or an exception. I’m told that at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which houses one of the oldest journalism programs in the nation, student reporters have unfettered access to any professor or staff person on the 42,000-student campus. No one filters their requests, and the university lives with the consequences of having stories published by students engaged in the process of learning to be journalists.

    Response: Always interested in learning more, the SBU Department of Media Relations has submitted a request to the Media Relations office at UW-M to learn more about how they work with journalism school students. Reviewing the UW-M publication linked to this post, I was unable to find any administrator commentary in enterprise reports posted to that site. The online student publication is of excellent quality; very well done.

    In closing, an observation:
    The media relations office has had many positive experiences working with journalism students and student media. We do our best to respond to requests quickly and work to expedite reporting where possible.

    This office initiated student media briefings several years ago. Briefings were intentionally scheduled during a time when classes were not held to accommodate academic schedules. These briefings offered unfettered access to administrators, and received little to no participation from journalism students – other than those who were reporting for a student media outlet. We will continue to look for opportunities to improve relationships in this regard. Faculty support and an ongoing dialogue would be helpful.

      • Post-J-school
      • October 10th, 2010

      I would like to see some of the work you did for that award-winning publication. Since you claim to have a background in journalism (and vomiting press releases doesn’t count), you should know that you must back up every statement with evidence. I can’t find anything with your byline on the Internet. If it’s only in print, you should scan a copy of one of your stories.

      Although to be honest, if you actually do have a background in journalism, it just makes your actions even more ridiculous.

    • A Student
    • October 9th, 2010

    Fact: The Media Relations has gotten most of the campus’ employees to stop allowing journalists almost anywhere. A student cannot take video inside of a food court and are kicked out, nor can they interview any employee without first getting a okay from MR, which can take upwards of minutes to weeks in my own experience.

    Fact: The office HAS had many positive experiences. They are, however, outweighed by the negatives they have caused.

    • Journalism student
    • October 9th, 2010

    I wish that we could have a media briefing with President Stanley and other top university officials once a week or more than three times a month. That would be ideal.

      • Journalism student
      • October 10th, 2010

      It would also be nice if the one time they did do a media briefing it wasn’t on a holy day for 2 religions and a day students were supposed to have off.

    • Journalism Student
    • October 10th, 2010

    Working with SBU media relations has been one HUGE headache. Lauren Sheprow does not return phone calls, and seems to actively go out of her way to make it difficult for students to get access to who they need to get access to. I find it comical that media relations see themselves as helping students, when I couldn’t get them to answer a simple question regarding transfer students last semester.

    • Go Selvin
    • October 10th, 2010

    SB’s MR department is always willing to help… as long as a student reporter is writing an article (or filming) that furthers the schools agenda- anything that might actually shed a negative light in regards to administration, finances, or policies, however, gets shut down immediately through the MR. What Sheprow wants is a glorified communications department with a specialization in public relations, not a j-school. Professor Selvin, THANK YOU for expressing your frustrations, you’ve got a lot of pissed off students behind you on this one.

  2. I stand corrected on the departure date of the previous spokesperson. On all other points, I stand by what I wrote.

  3. To the student whose comments I have deleted: I’d be happy to discuss your comments offline. My email address is included in my post.

    • A former higher-ed spokesperson
    • October 11th, 2010

    As a working journalist and someone who worked in university relations, I can say firsthand that it’s really important to be responsive to reporters. I know how busy a campus can get, but when reporters don’t have access, it creates an air of suspicion, whether warranted or not. And that’s never healthy.

    • A former higher-ed spokesperson :As a working journalist and someone who worked in university relations, I can say firsthand that it’s really important to be responsive to reporters. I know how busy a campus can get, but when reporters don’t have access, it creates an air of suspicion, whether warranted or not. And that’s never healthy.

      This stream is about the Media Relations department and students attending classes and completing assignments in the School of Journalism.

      Not reporters.

      The media relations office does respond to students in the same way it responds to reporter requests. Although most professional journalists know what they are writing about, have done their research and approach us when they need additional information, or help making a connection with faculty or staff.

      (I noticed that a previous post was removed and am curious to know why? There were no obscenities, no outrageous, inappropriate statements. Why would the blog administrator censor a student’s post?)

      Finally, it is tragic that there are those who feel it is appropriate to mention someone by name in a disparaging blog post, yet fail to sign their own name at its conclusion. Why not take credit — and responsibility?

        • Rachel
        • October 11th, 2010

        To imply that students in the J-school are NOT reporters further shows that you are not giving the J-schoolers the respect, response and reasoning they deserve. What is it they are doing if it is not reporting? Because they are not being paid for the most part (some, myself included, have been both a student in the J-school and a paid reporter simultaneously) does that make them any less deserving of access to essential sources and information?

        • Journalism student
        • October 12th, 2010

        Student journalists are still journalists in their own respect and should be treated as so. By saying they are not reporters, you truly are proving you have no idea how to handle media relations after all. You should respond to all media in the same way — and that should be a responsive way. If they’re good reporters, and if they go to SBU’s SOJ they probably are, they’ll get the story with or without you, but it’d be nice if you didn’t treat them so condescendingly and let them learn the way they should be. Oh, and the way they’re paying for.

        You’re not helping anyone by repeating questions and simply giving out documents with numbers on it. We expect interviews. We expect discussions. We expect meetings. And we deserve respect. So until that happens, obviously the supporters of this blog (along with many others who have probably not even seen your remarks) are going to continue supporting this cause. Because it has gotten out of hand, and it is unfair.

        Maybe you should also try a little harder to actually involve student reporters, and they are reporters, with administration. It’d be nice to have President Stanley as a source, not his sidekick. It’d be nice if we were spoken of without some form of negative light. Looking at us in disgust when we show up to an event does not exemplify good will — it just makes it seem like you have something to hide or that you’re better than us. You’re not. If you think blocking access to people is going to keep news from getting out, you’re incredibly wrong.

        And perhaps these journalism students, such as myself, aren’t signing their own names because you’ll just tighten the grip even more so if you were to know who they are. I dare you to prove that you are so willing to speak to these students and loosen the reins without knowing our names. You can obviously see now that there is a problem we are having — perhaps try showing how much you care and how well you’re doing your job, and fix it.

        P.S. You can easily post links to your “award winning publication” on this blog post, or simply just the name of it. That’s the beauty of fact checking… didn’t they tell you that when you wrote for them?

      • Also, perhaps the students can be a part of this meeting “to discuss and establish guidelines.” We should be just as much a part of this considering it is we who are being affected. I know many students would love to professionally speak with you and anyone else on these important matters.

        • Arielle Brechisci
        • October 15th, 2010

        The audacity of admitting that you do not treat student reporters the way you treat “reporters” is appalling. Where do you think professional journalists learn how to do their jobs? How do you, as a representative of an educational institution, justify hindering any student from learning the skills they need to get a job (in which case you would actually value them as worthy of your recognition)? I was a student in the School of Journalism for four years. During that time, I was also a paid freelance Newsday reporter for two years. If I wanted information for the exact same story for J-school or for Newsday, would you treat me differently depending on how I represented myself?

        Information is information. I’m disgusted that you would discriminate based on who was on the receiving end of it.

  4. Post-J-school :I would like to see some of the work you did for that award-winning publication. Since you claim to have a background in journalism (and vomiting press releases doesn’t count), you should know that you must back up every statement with evidence. I can’t find anything with your byline on the Internet. If it’s only in print, you should scan a copy of one of your stories.
    Although to be honest, if you actually do have a background in journalism, it just makes your actions even more ridiculous.

    Okay, but to whom would I be sending the article? (PS – nice choice of words. Those press releases are mostly about faculty accomplishment.)

      • Post-J-school
      • October 11th, 2010

      I was hoping that you would post links to the articles here so that everyone can read them. If you are truly looking for better relations with the students and faculty in the journalism school, maybe it would help if everyone could see that you really do understand our work and what we go through to finish it.

      And I was not referring to the press releases you produce for the university. I mentioned the distinction between reporting news and issuing press releases (or simply regurgitating the info in them) because you didn’t specify which publication you worked for or what kind of work you did.

    • Never Was J-School
    • October 11th, 2010

    Uh, I may have never taken a J-School class during my tenure at Stony Brook, but even I know that the statement “This stream is about the Media Relations department and students attending classes and completing assignments in the School of Journalism. Not reporters” is bullocks.

    Reporters break stories. A former Independent reporter broke the Southampton story. Reporters uncover information. Reporters for The Press unearthed the Kinsella allegations. Reporters inform their community. The Statesman’s sports desk has some of the most comprehensive coverage of Seawolves athletics.

    As I said, I never took a journalism class while I was at Stony Brook, but that didn’t prevent me from serving as a reporter when it came time to cover campus and local politics.

    Students who write for a newspaper are reporters. To state that they aren’t shows your grossly malformed opinion as to what you’re doing.

      • Journalism student
      • October 11th, 2010

      Agreed. The fact that you believe students in the J-school and from The Statesman, The Press and The Independent are not reporters show how misinformed YOU are.
      It’s not just the students that hate having to deal with you. It’s Newsday and News 12 as well. They hate covering Stony Brook because of the media relations dept.
      If you wold actually let students talk to administrators maybe you will get better coverage. If you would actually let them screw up it would never make it past the many editors on the student publications. If you would let students talk to Stanley maybe the whole campus wouldn’t think he’s a joke. Maybe if you would do your job there wouldn’t have been a need for this post. And as I am sure you can see Selvin is not alone in her beliefs, we support her.

      • Never Was J-School
      • October 12th, 2010

      Oh, and for equal time, Think manages to do cool stuff like get Ariana Huffington to come to campus and break that voter registration story.

      I think that covers all my major bases.

  5. Rachel :To imply that students in the J-school are NOT reporters further shows that you are not giving the J-schoolers the respect, response and reasoning they deserve. What is it they are doing if it is not reporting? Because they are not being paid for the most part (some, myself included, have been both a student in the J-school and a paid reporter simultaneously) does that make them any less deserving of access to essential sources and information?

  6. SBU Media Relations,

    I think it is important that the MR department, along with the rest of the Stony Brook campus, recognize J-School students as reporters. My time working for SBU-TV news and the Stony Brook Independent counted as legitimate reporting experience and helped me land a position as a reporter with Newsday. Additionally, to date, WPIX-TV recognizes journalists from the School of Journalism and the student media outlets and contacts them for content and information, much the same as “real-world reporters” do with their counterparts at affiliates.

    Reporters are always learning and it could be said that we are always students, so actually being a student should not hinder our status as a reporter.

  7. I do have to admit that it’s curious in these three years since the departure of the former director of media relations, there still has not been a permanent appointment to that position. Ms. Sheprow is horribly understaffed, and, as an “interim” director, is likely underpaid.

    Whether or not her publication credits before taking the job were “serious” or merely a few articles in community weeklies, she has been in her position for many years now and knows the ropes.

    As the only real PR person at a major university and hospital (the other staff is either clerical/support in nature or specialized, such as working solely for the medical school), she must be FLOODED with media queries all day and night.

    Part of it could be linked to an inability to articulate that she needs more pay and more staff. She obviously has the President’s ear. Part of it may be a fear of moving on and submitting her resume to other universities. It’s obvious that the university doesn’t put its money where its mouth is when it comes to media relations.

    But, ultimately, student journalists — I’m sure many of them procrastinate and then whine when they don’t get an answer the day their stories are due — have to realize that the media relations office is overwhelmed and to try to find other means to getting their stories done.

    A good, enterprising reporter learns to AVOID PR people, not rely on them.

      • Stephanie Brumsey
      • October 15th, 2010

      Impartial,

      I’m sure you were attempting to make a point about the work ethic of SOJ students when you made the following comment:

      “But, ultimately, student journalists — I’m sure many of them procrastinate and then whine when they don’t get an answer the day their stories are due — have to realize that the media relations office is overwhelmed and to try to find other means to getting their stories done.”

      But the truth of the matter is you’re wrong. Sure, there’s that student who every once in a while may procrastinate or some nonsense, but the way the journalism department is at Stony Brook, weeds out any of the students who don’t truly take journalism seriously.

      I’m not sure of your background or what your current profession is, but if you have any background in journalism, you would surely know that it is sometimes necessary to go through a PR office in order to get in contact with the subject you need to speak with. In fact, MOST companies, celebrities, etc., refer journalists to their PR OR opt not to speak with them until its cleared with their PR agent (according to what areas you’re covering.)

      I’m sure you were attempting to sound impartial or maybe lend some support to the MR department because it seems as though they are being railroaded in this blog, but you come off as very partial instead. Ok, so this woman is underpaid and her work is called into scrutiny BUT these students do this for free (if their working for a paper) or they’re doing this for a grade (in which case they’re paying for the pleasure). They have other classes and responsibilities to handle; the acts of the MR department help no one and if these students truly have the ability to simply approach the people they need to speak to when they need to speak to them, then the MR representative needs to send out a formal statement and everyone will breathe much easier.

      Stephanie

    • Melissa
    • October 15th, 2010

    Sheprow is definitely not underpaid. I know for a fact she is banking over a hundred grand a year. So with that salary, she should make it her duty to be available for us at the SOJ.
    The students are all correct! I know as well, that there have been many many meeting on campus regarding Sheprows horrible attitude towards staff and students. People just do not like her. The media do not like her. She is not a nice woman and has no respect for her staff or her colleagues .
    Does Stanley even know this? Is he aware of what his going on and the campus’s dislike for LS? She needs to GO!

  8. Come see me anytime Allesandra. The door is always open. And I’ll be happy to show you my newspaper clippings. – Lauren

    • Judy Graham
    • October 16th, 2010

    I am a professional journalist, visting this blog because I’m interested in the subject. When you have J-school students at Boston University breaking news that’s published in the Boston Globe and students at University of California-Berkeley helping produce stories for the New York Times, you have evidence of schools that believe in their mission and support it wholeheartedly. That seems to be lacking in this situation and that’s very unfortunate. Either you treat students as professionals-in-the-making or you treat them as second-rate and second-class. If the latter is the attitude being conveyed to J-students at Stonybrook, that’s demeaning and works against the purpose of the J-school. Re the spokeswoman’s comments, I understand there was an unfortunate situation that involved one student. To claim this has created an attitude of mistrust toward the entire J-school on the part of the administration and many departments seems to be blowing the situation way out of proportion. Mistakes are made — get over it. Mistakes are made in newsrooms every day of the week in every city in the country. The point is to learn from mistakes and figure out a way to help these students do a better job next time.

    • Lynn H
    • October 17th, 2010

    Dear Prof. Selvin,

    Great post! This is an interesting and controversial topic that deserves more attention.

    As a former student journalist, I have certainly felt that I was not taken seriously at times. (It is also chafing that Ms. Sheprow admits to the fact that student journalists are not treated in the same manner as professional journalists.)

    However, to be honest, overall I did not find Stony Brook’s media relations department to be too problematic or impossible in terms of getting my stories covered.

    Although the university media officer in question never helped me find sources or articles for my stories, she was helpful at getting me in contact with the professors or sources I asked of her. Some of her policies were a hassle, for instance, she would often ask me to email her a list of questions before any scheduled interviews, but they were not set in stone and I often asked new or revised questions during any interviews.

    In fact, most of my experience with sources at SBU did not involve Sheprow at all. I’m not sure how much things have changed since I graduated, but back when I was a student, I was able to contact many of my sources directly by email or on the phone. Most professors answered my questions directly. It was never terribly difficult to get through. At the same time, most of my stories were university-friendly or non-controversial so I’m assuming that played into the equation.

    While Sheprow was never inviting per say, she was never unhelpful either. Without being totally wishy-washy, I don’t think it’s fair to lay all the blame on the media relations office. As a typical college student who was prone to procrastination, I’m sure she has received her fill of last minute requests.

    At the same time, I think that the relations between the J-School and the media relations office can definitely be improved upon and I think it would only foster better discourse if more information and help was provided to J-School students. After all, as reporters in training, we are all prone to mistakes. And it’s not fair to judge a group based on the actions of one. (This is assuming the allegations of misconduct and lost of trust is true.)

    Though I haven’t had much experience with media relations officers from other schools so I cannot be sure how typical Stony Brook’s attitude is towards her J-School students, I did have a great experience with the public relations department at Columbia University. While working on a story for one of my classes, I contacted the school and was able to speak with a representative immediately! (In fact, it was after business hours….perhaps around 8 pm and I was directed to this person’s personal cell phone number. He was very kind and helpful on the phone and in no way treated me as a “student-journalist” even though I was quite clear about my credentials.) I doubt Stony Brook’s media relations officers would ever be this helpful or available.

    On a side note, I think the personal criticisms against Sheprow as a person is unnecessary….not only is it logically out of bounds but it only hinders any scholarly and polite debate. Her salary or popularity really does not matter.

    A better question to consider is Stony Brook University’s general agenda or attitude toward the J-School and her students. After all, Sheprow is employed by the university and I’m sure if the faculty or others were unimpressed, she would not be able to keep her job. Rather, it’s also possible that she is simply following orders. Perhaps, the students should band together to demand more journalist-friendly policies? The policies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could be a model for Stony Brook. Not only would journalism students benefit with more practice but there would be a greater exchange of information and news that would only foster more trust.

    Sometimes, I felt that faculty members were distrustful. They did not trust my abilities as a journalist to report the facts accurately and without bias, thus the reticence to speak with me at times. I can understand where they are coming from…perhaps they don’t have the best opinions of journalists….but without more commitment on both sides, this will only fester into a more hostile relationship. That is something no one needs.

    • Lynn H
    • October 17th, 2010

    On a side note, I did not plan on spending so much time defending the media relations department at Stony Brook. Many of their policies were absurd – I hated the press briefings – and time consuming. They definitely made things more difficult and long-winded. It also sounds like the university’s policies are getting more stringent and threatening to the ideals that the J-School stands for…but after reading some of the other comments on this post, I felt that it was only fair for me to air out my experiences.

  9. As a working journalist of more than 20 years, I have learned to go around PR and media relations. There are a few good PR/MR folks, but most are very protective and try to insert themselves into the conversation rather than help you find the right spokesperson to get the most accurate information. I think it is great that this blog has helped bring some light into this corner and show the Stony Brook J-students what they will have to deal with once they graduate.

    Lately, I have had some great experiences with PR though — maybe it is just coincidence.

    My advice to aspiring students: use multiple methods to obtain your sources. Email and phone calls are both still great ways to get ahold of someone.

    • Former Journalist
    • October 19th, 2010

    As a graduate of one of the top ten ranked J-schools in the country and an individual who worked as a reporter for 15 years, I think you are all missing a fundamental question. The question should not be “why isn’t the SBU media relations office providing better access” but rather “Why are journalism students focused on covering on-campus stories”? Your professors are doing you an extreme disservice by assigning the campus as students’ only beat. What a shame.

    This region has a multitude of towns, villages, special districts, a county and a plethora of other public meetings that students could – and should – cover. If you want to groom reporters, send them out and get their feet wet. A campus whose mission is to educate students is hardly an environment in which students will learn to be real journalists. Faculty and staff on campus want students to succeed. The real world could care less. A taste of that would give them a far better lesson in covering news.

    Further, you state that the campus media relations officer is responsible for media relations for the entire campus and the University Hospital. Let’s see, that’s roughly 30-thousand students, 15-thousand staff. I wonder why she’s not immediately available for how many dozens of student requests each day?

    As a former media relations officer, I can attest to how busy a single media relations officer can be. One or two issues can and do consume hours of time to respond. I would argue that SBU could keep several media relations officers busy not only during business hours, but also into nights and weekends. It is preposterous to imagine that one person can handle that workload single handedly.

    Finally, why is it important to you that the SBU media relations officer be a journalist? She’s a media relations officer. In my J-School, public relations was an entirely separate course of study with a specialized focus. As it should be.

    SBU’s J-School is still young. Perhaps it will grow over time and with feedback from alumni as to what is valued when a graduate seeks employment in the real world for a real media outlet. In my experience, no one ever asked me for any on-campus clips. They wanted to see if I could cover the kind of stories that cub reporters really cover: town council meetings, board of education meetings, political races, etc.

    Best of luck to you, J-School students. Remember, you can always enterprise your own stories and you are not restricted to the on-campus assigments that your professors seem to be offering. Do yourself a favor and follow your own ideas. You’ll be worth more in the long run.

    • Former Journalist,

      I can definitely understand why you think students not branching out to other communities would be a problem. However, there are quite a few factors I think you have overlooked.

      One, there is something to be said about hyper local reporting. Students should have access to their own backyard and on a campus of 40,000 people that backyard is a small city. There are plenty of stories.

      Two, students do not necessarily have a means of transportation to leave campus which may be why they are opting to cover stories on campus.

      Three, students search for their own stories at SBU… professors do not assign them.

      Four, many of the comments on this blog take pity on how bogged down the media relations department is. One thing that I think is being overlooked by many is that if media relations was not so restrictive on access it wouldn’t have so many requests to process. Honestly, why does the interim director of media relations for one of the largest institutions in the SUNY system need to sign off on a reporter’s presence at a hot dog eating contest?

      I’m not saying a solid reporter can be shaped in the vacuum that is a college campus, but that is not grounds for limitation on the part of the media relations department.

    • Journalism student
    • December 2nd, 2010

    Professor Selvin Is The Best.

    • Fred Johnson
    • February 20th, 2011

    A neighbor of mine is a Journalism major at Stony Brook. She told me about the adversarial (to say the least) relationship between the J-school students and the SBU Media Relations office, particularly the interim director of that department, and pointed me toward this blog. Fascinating posts!

    If I am to believe Ms. Sheprow, many of the students are lazy kids masquerading as reporters. They want to waste her time and the time of SBU personnel by demanding interviews without proper preparation. The students want her to do their work for them. Many SBU personnnel don’t trust J-school reporters, or don’t want to answer questions, and Sheprow is doing them a favor (and doing her job) by keeping the reporters away.

    If I am to believe the students and Ms. Selvin, the MR director is an autocratic individual with a chip on her shoulder, who delights in giving J-school reporters a hard time. Access to SBU personnel is denied over the slightest deviation in standard policy. Such policy seems to shift with every stressful visit to her office. She chooses to answer questions herself rather than refer reporters to the experts on campus, even if live expert quotes are necessary or preferable for the article. She is capricious and petty.

    Having read all the accusations here, along with the defenses, I would like to raise several questions and points.

    -Ms. Sheprow represents her behavior toward J-school students as typical of that of MR directors at other J-schools, including some of the country’s best. Is this true? Do these other schools produce the same level of complaints about their MR offices? It would be very helpful to know if this is common.

    -Ms. Sheprow recalls a case in which a student contacted her for additional facts on a story that was not for publication. She cites this incident as being responsible for a poisoning of the atmosphere of trust between “some” administrators and the SOJ. Ms. Sheprow learned of this impending publication in advance–did she alert the administration or the SOJ and try to prevent publication? If so, was the story published anyway? What in fact was done about this incident? If no protest was made, then whose responsibility was that? If protest was made and nothing was done, whose responsibility was that? Is this one incident undeservedly coloring Ms. Sheprow’s opinion of all J-school students and the school itself?

    -Ms. Sheprow says that if individuals do not want to answer questions or submit to an interview, that is their right and she supports their decision. However, in cases like this does she inform the student reporter, so that it can be noted in their article, or does she merely refuse access with no explanation?

    -Ms. Selvin implies that this toxic atmosphere has been ongoing for several years now, and is well known to most J-school students and professors. Has the faculty brought this up with Dean Schneider? If not, why not? If so, what was his response, and what is his opinion? It seems clear that either Dean Schneider does not agree with his faculty that this is a serious situation, or else he is impotent to do anything about it.

    -Ms. Sheprow maintains that she wants a dialogue with the SOJ. She says that the MR office has invited open discussion with SOJ faculty and administration, but only SOJ administrators have participated. Was this issue raised at these meetings, by either MR or SOJ? Why has no faculty member participated? Why haven’t the SOJ administrators communicated the concerns of their faculty to the MR office?

    Why has this situation been allowed to fester for so long? There seems to be a startling lack of communication between the J-school administration and the SBU administration. The fact that nothing has been done to address the situation is a colossal failure of upper management of SBU, including Dean Schneider. Someone has to get these two groups together and resolve their differences. If they must work together, there must be an atmosphere of trust and respect.

    I note that in a followup post, Ms. Selvin reports that MR has reached out to the Statesman. That’s great news, but further steps must be taken. The MR office and the SOJ must mutually agree on the procedures students must follow in order to get the access they need, and the SOJ faculty must then communicate these procedures to the students. If access is denied, a full explanation must be respectfully given.

    I sympathize with Ms. Sheprow being overworked, but with all due respect, that is not an excuse. Maybe Ms. Sheprow should recognize that many of the students who visit her office are in the same position.

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