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Reflections on Teaching Journalism

 

When the thought of a career first entered my mind--just before I became a teenager, I swung between becoming a professional dancer (ballerina) and a physicist. Dancing was a youthful passion but bouts of vertigo soon convinced me that I was not destined for a career on the stage. As for nuclear physics, I read through all of the fraying books on the physics shelf of my local library, not ever knowing that they were out-of-date. Marie Curie was my heroine. As life turned out, I did not pursue a career in science, although I did take pre-med courses and was accepted to several medical schools.  

I loved to write, whether it was poetry or later journalism and after spending several years working at Esquire Magazine I decided to go back to graduate school, earning a PhD in English Literature from New York University in 1974. 

 

At that moment, I found myself at a crossroads: I could return to journalism and work as a writer/editor or, with my graduate degree in hand, try college teaching. I began teaching at Baruch College, CUNY in the fall of 1974, hired not only because I had the right academic credentials but because I had journalism experience. The College was looking to expand its journalism course offerings with journalism, at the time, housed in the Department of English.

 

So began my 43-year-teaching career at Baruch, a rewarding experience that drew upon my training as an academic and a journalist. We expanded the journalism curriculum and, as we did, I taught a wide range of courses including basic journalistic writing and reporting, copy editing, business and financial writing, feature article writing, creative journalism, narrative writing,  the journalism internship class, and The Arts in New York City, a seminar in the Macaulay Honors College.

 

I sent my students out on the streets to report local news often missed by the mainstream press and we toured neighborhoods, digging down deep into issues and coming up with possible solutions. Drawing upon my Esquire experience, I founded Dollars and Sense Magazine, to provide students with a top-notch creative outlet for their writing. Over the years, D&S has won many prizes and, since it has been published online, my colleagues have added many interactive features as well, with video and podcasts. It is hard to imagine that this sophisticated publication was first put together on my dining room table.

 

For over 16 years, I served as the Chair of the Journalism Program, hiring new faculty and expanding our public events --lectures and panels that highlighted important social, political, and economic issues, often with funding from the Reuters Foundation. 

 

I also wrote a proposal for a writer-in-residence program at Baruch that was funded by alumnus Sidney Harman. The program brought gifted journalists, poets, novelists, playwrights, and critics to campus for a semester to teach intensive writing workshops.

Creating this program at Baruch College, a school known predominantly for its business programs, was one of the highlights of my teaching career. For several years, I also taught feature article writing and travel writing at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism (CUNY).

 

Teaching classes to lively and inquisitive students, many of them the first generation in their families to attend college, was particularly meaningful to me. So, too, was the opportunity to innovate--to add new courses to the curriculum and to new programs to the college’s calendar.

 

No career could have been more rewarding. Even now, as a Professor Emerita, I still enjoy teaching engagements. There is nothing quite like (even virtually) being in a classroom.

Interview on teaching The Arts in New York City, a seminar in the Macaulay Honors College, CUNY.
The Roz Bernstein Reporting Day

When I retired in 2016, my colleagues and my students (current and past) established a Roz Bernstein Reporting Day Fund in my honor. Each fall, Professors Gisele Regatao and Emily Johnson invite students from their journalism classes to spend a day reporting in a New York City neighborhood. The itinerary includes a busy day spent interviewing local planners and community activists, artists, and business people. Stops include local galleries, businesses,, and non-profit organizations.

The Roslyn Bernstein Prize in Cultural Reporting

Roslyn Bernstein with Barbara Harman, Executive Director of the Harman Family Foundation

Barbara Harman, Baruch alumnus Sidney Harman's daughter and executive director of the Harman Family foundation, joined by Harman family members, announced the Roslyn Bernstein Prize for Cultural Reporting on Dec. 8, 2015 at Roslyn Bernstein's career celebration gathering. The cash prize is awarded each year to select students for exceptional cultural and arts reporting.

“I began life as a poet, concerned with color, form, and images. This led me to cultural reporting, to long-form features and profiles on artists and arts organizations, exhibits, studios, artist housing, and on funding for the arts, too. Stories in black-and-white and in color. Textured tapestries, crafted from careful reporting, woven into our sensibilities, enriching our lives!

The Harman prize in Cultural Reporting honors my lifelong commitment to the field. Bravo to the Harman Family Foundation for their generosity and vision!”

--Roslyn Bernstein

Roslyn Bernstein in her seventh floor office, facing north, in Baruch’s 24th Street Building

An Essay by Roslyn Bernstein in "From Departure to Destination"

 

    When I arrived at Baruch College in the spring of 1974, there was no Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. I was hired as an adjunct to fill in for an ill professor in the English Department in what was then the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

    I had just successfully defended my doctoral dissertation on the journalism of Daniel Defoe, who is, of course, better known for his novels Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. Before graduate school, I worked for three years in the editorial department of Esquire magazine, the hotbed of New Journalism.

    At Esquire, I learned from the most dynamic folks in the magazine business: Harold Hayes, Esquire's famous editor-in-chief;Arnold Gingrich, its publisher (and the man who published Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in 1933 and forty-three pieces of fiction and nonfiction by F. Scott Fitzgerald between 1936 and Fitzgerald's death in 1940); Norman Mailer, the literary rebel whom the magazine commissioned to cover the 1960 Democratic political convention in Chicago, resulting in his iconic essay "Superman Comes to the Supermarket"; Tom Wolfe, author of the style-bending The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965), the title essay of which was published in Esquire in 1963; and a rowdy and crazily-talented cast of artists and photographers, including the photographer Diane Arbus and the illustrator Edward Sorel.

    It was definitely training in the trenches as far as New Journalism was concerned, and when I was hired full time at Baruch the following fall to teach journalism courses, then offered in the Department of English, I was determined to put the training to good use. At the time, the journalism faculty was small, two or three of us, and we rotated teaching the courses. My  workload included basic journalism, feature writing, reviewing and criticism, and business and financial writing. In each case I found myself telling students, "Imagine that your story is going to be published in Esquire magazine."

    After two years of imagining our own publication, we finally created one in the spring semester of 1977: the students named it Dollars and Sense, and their goal was to design and publish a lively, off-beat publication covering business news that the mainstream press had missed. We soon discovered that there was plenty to be unearthed. Over the next few decades, we broke stories that were hard to find elsewhere: a look at the black funeral home business and the birth of contact lenses. We covered issues that were hardly getting their due- "An Occupational Hazard: Sexual Harassment," by Nancy Weiss, focused on sexual harassment on the job, a story barely in the news in 1980. We also produced thematic issues that dealt with unemployment, the global economy, and race. Often, to illustrate these stories, students shot extraordinary photographs: a mayonnaise jar filled with pennies to illustrate coin collecting and a miniature boxing ring with two bottles in robes to illustrate "Pepsi Challenges Coke." Over the years, Dollars and Sense staffers distinguished themselves, and the magazine won many gold medals from the Scholastic Press Association for outstanding reporting, photography, illustration, and graphic design. Today, some thirty-eight years later, the magazine has evolved into a brilliant multimedia publication under the auspices of the Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions.

    I loved teaching my Baruch students, who came from everywhere. "Make sure that you call me after 9:00 p.m., one of my top editors said. "If you call before that, you will get my mother who speaks Spanish and my father who speaks Hungarian." Then, with a big smile, he added: "I'm the family translator."

    Beyond my passion for teaching and for the magazine, I had another dream too. I wanted to create a writer-in-residence program in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, where gifted writers could study with great novelists, poets, playwrights, and journalists. One day, I found myself listening to Dr. Sidney Harman ('39), a distinguished alumnus and the founder of Harman Kardon, giving a breakfast talk. His plea surprised me. What we needed, Dr. Harman said, was more poets as managers, business leaders who loved literature and could quote poetry from memory (he could). Within a few months, I had written a proposal for the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program at Baruch, and he funded it. Since 1998, more than thirty distinguished Harman writers have visited campus-Edward Albee, Paul Auster, Philip Gourevitch, Tony Kushner, Jhumpa Lahiri. It's a glittering jewel in the Weissman School's crown.

    My forty-two years at Baruch were on my mind last December when the Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions held a career celebration in my honor. It was a memorable evening with so many colleagues and former students attending and one that I will never forget. Having officially retired in August 2016, I am now moving on to a life as a full-time writer. Over the past ten years, I have published two books: Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho and Boardwalk Stories, and I am currently working on a novel and continuing my cultural reporting for such online venues as Guernica, Huffington Post, Tablet, and Tikkun. When I reflect on the decades that I have spent at the Weissman School-teaching and learning from my students and creating and innovating courses and programs-I see that my path was always directed to the future, to the new, and to the innovative. How fortunate I was that the Weissman School provided me with such fertile ground, enabling me to thrive.

 

 

Fertile Ground: Memories of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences (1974-2016)

A Tribute to Corky Lee in Dollars and $ense Magazine
Corky Lee Funeral: Photo by Francely Flores

For any inquiries, please contact Roslyn Bernstein

© 2020 by Roslyn Bernstein

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