CU's journalism school officially closes June 30 in favor of what's being called a Journalism-Plus program. And now we know who'll be overseeing the transition: Christopher Braider, an Italian and French professor. Braider, who's been appointed to a two-year term as director of the journalism and mass communications faculty, knows he's facing an enormous challenge, but he feels his outsider status should aid him in his mission.
"Obviously, it's a daunting prospect," he concedes. "But it's less daunting for me, I think, because my role is not that of the new visionary who's going to try to sort out the confusion and chart a course for the future and persuade everyone else to follow in my wake.
"My job, really, is, on the one hand, to restore order at the day-to-day level -- to make sure parents get straight answers to questions about their children's study plan, make sure all of our courses are being taught and the budget is functioning properly and everybody's where they ought to be. And on the other hand, to try to create an environment where the faculty and the staff can sort out where they want to go. To that extent, I'm a broker. My job is not to tell them what to do. My job is to try to create an atmosphere that allows them to work that out together."
In order to do so, Braider believes a culture shift is in order.
"There seem to have been two main problems in the past at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications," he believes. "One was trying to adapt to the changing media environment, and the other was trying to be of one mind. It's my impression that JMC was operating on an entrepreneurial model, in which each individual member of the faculty was pursuing his or her own research agenda and journalism and media agenda, and they were doing that to a certain extent in isolation -- but also in competition with everyone else. And one result of that was an inability to talk to each other in order to sort out a collective effort.
"Part of the virtue of my lack of experience and expertise in journalism is that I bring the absence of any agenda," he goes on. "So I can help them speak to each other in the way necessary for them to play a leading role in whatever this process over the coming year is going to be. I'm a fresh eye, a fresh voice, and I have no ax to grind. I have no designs for JMC beyond helping it work out whatever its plans are going to be."
The process of figuring out this last part is expected to take the first year of Braider's stint as director, and it'll be tricky. "With the discontinuance of the school, it can no longer be a degree-granting authority," he points out. "The graduate program is completely unaffected by any of this, but the JMC would not be in the position of granting undergraduate degrees. So Journalism Plus is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, and that college will be granting degrees in the short term until the long-term situation is sorted out. So right now, there are two sets of advisers -- and these two bodies aren't quite operating in phase yet."
That sounds like a recipe for chaos -- but Braider insists that the situation isn't sheer anarchy. The JMC's graduate program will continue apace, and undergraduate classes are still on the schedule for the upcoming school year. As such, "a basic template is in place," he says. "There's no doubt as to what we're going to be doing in the fall and the spring. All of that is clear. The question is, what is the future shape of JMC going to be, and what is the nature of the new, larger entity of which it will be a part?"
Such a determination should be reached by the end of his first year on the job, leaving him the second year to take part in the search for a permanent head for the reconfigured program. As he puts it, "the true prince will come and give the kiss that will bring the program back to a new, creative life."
In the meantime, he encourages incoming freshmen with an interest in journalism-related subjects -- like, for instance, my twin daughters, who are thinking about pursuing sports broadcasting and public relations, respectively -- to look forward to what's coming rather than lament what's gone the way of all flesh.
"Journalism Plus could be the seed bed for some astonishing new programs for JMC," he maintains. "And it could involve people in JMC, but also people in sister fields. For instance, they could take part in documentary filmmaking, which is currently handled by the film department, or they could get involved in art history or rhetoric and communication -- and there's a communication department in the College of Arts and Sciences. So Journalism Plus could enhance student experiences by putting all sorts of resources at their fingertips that weren't available int he past -- and that could be a really good thing."
The old J-school, meanwhile, had reached its sell-by date, he feels.
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"The journalism landscape is changing by the hour in all sorts of ways -- some welcome, some not, but in ways we may not fully understand," he says. "And something like the JMC could play a role in helping to determine where all of this is going -- not just where it's going under its own momentum, but also where it ought to go. And it was unable to do that in its former state. Partly, that was due to structural problems. It's my understanding that the JMC was like most schools and departments in academia -- which is that, to a certain extent, it was a relic of the past.
"The way we tend to tell the story in my neck of the woods is that the Germans invented the modern university and modern faculties from the late 18th century into the 19th century. That model worked wonderfully back then, but it's not flexible and accurate enough to respond to the world we live in now, in the 21st century. And what happened at JMC is happening across the board to everybody. But JMC's problems arose at a strategically vital moment. Its model clearly wasn't working, so it's now able to reinvent itself in a form that does respond to the current situation, and our need to chart some sort of rational future. So it's not a matter of abandoning one model. It's seeing the opportunity to create a new one that will be adequate to the times."
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