Rutgers changes course, lets journalism class investigate school

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Students in an investigative journalism class will get to practice their craft on campus at Rutgers University after all.

John Pavlik, chairman of the university's journalism department, said yesterday that he was reversing his earlier decision that restricted reporting in the class to off-campus topics.

“We've decided that the long-term goal of getting the students the broadest experience possible would be best served by getting experience both on campus and off campus,” he said.

One student, Fraidy Reiss, said she was told that her story about perks for Rutgers athletes — such as access to tutors — was a reason the restriction was imposed last week. The story was not published by Rutgers' daily student newspaper, The Targum, which also partially funds the investigative journalism class.

Pavlik said last week that making the students find off-campus topics had nothing to do with what they wrote, and that the restriction more closely mirrored assignments of professional journalists. He also noted that other journalism schools, including Columbia University — where he used to be a professor — and Temple University, restrict their students to off-campus subjects. However, these universities are private; Rutgers is public.

Pavlik also said last week that people on campus had complained that students were misrepresenting themselves, arriving at interviews ill-prepared and hounding the administration for information.

The Associated Press reported yesterday afternoon that Pavlik said his decision to reverse course this week was not directly related to the media attention the change in policy received. He did say, though, that he heard from reporters and editors from around New Jersey who thought aspiring journalists could benefit by digging for dirt at Rutgers.

But, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported today that “nearly 20 calls from reporters, editors, colleagues and the public — prompted by media coverage of the ban — helped Pavlik change his mind, he said.”

“Reflecting on this whole thing … I think this is what makes the most sense,” the newspaper quoted Pavlik as saying.

The newspaper also reported that “the ban drew attention across the country, prompting the national Society of Professional Journalists to threaten an investigation of Rutgers. Media outlets, from Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show' to HBO's 'Real Sports,' also contacted the university about the ban.”

“I didn't agree with the decision in the first place,” said Guy Baehr, the former Star-Ledger reporter who teaches the investigative journalism class. “We can go back to doing what we've been doing.”

His class would resume practicing “the right way to do journalism, being able to follow the facts where they lead,” Baehr told the First Amendment Center Online.

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