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New department head: Bill Rainbolt.
Photo By: John Whipple

Trust Us: We’re Majors

UAlbany announces the upgrade of its journalism minor

In just a few years, for the first time in the University at Albany’s 160-year history, students will be able to major in journalism. The SUNY Albany College of Arts and Sciences’ new Strategic Plan for 2003-2008 endorses a recommendation to create a journalism major. The plan comes as the university reports that an increasing number of students are enrolling in journalism courses, while the number of students with officially declared journalism minors has grown to 100.

As part of the plan to create a major that journalism department chair Bill Rainbolt says will take shape in two to three years, the School of Arts and Sciences formed a search committee to recommend two full-time professors. According to search committee member and English Department head Gareth Griffiths, they were looking for professionals who “would be not only practitioners of journalism but also academics who could write and teach as well as help put together a proper journalism major.”

The decision to create the major has grabbed the attention of students and professors alike, as many wonder not only why the major was created in a time when even established majors are having trouble acquiring the funding they need, but also whether the major will function as anything more than a glorified vocational program. Even journalism department chair Bill Rainbolt admits, “We are seeing less and less of what I like to call ‘news hounds’ and instead we see students who are interested in media as a whole. I don’t see the loss of interest in pure news as a good thing.”

These worries are dismissed, however, by both Griffiths and Theresa Harrison, head of the Communications Department. “Bill is wishing for people who have a thirst for news. I don’t think we have anyone but people who are ready to drink it up. However, they are hungry for it in its new forms. They are hungry for data, for interaction,” said Harrison.

According to Griffiths, “The appointments show that a vocational program is not in the cards.” Nancy Roberts, who has a doctorate in mass communication and is former director of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has written, co-authored, or edited five books regarding journalism history. She was also the president of the American Journalism Historians’ Association. Roberts will bring her extensive knowledge of the history of journalism as well as her experience with magazine writing, literary journalism, arts reporting and criticism, and media law and ethics to the creation of the program.

William Bass, who has a doctorate in “history of consciousness,” has also written five books including his most recent, The Predators, which was serialized by The New Yorker and sold for a documentary film. Bass’ purview at the university will be new-media culture, science journalism, contemporary issues and magazine and long-form journalism.

Both Griffiths and Harrison point to the specialties of the new full-time faculty members as evidence that the program they are designing is one that will incorporate the wide range of niche journalism that is prospering today, while ensuring attention to the teaching of ethics, morals and responsibilities sometimes forgotten by professional journalists today.

“Being a journalist today is a role you must play. It is how you look at day-to-day events. It carries an implied promise to check for each perspective. It carries with it responsibilities that this program is being designed to teach,” said Harrison. Though some critics say future journalists are better off studying the things that interest them so they will have a knowledge base to write about, Harrison said a comprehensive journalism major is necessary. “The ethics, morals and responsibility that go along with being a journalist are not something that can necessarily be picked up by someone who wants to become a science journalist and majors in English and minors in biology,” she said.

Griffiths and Harrison will be working closely with Rainbolt in the development of the major, and according to Rainbolt, “Some of the critics don’t understand that this is not going to be 12 courses in how to write a story. We will make sure our students can write a story, but there will be courses offered in cooperation with other majors that include readings, history and ethics to address contemporary roles of the media. We won’t just be educating students to be journalists in 2005, but in 2035.”

With the current spotlight on media failures, whether it be the lack of a critical eye toward the war in Iraq, the Bush administration or power in general; the quiet blending of hard news and entertainment; or the faked-news scandals involving once-respected news outlets, the debate over whether there is a better way to educate journalists to their trade’s inherent responsibilities couldn’t be more timely. And it’s been on Rainbolt’s mind all through his 30 years as director of the journalism minor.

Also on Rainbolt’s mind is the fact that no other SUNY center has a journalism major. This is something that SUNY Binghamton graduate Kirtana Mausert says is “just odd and disturbing. Why wouldn’t there be journalism major in times when the media has so much effect on our daily lives?” As for the practical matter of creating a program during times of financial uncertainty, Rainbolt is straightforward: “We want to be competitive, of course. All the major public universities in the Northeast have journalism majors, including the universities of Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Rutgers and Penn State. We want to make the University at Albany the only choice for students who want to study journalism at a state university center in New York. After all, we are in the state capital and we should take advantage of it.”

—David King


What a Week

So About That Democracy Thing

Challenges are already in the works for Louisiana’s approval of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. While ballots show overwhelming approval of the ban, an unusually low voter turnout and a questionable absence of voting machines in certain locations provided opponents with grounds for challenging the ban. In New Orleans, home to the state’s largest gay community, state officials failed to meet the drivers attempting to deliver voting machines, and no votes were cast until after noon.

 

Rx and the City

You make it work however you can. Albany is the first city in the nation to use federal Community Development Block Grant funds for a prescription drug program for low-income residents. The program will require a $7 monthly fee for prescriptions and be available to residents with a yearly income under $16,000, or $25,000 for families. Anyone interested in the program can call 689-5350 for details.

 

Nice Clean Chip Fabs

High-tech pollution is not just the stuff of the early 1990s. The town of East Fishkill is being connected to the Fishkill municipal water supply system due to contamination of local water supplies. IBM property was identified as the source of contamination in nearby residents’ wells. The project is expected to take more than two years and cost IBM around $10 million.

 

Ethics Is So Complicated

A grand jury returned 32 indictments Tuesday against corporations and associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in a investigation into 2002 fund-raising activities. Some of those same names also come up in an ethics complaint filed against DeLay by Rep. Chris Bell claiming that DeLay misused his office for political purposes and promised favors in return for contributions. Watchdog groups, and The New York Times, charge that some Ethics Committee members are trying to kill the issue by “punting” the question of whether to investigate to a panel they know will be deadlocked on party lines.



Citgo and proud of it: (l-r) John Caputo and Connie Derway.Photo by: Alicia Solsman

Patriotism at the Pump

Truck-stop owner makes unusual business decision to
support the troops, but are such efforts likely to produce the desired results?

John Caputo had to make quite a few decisions when he bought the Grapevine Deli and Exit 11 Truck Stop just off the Interstate 87 a year ago. But one of them, he said, was far simpler than the rest.

“I wanted to sell a product that didn’t come from the Middle East,” he said of his decision to sell Citgo fuel instead of fuel supplied by one of the company’s larger—and cheaper—competitors. “Citgo told me up front that they didn’t get their supply from Iraq or Saudi Arabia or any of those countries.”

And, thanks to brochures plastered on the gas pumps and windows of the nearby Grapevine Deli, anyone visiting Caputo’s truck stop is made well aware of this choice.

“Support Our Troops!” the two-page essay proclaims, adding that “putting a [sticker] on your car is not enough.”

Like Caputo, many Americans are embracing the notion of supporting soldiers stationed overseas in various capacities. From displaying magnetic ribbons to purchasing supplies for troops to circulating e-mail messages promoting selective boycotts, the methods are many. Caputo feels that his approach is a more decisive action than most, but will it achieve the desired results?

The Department of Energy’s Web site appears to have received quite a few questions about the Middle Eastern oil boycott idea, since the site includes answers to a series of questions about it. According to the site, the “global nature of the oil market” has created a situation in which “boycotts by individual consumers or even individual countries cannot reduce the oil revenues of a given oil-producing country” as long as overall demand remains constant. If Citgo and other companies suddenly faced higher demand, they would have to purchase from Middle East oil producers to meet it.

The most effective course of action, claims the DOE, not to mention numerous advocacy groups, is to “reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles.”

Regarding consumers’ ability to affect the price of gasoline, the site adds, “consumers have very little power as individuals.”

Caputo, however, disagrees with this statement.

While he acknowledges that the revenue his customers subtract from companies like Exxon/Mobil, which imports significant amounts of oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is negligible—“They made $300 billion last year,” he said, shaking his head—the point is not to send a message to the companies, but to the United States government.

“As long as [the U.S. government] allows these companies to send money to the countries we’re at war with—to help buy the guns they’re killing our soldiers with, [the companies] are going to keep doing it,” he explained.

Yet, despite the inclusion of statements in his essay such as “Support our President!” and “America is definitely safer today than it was on September 11, 2001,” Caputo insisted that the statement he’s trying to make is one that crosses party lines.

“I’m not telling you to support the Republican Party,” he said. “I don’t agree with this war at all, and I’d like everyone to come home tomorrow morning. . . . but I don’t think this is an issue that Democrats or Republicans are paying enough attention to.”

But as with many word-of-mouth actions or boycotts begun with noble intentions, broad America-first solutions like Caputo’s can occasionally be clouded by inaccurate information, misconceptions and biases, especially the belief that all Middle Easterners, or all Arabs, are enemy terrorists. While a boycott of Middle Eastern products may seem logical at first, the effects of such an action might actually prove counterproductive: Some columnists, including Thomas L. Friedman, have pointed out soaring unemployment rates in the Middle East can be considered a very strong recruiting tool for terrorist groups.

In some cases, misinformation amplified by repetition creates additional obstacles for consumers seeking an effective course of action. Every few years, an e-mail message resurfaces to be forwarded from inbox to inbox (www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/nogas.htm), stating that companies such as Citgo and Sunoco have no dealings with Middle Eastern oil-exporting nations.

According to DOE records, however, Citgo receives about 3 percent of its oil annually from Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations—the rest comes from its parent agency, the national oil company of Venezuela.

Similarly, while one of Caputo’s fliers states “Citgo is not part of OPEC”—a common misconception, as OPEC is often identified with its more prominent Middle Eastern members—Venezuela is actually one of the 11 official members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

And the percentages can and do change. “Most refiners use a mix of crude oils from various domestic and foreign sources. The mix of crude oils can change based on the relative cost and availability of crude oil,” says the DOE, making it hard to tell where your gasoline is coming from.

Internal contradictions aside, Caputo is not backing down, and he gestures to the gas station across the street from his truck stop as evidence of his commitment. Not only does his competitor offer fuel from one of the large companies dealing heavily in Middle Eastern oil, but the gasoline is priced at nearly 10 cents less than Caputo’s.

“They’re selling it for less than I buy it,” he sighed, “but I’m not going to compromise.”

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Loose Ends

Albany County Democrats, including several who endorsed district attorney Paul Clyne, threw their support to primary winner David Soares [“Primary Shakeup,” Trail Mix, Sept. 16] at a unity rally Friday. Even former DA Sol Greenburg, who tapped Clyne as his own replacement in 2000, has endorsed Soares. The county committee is also expected to drop its lawsuit over the Soares campaign funding from the Working Families Party. . . . Federal prosecutors invoked the seldom-used Classified Information Procedures Act secrecy law last week in the trial of Albany residents Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain [“Caught in a Trap,” FYI, Aug. 12], dramatically restricting the information available to both the media and the pair’s legal defense. The act would require lengthy background checks for anyone granted access to classified materials and may require the construction of a guarded room for document storage. Several local news outlets have already filed a motion challenging use of the CIPA, as it will effectively close the trial’s proceedings to the media. . . . State Supreme Justice Michael Kavanagh refused to invalidate the same-sex marriages performed in New Paltz earlier this year [“Just Get Me to City Hall on Time?” Newsfront, March 11], saying that the couples would have to be named parties in the lawsuit submitted by conservative legal group Liberty Counsel. Representatives of the Liberty Counsel said that they would do just that, giving the couples the right to speak during the proceedings. . . . The Florida Supreme Court voted 6 to 1 last week in favor of including presidential candidate Ralph Nader on this year’s Nov. 2 ballot. The state’s Democratic Party had challenged Nader’s inclusion on the ballot, claiming that the Reform Party, which endorsed him, does not qualify as a national party in that state. The Democratic Party has been active in challenging Nader’s inclusion on state ballots throughout the nation [“Let Our People Vote,” Newsfront, Sept. 9].


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