July 4, 2009

Power of passion, frustrations of print: Student journalists pursue rumor that j-school's director asked to resign

The news that the new head of Michigan State University's College of Communication asked the director of the journalism school to resign frustrated a lot of journalism students this week.

First, the State News, the independent news organization at MSU, was on a production break. Its posted story on July 2 invited readers to come back July 6 for an update (though commenters did their best to offer pieces of theory and news.)

Equally frustrating was the lack of a formal answer or even a Tweet from the new dean or the official press department.

Then, there was the question of when was the decision known. A tweet on June 24th led to the message that #jbb was "C'est fini !"

At one point students in the School of Journalism were asking if that director, Jane Briggs-Bunting, would be proud of their use of social media for spreading the word of her ouster. Two hash tags #jbb and #briggs-bunting spread quickly on Twitter. Then a Facebook group to save journalism at the school was created. (That's where the image comes from, uploaded and created by Jayne Salk.)

  1. esther gim
    egim anyone know anything on jbb being forced to resign b/c the j-school wants to move in a new direction?????
  2. jwswrites
    jwswrites A lesson in how Twitter can take control of your msg before you do. #CASfail Good teaching moment 4 academia, except academia is the prob
  3. jwswrites
    jwswrites I think #JBB would be proud of the tenacity of students to report #CASfail. JRN stu's doing what they're supposed to, ?-ing & informing
  4. Ari B. Adler
    aribadler C'mon State News, dig in! RT @thesnews: Jane Briggs-Bunting, Director of (MSU) School of Journalism, asked to resign http://bit.ly/1891pf
-- this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

Even the student newspaper, The State News, seemed frustrated in its article on the resignation. An article Friday in the Lansing State Journal quoted Briggs-Bunting as saying she had a contract through next summer but confirmed she had been asked to step down.

The Journal quoted Briggs-Bunting saying:
""I'm very concerned. We are one of the schools at the cutting edge of redefining journalism. I really would hate to see that momentum slowed."
Briggs-Bunting and the rest of the staff had created a plan to revise the curriculm for the 2010 school year. The faculty and staff had been learning themselves at Faculty Bytes and events like a three-day video journalism workshop they took with instructor, Robb Montgomery.(See video)

The Lansing State Journal said that the dean refused comment and quoted this statement from Terry Denbow, vice president of university relations.
"Dean (Pamela) Whitten has requested that Jane Briggs-Bunting step down as director of the School of Journalism. Dean Whitten looks forward to working with Briggs-Bunting and the journalism school faculty to optimize an efficient and effective leadership transition."
The Journal quoted Denbow, saying decision was about Briggs-Bunting's administrative role.

There was speculation as only the School of Journalism's director's name was missing from the college's Who We Are page. (though she was still listed on the school's opening page and its people page as late as Friday night.) Briggs-Bunting, whose tenure means she remains a professor regardless, told the Journal she wasn't sure what her decision would be.

Pamela Whitten was appointed June 19, with her first day July 1 She came to MSU in 1998, most recently serving as professor in the college’s Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media and associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Briggs-Bunting hasn't been sleeping since coming to lead at Michigan State University in 2003. (She replaced Steve Lacy, who returned to teaching after five years at the position.)

The school was reacredited by the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. The school hosted events with American Press Institute and its ReThink the News, a daylong symposium on the future in May.

The Ph.D. students from Robb Montgomery on Vimeo.

A new ReThink the News was planned for Sept. 11, a prelude to the State News, the independent student newspaper's 100th anniversary celebration. (Briggs-Bunting also is president of the Board of Directors for the State News.)

Briggs-Bunting often used contacts from her years in the business to get opportunities for students.

(update: see comment from Bonnie about this) In 2007, MSU journalism students participated in a live blog hosted at www.detnews.com/debateblog

during the CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Primary Debate

Also in 2007 was the launch of the Innovation Incubator, funded by the Knight Foundation to foster creative thinking about solutions to digital news problems at seven universities.

Criticism at the State News article
pointed to a change in focus away from research under her tenure and a changing faculty, including the hiring of three white males.
Research and attracting money for research was one of the strategic highlights in a recent College of Communications Arts publication, The Story. (And though the newspaper allows commenters to connect to a Facebook profile, it is not required and most of the comments critical of Briggs-Bunting are not linked.

Among the faculty leaving was journalism Associate Professor Kim Piper-Aiken's who left after she learned she would not be awarded tenure status due to not completing research or creative scholarship. , accordnig to an April 2007 State News article.

In 2005, an ex-employee was charged with and then pled guilty to embezzlement at the School of Journalism.

In 2003, Briggs-Bunting was inducted into the MSU Journalism Hall of Fame.

Who knows what will happen. The developing events certainly are one lesson many MSU students won't need a final to study for to remember the effect of being left out of the story.

Note: I am a 1977 graduate of the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. I've spoken at several classes since and volunteered on a few projects and events.

Related post


  1. JBB deserves credit for many new media initiatives. However, the the CNN/Detroit News debate blog experience was not a result of her contacts in the field, as this blog suggests. I had been blogging for the Detroit News for many years and approached my contacts there with the concept as an extra credit opportunity for my two Intro to Mass Media classes. My goal is not to diminish Jane's accomplishments, but to correct the record, in the interest of accuracy, and because this is an event of which I am most proud. Great credit should also go to graduate student Robin Blom, who worked tirelessly to make the event the success that it was. Thanks for the opportunity to make this correction - Bonnie Bucqueroux

  2. Bonnie:
    Thanks for stopping by and clarifying the blogging arrangement.

    Mary Ann

  3. There are essentially three issues now at work: the situation surrounding the resignation request, the unsure future of the program and finally CAS’s inability to properly communicate with faculty and students. Regardless of your opinions of Jane Briggs-Bunting this has provided us an opportunity to discuss the future of the J-School and the skills needed by future journalists.

    I invite everyone to continue this discussion at http://savemsujrn.com

  4. The State News has filed two more stories since I wrote this:
    this one and this