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Rutgers faculty, students respond to Julie Hermann's comment

<p class="p1">Julie Hermann, director of Rutgers Intercollegiate Athletics, angered many with uncouth comments she made in a “Media Ethics and Law” class as a guest speaker.</p>

Julie Hermann, director of Rutgers Intercollegiate Athletics, angered many with uncouth comments she made in a “Media Ethics and Law” class as a guest speaker.

Rutgers’ “Media Ethics and Law” class occasionally sees guest speakers who shed light on the concept of journalistic ethics to educate students about the principles of journalistic integrity. One such speaker made students question this concept.

On Feb. 27, Julie Hermann, director of Rutgers Intercollegiate Athletics, spoke in a section of “Media Ethics and Law” taught by Bruce Reynolds, a part-time lecturer in the School of Communication and Information.

During her on-the-record presentation, Hermann made disparaging comments about The-Star Ledger, New Jersey’s most circulated daily, which laid off 167 employees last week.

“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads — and they die,” she said. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”

When a student commented that The Star-Ledger might go under next month, Hermann fired, “That would be great. I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”

Hermann’s statements were recorded by students in the class, and spurred a response from Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi after Muckgers.com reporter Simon Galperin, one of the students present, provided a copy of his recording to the publication.

Yesterday, another student present in the class, School of Arts and Sciences senior, Lindsay Sweeney posted an article on the student-run online publication RUckmakers.

It included a link containing recommendations regarding recording of faculty lectures voted by the University Senate on Jan. 27, 2012, to former Rutgers President Richard McCormick, available on Rutgers Office of Instruction and Research Technology.

“The University should prohibit the audio-visual recording, transmission, or distribution of classroom lectures and discussions unless expressed written permission … from the class instructor has been obtained and all students in the class as well as guest speakers have been informed that audio/video recording may occur,” states a clause in the recommendations.

Galperin, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the report contains mere recommendations, and from his understanding of previous journalism classes, he did not think he needed permission to record a speaker in a journalism class.

Reynolds said he did not know any such recommendations existed. While no policy prevented students from recording the speeches, he believes a reporter has an obligation to practice journalism accurately and honestly.

“What Simon did was not unethical, but there is a difference between being unethical and unprincipled, and Simon was unprincipled,” he said. “If you do journalism, do it honestly and let people know that you’re going to record and that you’re going to use the information that you record to do a story.”

Galperin declined to comment on whether it was unethical on his part to use the information from Hermann’s speech without her knowledge, but he commented in a follow-up nj.com article.

“Rutgers might work hard at PR, and they’re good at it, but I feel free to publish things that are critical of the administration and there is no pressure,” he said in the article.

Reynolds said he often invites people who are newsmakers, and unless specifically requested, the lectures are on the record. 

He said Hermann came to the class on Feb. 27, a time when she could not have known about the layoffs at The Star-Ledger, which essentially triggered the controversy.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Jason Baum’s comments seemed to match Reynolds’.

“[Hermann’s] comments were in response to a broad array of student questions on a number of different subjects, and were reflective of her own personal experiences,” Baum said in an email. “She had no knowledge of the impending reorganization of the Star-Ledger and drastic changes that the newspaper would announce several weeks later, in April.”

Sweeney said although she did not think what Hermann said was appropriate, Hermann did not expect to make a “big deal.” 

Reynolds said due to factors like technology and economics, journalism has undergone some major changes that have caused news organizations to rush big stories, inevitably leading to errors.

“There’s been an erosion in the trust that readers, viewers and listeners have had with news media,” he said. “I regret that terribly, and the only way to make it as close to what it was is to be as honest as we can.”

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