Our Best Foot Forward: John Jay’s Media Visibility is Bigger than Ever
By Peter Dodenhoff
In print. On the air. In cyberspace and social media. Lately, wherever one goes in the world, John Jay College is there, thanks to a dramatic upturn in the College’s media visibility and a variety of factors that are feeding that growth.
“I’ve been here over 15 years, and in that time I’ve seen President Travis seek out more visibility for the College and support things to help faculty, staff, and administrators become more comfortable with media, as well as more comfortable with sharing their research with the world,” said Gloria Browne-Marshall, an associate professor of constitutional law and a regular presence in a variety of media. “I won’t say the visibility wasn’t there before, but as the College has expanded there are more requests for information, and it’s given faculty and staff more opportunity to let the world know what it is that we do.”
Hard data on the media uptick are somewhat elusive, due in large part to the numerous institutional and individual forms it takes.
Still, persuasive anecdotal evidence abounds across the media spectrum. Print is the longest-running and, perhaps not surprisingly, still the favored platform for the College as well as for individual faculty members. Each month, the John Jay Office of Marketing and Communications produces a report, “John Jay in the Media,” that tracks news coverage of and appearances by faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Scores of individual articles are recorded, citing bylined articles, citations of faculty experts, and newsworthy professional accomplishments. When the mass-market reach of news agencies and syndicates is factored in, the monthly total of articles or mentions soars into the thousands.“
We are very responsive to media requests as a team, and don’t let such opportunities pass us by,” said Rama Sudhakar, John Jay’s Chief Communications Officer.
Many faculty members appear regularly in print through their own initiative, with op-eds, news analyses, and other commentaries. Former police officer and prosecutor Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, can often be seen in the pages of the New York Daily News, offering insights on topical criminal justice issues. Browne-Marshall has a column on legal issues that is syndicated nationwide by the Milwaukee Courier. She also holds the distinction of having been the first black female accredited to cover the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Jay’s presence in the media, whether in print or otherwise, is in large part event-driven, and whenever headline-generating news occurs, it’s a safe bet that a John Jay faculty member will be called on for comment or analysis. Whether it’s terrorism, gun violence, juvenile justice, DNA analysis, racial justice, or any one of a wide variety of other topics, John Jay’s resident experts are ready, willing, and able to contribute to the conversation.
“If the media comes here looking for someone to comment on a police shooting,” Browne-Marshall observed, “they can ᴀnd someone who thinks the police were wrong and someone who thinks the police were right. And we could end up on TV at the same time on diḀerent networks.”
It’s the diverse array of viewpoints that Browne-Marshall believes gives John Jay its unique and powerful appeal. “There are very few colleges that can boast of that,” she noted. “The diversity of viewpoints should be a bragging right of ours.”
On the Air
If print is the granddaddy of the College’s media outreach, television is not far behind, most notably in the form of “Criminal Justice Matters,” John Jay’s own monthly cable TV program that is now in its 35th season. Currently hosted by Steve Handelman, over time the program has featured a galaxy of A-list guests and John Jay faculty members: New York Mayors Edward Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudolph Giuliani; Police Commissioners Benjamin Ward, Patrick V. Murphy, and William Bratton; Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau; Professors Jane Katz and Baz Dreisinger, and President Jeremy Travis, to name just a few.“It’s meant as a forum on current topics in criminal justice,” Handelman said. “It’s a local show, but we produce news-related discussions for the entire country.” (The programs can be accessed on John Jay’s YouTube channel.)
Handelman cited a number of favorite episodes from the six years he has hosted the program. “After Sandy Hook, we brought in cops and ex-FBI personnel to talk about how teachers can deal with gun violence,” he recalled. “For another show, we went up to Otisville Correctional Facility and did a show with inmates taking John Jay classes there as part of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program. With then-Commissioner Bratton, we had folks arguing back and forth on stop, question, and frisk practices.”
Handelman’s other role as Director of John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice puts him in a key role when it comes to promoting John Jay, its faculty and staff, and insights into justice-related issues. The CMCJ is home to the online publication The Crime Report, a roundup of criminal justice news and opinions, which Handelman described as “the only national news source of its kind.” The center also awards fellowships to working journalists to help hone their criminal justice reporting skills.
“In the last 10 or 11 years, we’ve brought in around 850 journalists from every kind of media platform, from the Wall Street Journal to small mid-market outlets, online news outlets, citizen journalists, and the ethnic press,” said Handelman. “Some of them have gone on to become prize winners in their field. We work with a lot of young people who want to do their best, and we want to help them by providing resources.”
Experts are Made, Not Born
The knowledge and expertise provided by John Jay faculty has been carefully distilled into a 20-page document, “The Faculty Expertise Reference List,” by the Office of Marketing & Communications, which includes and describes several dozen faculty members, arranged by area of expertise. The list is just a small fraction of John Jay’s total faculty complement, although that number can be expected to increase, thanks in large part to a series of media training workshops that have been offered to the faculty in recent months.
Facilitated by outside experts, including John Jay College Foundation trustee Katherine Oliver, former head of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, these forums have offered faculty members tips and best practices for effectively engaging with the media, presenting research, positioning oneself as a subject-matter expert, and more.
Professor Browne-Marshall, a veteran of many media platforms, was a participant in one forum’s panel discussion in which she, along with faculty colleagues Jennifer Dysart and Saul Kassin, discussed her experiences in dealing with the media. “You want as many people to know about your research as possible,” Browne-Marshall said. “You can use the social media platforms, you can use the more traditional platforms like print, but in order for the media to seek you out, they first have to know you exist. And you have to realize that whatever your area of research is, at some point it’s going to come up in the news.”
The Ubiquitous Hashtag
In a world in which the hashtag has become ubiquitous, social media and other online platforms have become an outlet with seemingly limitless potential for the John Jay community. Many faculty members are long-time bloggers and Twitter users—President Travis himself has an active Twitter account—and the College is a familiar presence on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and SnapChat, among other sites.
Given the computer-driven underpinning of social media platforms, usage data are easily obtained, and the numbers are eye-opening. During the 2015–16 academic year, for example, Twitter posts have jumped more than sixfold compared to 2014–15, and Instagram posts are up more than fourfold. Engagements on these platforms—likes, shares, and comments—have similarly grown by several hundred percent. Facebook postings by the College, its subsidiary units, and members of the College community are also growing all the time, and the College’s visibility is enhanced by those students and alumni whose pages proudly show John Jay as their alma mater.
Today’s 24/7 news cycle has created a fertile landscape for media outreach. As Browne-Marshall notes, media engagement is also part of her central role as an educator. “My feeling is this: I have the opportunity to teach via CNN or MSNBC or CBS or the print media or my radio show on WBAI, and it all fits into my need to help people better understand constitutional rights, the law, the Supreme Court, and how all these things affect our lives on a daily basis. This is another way of teaching.”