Stuart Elliott — Former NY Times Ad Columnist Offers His Take

stuart elliottEarlier this month, Stuart Elliott, the New York Times’s advertising guru, took a buyout after 23 years at the paper. Now that he has more free time, Elliott, who Ad Age called “massively influential,” stopped by City College recently to entertain our MCA students with his wit and wisdom. 

Journalism student Jose Cardoso covered Elliott’s “Lunch with Leaders” presentation. 

Last month, former New York Times columnist Stuart Elliott held a special Q&A presentation in Shepard Hall at The City College of New York. He spoke to the audience a little bit about himself, answered student questions, and discussed the future of the digital media.

First things first: Why did Elliott leave the Times? “The buyout offers were structured so that the longer you had worked at The New York Times the more lucrative the buyout offer was,” said Elliott. “For somebody like myself who had worked at the Times for more than 20 years, it turned out to be like they say in ‘The Godfather’ an offer that I couldn’t refuse.”

Elliott has seen many changes in the media industry over the years, including a new generation of “digital natives.” “That generation is growing up without ever having known a day without tablets,” he said.

Even an expert like Elliott isn’t sure where the advertising-marketing business is headed in five years.  “I’m a lousy predictor,” he said. “I thought aol would be like the biggest thing.”

Still, he added: “Technology is going to continue to remake the advertising and marketing business whether it’s the agencies and how they make ads or how the clients want the adds created. There’s going to be much more of an involvement with public relations.”

He offered some parting advise to the roomful of students. “Start putting down some digital footprints,” said Elliott, “but be very careful about what you do and say in the social media. “Clean up your act kids!”

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Time Inc.: Change or Die

trio.Cover.inddLast Wednesday was a dark day in journalism land. As expected, Time Inc. hemorrhaged six percent of its global workforce, leaving about 500 researchers, reporters, editors and designers out in the cold.  The reason for the bloodbath is clear–change or die. Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang stated it clearly in a memo to the company’s 8,000 employees. “With the significant and ongoing changes in our industry, we must continue to transform our company into one that is leaner, more nimble and more innately multi-platform.”

At several of the magazines, heads rolled at the top. Ellen Kunes, editor in chief of Health Magazine, received a pink slip, as did Real Simple publisher Sally Preston who had been on the job for less than a year. At Essence, two vets, beauty director Corryne Corbett (formerly of Real Simple) and creative director Greg Monfries (who came from People), were sent packing. The bottom line, reports the NY Post: trim $100 million to offset declines in advertising revenue.

Time Inc. wasn’t the only media company slicing and dicing its staff. After lay offs loomed at the New York Times, executive editor Jill Abramson managed to wrangle enough voluntary buy outs to avoid a major bloodletting. But several highly regarded staffers were lost in the shuffle. Culture editor Jonathan Landman, a hero in the Jayson Blair scandal when he famously declared in a memo “We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now” accepted a package, as did Joe Sexton, who was responsible for the recent eye-popping avalanche project which produced 3.5 million page views last month. So what does it mean for you and others who want to enter the profession? Sharpen your digital story telling skills! Companies like Time Inc. need you. According to this scathing critique on the website Wall Street 24/7 a loss of imagination is responsible for the company’s woes. Mark Golin, the former editor of Maxim, is Time Inc.’s digital rainmaker. Sounds like he could use some help.

When (Academic) Credit Is Due

A recent article in the New York Times, highlighted the problems many CUNY students have when tranferring from one college to another. Every year nearly 1,000 students transfer to CCNY from another college, and it is the rare transfer that doesn’t lose credits. City College students take much longer than the standard four years to graduate, and the “credit crisis” is at least partly to blame.

To help, CUNY has instituted the CUNY Pathways Project to create a common core curriculum making it easier to transfer credits between institutions. But not everyone is in favor of the proposal. Some faculty and administration worry that the new initiative will water down the admission and academic standards at CUNY’s 11 senior colleges. 

Here, Augusta Robinson, a CCNY student minoring in journalism, discusses the issue and the debate.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the City University of New York system’s attempt to change the core curriculum requirements has them, and some student organizations, embroiled in a conflict with some faculty members. The dispute came about as the result of   CUNY’s attempt to make it easier for community college credits to transfer over to their system.

Their goal is to increase graduation rates.

However, the proposal — known as the “Pathways Project” — has faculty at various CUNY schools up in arms. They feel this action would degrade the value of the degrees conferred by the university. Upon hearing about the project, City College students expressed their views passionately.

“I think this is a fantastic idea.  I had a hard time transferring my credits from LaGuardia to City College,” says Sahar Kahn, executive vice president of student affairs.  “They (CUNY) did not accept all of my credits, and I graduated with an associates degree from my old school.  I think my classes there were just as hard as the classes I take at City.  And TIPPS [Transfer Information and Program Planning System] was absolutely no help. I thought we were all supposed to be one big CUNY family.”

TIPPS provides online assistance to students converting credits from one system to the other.  Senior Robert Cabral says TIPPS was no help to him. “I didn’t use TIPPS.  I went to Syracuse and they still didn’t take all of my credits,” says Cabral. “If they don’t offer the class here [at City], they don’t accept the credits.”

Officials argue that TIPPS does work when used properly. “Transfer credits depend on respective programs, types of school, and other factors,” says Mia Diiani of the City College admissions office. ” We have transfer evaluators who assess whether or not the other institutions’ standards meet our criteria.  TIPPS can really help students transition to CUNY.”

Schools recently received a federal “College Completion Tool Kit” with suggestions on how to improve graduation rates.  One measure known as “Making it Easier for Students to Transfer among Colleges,” recommended being sure that curriculums are easily transferrable between two and four year colleges.  CUNY administrators plan on accomplishing their objective by changing the core curriculum — reducing the number of credits needed to satisfy current requirements from an average of 60 to 42.

University executive vice chancellor and orovost Alexandra W. Logue insists that changes in curriculum would not diminish the degree. “42 credits is actually on the high side, nationally,” says Logue. “When you get up to this very high number, approaching 60 credits, there isn’t room to change your major and still graduate on time,” she continues. “And it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to double-major.”

Not all are in favor of the curriculum changes.  A group of professors and faculty senators recently circulated a list entitled “Top Ten Reasons to Be Concerned about the CUNY Pathways Project” at various CUNY campuses.

“Our position is that all of these real transfer issues are not to be solved by undermining the quality and breadth of general education,” says Sandi Cooper, a professor at the College of Staten Island and chairwoman of the university’s faculty senate. “We have struggled to tighten up requirements and standards, and spent years revising general education. We are trying to defend the quality of the degree.”

The Times interviewed Professor George W. Rainbolt of the University of Georgia who spearheaded a similar program at the University of Georgia, which he says improved graduation rates.  “A convoluted system is trickier for low-income students, who may not have friends and relatives to advise them on the best sequence of courses,” Rainbolt told the Times.  “I think the current lack of a unified system at CUNY really does have a differential impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Some students side with the faculty critics and have opposed the pathways project. Senior Robert Altinay, who transferred from Westchester Community College, says why fix a system that isn’t broken.

“They took 58 of my 60 credits and it was a very smooth, quick, and easy transition.  I never used TIPPS so I don’t know anything about it,” says Altinay. “I don’t want my degree diminished by lowering standards.  I worked hard for this and I want to feel respected when I go on a job interview.  I don’t want the door slammed in my face because a company thinks my degree is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

The Internship Argument

In a recent New York Times op-ed article, Ross Perlin argued that colleges are uncritical and complicit in exploitation as they steer students toward unpaid internships. The author of the book “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy,” Perlin believes that interns are part of “a phenomenon that includes the growing numbers of temps, freelancers, adjuncts, self-employed entrepreneurs and other low-wage or precariously employed workers who live gig by gig. The academy should critique, not amplify, those trends.”

His sparked wide debate, including here at CCNY. My colleague Lynn Appelbaum, who helps place students at paid and unpaid internships, responded, noting that, “if all internships had to be paid, opportunities would decline, hurting the professional path for many, especially minorities.”

I agree with Professor Appelbaum. Though I wish every student received a paycheck, internships are still a valuable experience. Many years ago, my college internship at a large magazine publishing company, paved the way for own career in print and digital journalism.

CCNY journalism minors have interned at a number of large media outlets, including Good Morning America, ABC news.com, CNN, NY1, The NY Daily News, Fox News, BET, Transit News and Glamour Magazine. This summer, PBS, ABC News, CBS Sports, People Stylewatch, Latino USA-NPR, TV One, United Nations TV, In the Life (LGBT-TV) have all offered CCNY students internship positions. I know these experiences will change my students’ lives.

Below, my Reporting and Writing student, Patricia McGuire, joins this timely discussion:

Internships: Slave Labor or a Great Opportunity? by Patricia McGuire

“This job is absolutely a result of my internship,” says Bennecia Benjamin, a 2010 CCNY MCA graduate. After graduation, she interned at Group M, a New York-based marketing company; she’s recently been hired as an assistant print analyst.

“My internship helped me to gain focus and filled the gap from class to work environment,” Benjamin continues. “My good reviews during my internship, led to my recommendations and interviews for my current position.”

Many students many not experience Benjamin’s fairy tale ending by getting a job out of an internship. Professor Lynn Appelbaum, director of CCNY’s ad/PR program, estimates that about 10 percent of the internships in her department lead to jobs.

But even those students who don’t get hired, leave their internships with hands on-experience, potential networking and job opportunities. In today’s competitive market, employers consider internship experience a prerequisite for entry-level positions. They also serve as a vetting process and given the tough economic times, an endless supply of unpaid workers. For employers it’s a win/win situation.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2008 survey, 50 percent of graduating students have participated in internships, up from 17 percent in 1992. This growing popularity has made the line between a learning opportunity and free labor murky and students might not get what they are hoping for.

Unpaid internships, particularly in the summer, can be discriminatory, some experts believe. According to the study, “Not So Equal Protection” published by The Economic Policy Institute, “Low-income students are either denied the opportunity to participate in these valuable experiences, or must take on significant debt in order to receive the same advantages as their higher income peers.”

The study also discussed the lack of legal protection for interns. The set of laws that protect employees’ rights, the Fair Labor and Standards Act, don’t apply to them. For example, interns aren’t protected against discrimination and sexual harassment; an employer’s responsibility in cases of workers’ compensation is ambiguous. The study suggests that The Labor Board‘s Training and Employment Guidelines are difficult to enforce and outdated in the present economic environment.

To protect CCNY undergrads, department heads vet most of the internships before allowing students to participate. According to Appelbaum, “Well-established intern programs must have an on-site coordinator and basic criteria for intern’s involvement.” Appelbaum explains that internships during the year tend to be “less formal” than those during the summer and rarely include a stipend. Professors do their best to match students to appropriate internship but still disappointments occur.

This happened to Joselina Salazar, a CCNY senior. Her internship “wasn’t in an area I was interested in,” explains the MCA major. “What I learned was that I don’t want to do sales.” She will intern this summer at ABC news.

So, before committing to an internship this summer or next fall do your best to vet them even as they vet you.