Steve Shepard has long been one of the wisest, most reasonable men in the Fourth Estate. So it is bittersweet news, announced today, that he is stepping down at year-end from the deanship of the journalism program he launched at City University of New York. He will stay on as a university professor there.
Shepard, who spent 21 award-laden years editing BusinessWeek (1984-2005), has been a prominent figure at Columbia as well — teaching, cofounding the Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism, and also serving on Columbia J-School’s curriculum reform committee. Last year, he published a memoir about his career, Deadlines and Disruption: The Turbulent Path from Print to Digital, which was excerpted in the September/October issue of CJR.
Why leave now?
It’s been eight years since I left BusinessWeek to start a new graduate school of journalism from scratch. We’re all proud of what we’ve created: an innovative school that trains people for a journalism world radically different from the one I grew up in — and a school with a diverse group of motivated students. It just feels like the right time to hand over the reins.
What won’t you miss about the job?
Fundraising. We’ve been very successful for a publicly funded school, but I hate asking people for money. I do it because it’s important to provide scholarships for deserving and needy students and to create projects the state doesn’t fund, like the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism or the Center For Community and Ethnic Media.
He’s an old friend of mine, but inquiring minds on my staff want to know: What has it been like to be Jeff Jarvis’s boss?
Jeff can be high-maintenance at times, and we disagree about some things. But he is a stimulating and creative colleague who has done as much as anyone to put this new school on the map — speaking out, doing research, attracting students, thinking deeply about the changes in journalism. I’m proud to call him a friend.
How did your book do? Didn’t I hear that there was a Chinese edition? Any plans to write another?
The book has gotten some nice notices, including a rave in The Washington Post. Sales are modest, as they are for many journalism books, but there will be a Chinese edition and one published in India as well. I can’t imagine why anyone in China or India wants to read about a kid from the Bronx who found his way in journalism. But I’m tickled. Another book? Maybe, but at the moment I don’t have an idea I’d like to pursue.
What did you learn — about the industry, about what you wrote, about yourself — while promoting the book?
I loved writing the book, but didn’t like promoting it. Like most authors, I had hoped that the book would speak for itself, but that is rarely the case in this day and age. Because the book is many things — a memoir, a look at traditional journalism in its heyday, and some thoughts about the future — it is a bit of a Rorschach test for readers. People who know me, including my wife and children, liked that I spoke so personally about my life. Journalists focused on my years in the magazine business and the changes now underway. And some people wanted to read the story of starting a new school at a critical time, including all the infighting.