By Jennifer Choi
He started his own newspaper after graduating college. He worked as a reporter and an editor at Newsday for 35 years. Now, he is teaching and proposing a new journalism major at Stony Brook University. He is Howard Schneider.
After coming to the university in January 2005, Schneider has been working with the president and the provost of the university to get approvals for a new journalism major.
“It’s been both stressful and exciting,” he said, closing his eyes in thought. “It’s been a challenge to adapt to the university culture.”
Schneider’s journey at Stony Brook University began when Shirley Strum Kenny, the president of the university, asked him to join her for coffee, he said. She expressed the need for a journalism major at the university and invited him to help with a new proposal.
After doing some research, he discovered that there were no accredited journalism programs within the SUNY system. There were 415,000 SUNY students and no accredited journalism programs, which meet the requirements of a national rating committee. He found that in New York, they only existed within private schools.
“This is the key reason why I decided to stay at the university,” he said. “I think public school students have the right to great journalism programs just as much as private school students.”
Schneider, 60, who some say resembles a dark-haired Albert Einstein with his curly hair and full mustache, is not only visually amusing to students but also intellectually challenging.
“Professor Schneider is an excellent professor,” said Jessica Wechsler, 20, a student from Schneider’s media literacy class. “He keeps the students engaged and provides intellectually stimulating topics of discussion for class. He also encourages participation to keep students learning actively.”
Wechsler, a biology major, said she enjoys the engaging discussions of a small class. “As opposed to most of my classes, which are large lectures not conducive to discussion, this class has taught me a lot about media literacy through active discussion in class. Professor Schneider does not mundanely lecture. He teaches us through examples in the articles he presents to us.”
She added that she benefited greatly from this class because she learned to be a better critic of news.
This should be great news to Schneider, who said his goal is to teach media literacy to every student in the university. In the future, his class will be called news literacy and its goal will be to educate news consumers on how to distinguish real news from fake news, he said.
“If you can develop the ability to judge what’s reliable and what’s not, it’s a very valuable tool,” Schneider said. “The goal of the proposed journalism major is to prepare the next generation of journalists and to educate the whole university about the differences between news and propaganda.”
He said his ultimate goal is to make news literacy a required class, which would make Stony Brook University the first school in the United States to do so. But right now, he is concentrating on the journalism major proposal, he said. The idea of a journalism major has been previously suggested seven times but has never been officially proposed, which means none has reached the curriculum committee or the university senate.
However, Schneider’s proposal has been approved by the university senate on a 35-to-0 vote, with three abstentions. He said he hopes the new major will be approved some time in 2006, but the exact timing is uncertain.
Journalism professor Barbara Selvin said his creativity and enthusiasm have allowed him to do such great work. “Creative and energetic are the best words to describe him,” she said. “He has the ability to win people over with his enthusiasm, and he has been able to approach people to get them on board by seeking people’s input and serving their needs.”
Walt Handelsman, a cartoonist for Newsday with whom Schneider has worked, agreed with Selvin and said, “He was an inspirational leader of grand vision with boundless energy. I was extremely impressed with his vision as well as his willingness to listen to others around him.”
Handelsman, who came to speak to Schneider’s class in February, said he thinks it’s wonderful that Schneider is teaching at the university. “If he can pass his enormous enthusiasm on to students, the future of journalism will be much richer for it.”
Schneider, who was born in New York City on Oct. 10, 1945, has accomplished quite a bit since graduating from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology. “I majored in psychology because I thought it would help me understand people, but instead, I just sat in labs watching rats run around,” he said.
After graduating college, he and 16 others started their own newspaper called Poor Howard’s Afternoon Post, which had a circulation of 10,000 and was eventually sold for a penny. He said one fatal mistake led to its downfall: they forgot to hire business majors. “We sold enough advertisements to run the paper but not to support the workers,” he said.
He went on to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, followed by two years of teaching English in New York City. He joined Newsday as a reporter in the summer of 1969 and has worked as a beat reporter, feature writer, assignment editor and senior editor.
These days, Schneider spends most of his time teaching and working on the journalism major proposal. He said he spends more time at home now than when he worked at Newsday, but still not as much as his wife, Ilene, would like.
He and Ilene have three children, five grandchildren and a sixth on the way. When speaking about his family, he sounded like a grandfather more than anything. “By June, we’ll have six grandchildren under the age of seven,” he said with a smile.