By: Ashley Grasinger
(SETON HILL, Pa.)- “Journalism is an imperfect human activity done by biased people who have bills to pay and passions that drive them,” said Dennis Jerz, Seton Hill associate professor and advisor of The Setonian. “If you believe that your organization is the only pure organization that exists you are approaching journalism from a perspective that I just don’t think is the most productive.”
During Jerz’s interview for his position at Seton Hill, he was asked to be the advisor of The Setonian. “Even though it wasn’t in the job description they said the person who has been advising the paper has decided to step aside,” Jerz said. “I said sure, I would be happy to do that.”
Journalism has changed over the years pretty significantly mainly due to the rise of the internet. Jerz was hired in 2003 to start a new program called “New Media Journalism,” emphasizing how emerging technology was rapidly changing the news industry at the time.
“If in social media we flatter ourselves by blocking the people that say things that upset us and by sharing the people who present ideas that affirm the way we view things, then we are part of the situation that polarizes stuff,” Jerz said. “When I teach a journalism class I try very hard to use examples that show it’s the journalist’s job to be fair.”
Now that social media and the internet are mainstream and used by most, the lines have been blurred between what is real ethical journalism and what is biased or just really editorial done by online personalities.
“It is so clear to me that good journalism will always annoy people who are identifying with a particular faction,” Jerz said. “If you think that you are in the right and no sane person would disagree with you then it looks like the journalists are out to get you if they give fair representation to the views that challenge your world views.”
“If you are a TV talk show host, what you want is ratings. So you bring well-spoken people who will get your audience riled up and you bring on people with sharply disagreeing views,” said Jerz. “But journalism is not just about riling people up its also about informing people. This means interviewing, quoting, and engaging with the ideas of people who see things differently than you do.”
Jerz has been an associate professor at Seton Hill since 2003.
“When I saw Seton Hill was advertising for a generalist who would teach composition and literature and journalism classes and they were planning a new media journalism class, not just traditional journalism,” Jerz said. “I was really very happy.”
“In the application letter that I wrote I said I am much stronger with electronic text than I am with journalism,” said Jerz. “Other people might have been working journalists or might have been in grad school for journalism and I did not want to misrepresent myself that way. I am certainly trained more as a scholar than a journalist.”
Jerz teaches several different classes but to name a few there is the News, Arts, and Sports Writing, Shakespeare in Context, and Magazine Writing classes.
Some of Jerz’s interests include engineering, science fiction, theater, and technology.
“The world-wide-web was something brand new in the 90s,” said Jerz. “While I was a grad student doing my traditional dissertation I was paying the bills by making web pages.”
Jerz has his own blog where he shares memes, news, and tips for students. You can find his blog at jerz.setonhill.edu as well as his youtube channel at Dennis G. Jerz for lectures and tips for students.
On a video posted by Jerz where he uses literary analysis to discuss “Fences,” an August Wilson play one comment left by a user read, “Amazing analysis Dennis! I am working on my research paper on Fences right now and coincidentally I am also using Walking Around the Fences as one of my sources. You also did a great job at expressing what the differences are between writing about literature in college compared to high-school with that frog/science class analogy. Honestly I am super thankful for this video, you seem like an excellent teacher!”
“Certainly how actively my involvement was in blogging early on allowed me to see what journalists were not seeing at the time,” Jerz said. “Which was how important social media is to driving the narrative which journalists were slow to accept.”
Jerz’s previous career experiences include being assistant professor of English at the Techincal Writing University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and as an instructor at the Engineering Writing Centre Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the Univerity of Toronto.
Jerz also has several publications including Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original ‘Adventure’ in Code and in Kentucky, which can be found in issue 1.2 of the Digital Humanities Quarterly from Aug. 2007.
Jerz has an English and Literature Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. and B.A. in English from the University of Virginia.
“My dissertation was on American drama and so I had a little bit to do with journalism because if you’re looking at a historical play if there isn’t a film record of that play the news reports, the reviews, of that particular play are the closest we can get to what the actual play was,” Jerz said.
“In college, I was not a journalism major,” said Jerz. “I did take a couple of news writing classes and I did enjoy them”
Jerz, however, did become assistant photo editor for the campus paper which released an issue 3 times a week requiring him to be in charge of one issue a week. In Jerz’s junior year, he then became the assistant features editor as well as took an internship at a local radio news talk and sports station called WINA-Charlottesville.
Jerz said his radio news director initially turned down his internship application three times.
“Each time she gave me a reason. I wasn’t enrolled in a particular class, the internship was for seniors and I was a junior, she already had two interns and didn’t need another,” said Jerz. “Each time I took notes, and came back with the right paperwork or better arguments. The fourth time, she just interrupted me and said “Okay. If you’re that dedicated, sure, we want you.”
Jerz stayed there for two semesters.
“I was the only one there on Friday nights and would read the news live on the air,” said Jerz. “It really felt like I was a full-time employee.”
Jerz contributed to the student paper at Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va.
“In high school, I had some friends who were on the student paper and I would write comedy essays,” said Jerz. “I wouldn’t say anything I did was serious journalism or hard news. I was more of a columnist.”
Photo was taken in Jerz’s News, Arts, and Sports Writing class as he helps a student.