By: Nu Yang
Many journalism students may be inclined to state the obvious when listing those who have most influenced their studies: Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, and so on. But at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., the man students say has had the greatest impact on their education was fired from the university in 2010 and refers to himself as the “Journoterrorist.”
Michael Koretzky is a 47-year-old college dropout who works from home as a freelance editor. He blogs at journoterrorist.com, and his bio states he was “expelled from Boca Raton Academy in 1981, suspended from the University of Florida journalism school in 1989, fired from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1997, brought up on charges of ‘malfeasance’ and ‘misfeasance’ at Florida Atlantic University in 2005, (and) finally fired from there in 2010.” Koretzky was adviser for the FAU student-run newspaper University Press for 12 years before being fired. Today, he continues to advise the paper on a volunteer basis.
Koretzky said his bio is a “badge of honor,” meant to show students that “you will fail, but you will come out of it just fine.” He received the Journoterrorist moniker from his critics who, according to Koretzky, are “thin-skinned journalists” who can’t take criticism and are mostly “journalists (his) own age.”
Given the antiestablishment tone of his resume, it should come as no surprise that Koretzky’s teachings stray from the traditionally accepted way of doing things. On his website he refers to his journalism programs as “twisted j-ed,” and his various projects have caught the attention of an industry that doesn’t quite know what to make of his teaching methods. Because FAU doesn’t have a journalism program, Koretzky said he wanted to create ways to teach the subject outside of the typical lecture hall.
The first of the twisted j-ed programs to be implemented was the First Amendment Free Food Festival. Koretzky started the festival in 2006 with grant funds from the Society of Professional Journalists. A section of FAU’s campus was roped off and declared a socialist country. Students were offered a free lunch inside the now-foreign soil, but only if they signed away their First Amendment rights. A “goon squad” made sure students didn’t speak in line, because there was no freedom of speech, and once students received their free food, they couldn’t eat with friends, because they had no right to peaceably assemble. The festival has been duplicated at four other college campuses around the country.
Know when to hold ’em
The following year, Koretzky combined gambling with journalism ethics and created Ethics Hold ’em, a play on the poker game Texas Hold ’em. Instead of using regular playing cards, the faces of the cards have entries from the SPJ Code of Ethics. This exercise has also been adopted by other schools, and Koretzky encourages interested teachers to contact him for free decks.
Will Write for Food is Koretzky’s favorite program and perhaps the most controversial. Now in its fourth year, the program partners 20 college journalists with a private homeless shelter near downtown Hollywood, Fla. The shelter supports itself by selling the Homeless Voice, reportedly the second-largest street paper in the nation.
Koretzky used to volunteer as editor for the shelter’s paper, and when he brought issues into the college newsroom, students would mock it, so he challenged them: “Can you do better?” Now, every Labor Day weekend, students set up a newsroom in the shelter and take over Homeless Voice — writing stories, taking photographs, and designing an entire 24-page issue in 36 hours. This year, there were 37 applicants for the 20 available spaces in the program.
Recent FAU graduate and Will Write for Food participant Gideon Grudo said, “You walk in thinking you know about homeless people, but once you start talking to them face to face, you hear their stories. They have families; they’re happy; they’re sad — they’re very human.”
Koretzky is often asked about the program’s safety, but he assures skeptics that students are rarely alone. There are four advisers, and they sometimes join students on assignments when asked. Shelter staff and security are also on site.
No holds barred
Another popular program is called Unethical Press and is a spin on the typical April Fools’ edition college newspapers have historically put out. Students publish an issue of the paper that violates every code of ethics listed by the SPJ. Readers can participate by identifying the broken codes in order to win a prize. Koretzky described Unethical Press as an April Fools’ Day parody issue with a purpose.
All On Paper is an exercise designed to challenge students by taking away the technology they depend on so heavily. The students must publish an entire issue without using computers, cellphones, digital cameras, design software, or other modern amenities.
Koretzky said he is lucky enough to have worked during two distinct phases of journalism — one with computers, and the other when he had to write stories on manual typewriters, shoot with film cameras, and layout and paste the paper with proportion wheels and rubber cement. Last year with the help of the SPJ, FAU students published the final summer issue without using computers (see E&P, October 2011). Grudo was editor-in-chief of the paper, and he said All On Paper was his favorite of Koretzky’s projects. “It was a memorable three weeks, and it is something that has stayed with me.”
“The students came out of it energized,” Koretzky said. “They loved hanging out together and assembling the paper. By working in the newsroom, they realized it makes the journalism better.”
Koretzky’s philosophy behind running these “twisted” educational programs is that they teach college students to take risks and to not be afraid. “My philosophy is try, fail, try again, and fail harder.”
Despite what critics consider to be a radical approach to teaching journalism, Koretzky said that for him it’s all worth it when the students “get it.”
Grudo, who has participated in all of Koretzky’s programs, considers himself one of the students who get it. The 26-year-old was offered a job as breaking news editor of The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv, but he accepted another offer instead — managing editor of the South Florida Gay News. Grudo, who is not gay but is Israeli, said he asked himself, “Do I go to Israel where my family is and work for a paper that is already laid out and has rules, or do I stay at a growing newspaper with an unknown future while plowing ahead and inventing tomorrow?”
When asked where he wants to be in a year, Grudo said, “I don’t know where I want to be, and that’s OK.” He learned that from the Journoterrorist