Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I)'s Professor pf Practice Juan González sits studiously at his desk. To his left, a bookshelf sags, with a collection of textbooks and manuscripts on journalism and media studies. This is only a small part of his library, which numbers “in the thousands.” For most people, it might consist of a lifetime of reading. There is little doubt that González has read nearly all of them - and in less time.
His hunched appearance and unassuming demeanor would do well to hide his reputation, if it wasn’t for the fact that González stands as one of America’s most accomplished journalists, and he’s got the chops to prove it.
A new member of the Rutgers faculty, González, The Richard D. Heffner Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Professor of Professional Practice in Journalism and Media Studies, has quickly earned a reputation as one of the University’s most remarkable professors. His many hats include award-winning investigative journalist, published author, student activist and co-host of the popular radio and television program "Democracy Now!"
With such a prestigious reputation, it might seem strange that Gonzalez would decide leave his storied 29-year career at the New York Daily News to become a full-time professor at SC&I. After a few minutes of listening to him speak however, and it becomes clear; this is a man on a mission.
"The problem with journalism,” as González describes, “is that it’s increasingly become more ‘info-tainment’… than actual news.”
González thinks that reporting is becoming “less profound” in its revelations. According to him, modern journalism isn’t paying attention “to the actual details of uncovering facts.”
In response, the professor works from his first floor office at the SC&I, quietly building an army of investigative journalists. And González isn’t just content to keep them there either.
“I’ve only been here a year and a half now,” admits González, “but I think what I’ve tried to do is to sort of get students to get out into the real world…and to identify problems that other people, even the existing media have not paid much attention to.”
Not looking to give easy letter-grades, González wants his students to “wear out some shoe leather.” Past students have gained experience through a variety of tasks, such as filing “OPRA requests” and “[digging] up court records” in order to find documents for their stories.
Just last spring, students taking González's course, Investigative and In-Depth Reporting, managed to successfully expose working conditions in some of Amazon’s New Jersey Fulfillment Centers.
On Sept. 5, González announced their findings on his program "Democracy Now!" with co-host Amy Goodman. According to González, he has already received “a bunch of emails” since the story aired “from other people who work at [Amazon’s] warehouses in the New Jersey area.”
“It wasn’t just one worker here and there complaining about Amazon’s working conditions.” wrote former student Rosa Haleva, who graduated in 2018. “Details from the experiences of each person we interviewed started to create a narrative of what working at Amazon is really like, and they didn’t paint a pretty picture.”
Students who are looking for hands-on experience in journalism would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than working with Gonzalez.
“Professor González is an incredibly accomplished investigative journalist, and I believe there is no one better to learn from than a seasoned professional.” wrote Manya Goldstein, who graduates this fall. Goldstein also participated in uncovering the Amazon story.
According to González, anyone looking to learn what it’s really like being an investigative journalist will have their work cut out for them if they decide to take his course.
“They will be tested,” he said. “They’re going to have to work. But they’re going to learn a whole lot more than they realize."
To learn more about González, visit his page on the School of Communication & Information website.
Banner caption: Juan González, host of the popular television program "Democracy Now!" teaches journalism and media studies at SC&I.