The Human Journalist: Reporters, Perspectives, and Emotions/Shop Talk & War Stories: American Journalists Examine Their Profession

By Wilkins, Dennis M. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Human Journalist: Reporters, Perspectives, and Emotions/Shop Talk & War Stories: American Journalists Examine Their Profession


Wilkins, Dennis M., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Willis, Jim (2003). The Human Journalist: Reporters, Perspectives, and Emotions. Westport, CN: Praeger. pp. 159.

Winburn, Jan (2003). Shop Talk & War Stories: American Journalists Examine Their Profession. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, pp. 274.

Years ago, as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate course in public opinion, I helped three dozen journalism majors discuss the circumstances and consequences of how the public learned tennis legend Arthur Ashe had AIDS. He wanted to keep his medical condition private; USA To day trumped his desire for privacy by publishing his condition.

The students discussed the ethical and reporting dilemmas that USA Today faced. Did Ashe, as a public figure, have a right to privacy? Or does journalism have a responsibility to detail the health conditions of public figures? What about the journalists who knew Ashe had AIDS? Why did they not publish? Should they have? Without dissent, the students called USA Today's actions reprehensible. "It's unfair. Journalists don't know how much they hurt people," they said. "It's unethical. How does it serve the public?" they asked. "Reporters acted like piranhas," they said. Undergraduate indignation ruled.

The professor sat silently in the front row during the hour-long discussion. Then he stood and said:

"So. You think the press treated Arthur Ashe shamelessly and without conscience."

The class nodded, murmuring assent.

"Then why are you in a school of journalism that will socialize you to act in the very same way?" he asked and walked from the classroom.

I don't know what stunned me more that day-the students' refusal to see any positives in the performance of the press or the professor's assertion that journalism schools merely clone students with a certain set of inflexible values and professional skills that inhibit their ability to practice humanity in the context of their chosen profession.

When I entered journalism, a typewriter sat on my desk. Today, as a journalism educator, a laptop computer resides there. Both journalism and journalism education have become far more complicated endeavors because of changes in social mores, technology, politics, corporate consolidation of media companies, and a perceived rise of sins represented in plagiarism and other scandals. Yet, as journalism educators, we have only so many credit-hours to teach our students what they need to know to become journalists of credibility, character, compassion, and craft. For those of us who learned our journalism in a simpler time, we may occasionally need resources that remind us of the breadth of the issues we must address in our courses.

That's what makes The Human Journalist and Shop Talk such valuable additions to a journalism educator's library. Both, to steal the subtitle of Shop Talk "examine the profession" in terms of professional, ethical, and emotional competence.

Shop Talk, a series of previously published excerpts from speeches, articles, text chapters, and lectures collected and edited by Jan Winburn, more readily adapts to a journalism skills course. As the Atlanta JournalConstitution's Winburn says in her introduction, Shop Talk provides insight into essential news writing, editing, and interviewing skills; observations on all types of beat coverage; discussion of ethics and related issues; and a look forward into the multimedia issues journalists may face. This is not, however, merely another "how-to" book; rather, the essayists reveal the human side of practicing the craft as well as explaining their best practices. This is a notable difference from standard texts many educators use.

Many essayists offer motivation for journalism students to strive for competence and instruction regarding the difficulty of balancing their humanity and journalistic duties. Anna Quindlen, in discussing stories about Holocaust victims, missing children, and breast cancer survivors, defines reporters as "emotional hit-and-run drivers" (p. …

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