Oral Histories

Gene Foreman

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics of Professional Journalists

Gene Foreman Biography

Gene Foreman joined the Penn State faculty in 1998 after  retiring from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he managed newsroom  operations for more than 25 years under various titles—managing  editor, executive editor and deputy editor. He also was a vice  president of the company.At Penn State, he was the Larry and Ellen Foster Professor from 1999  until his retirement from full-time teaching in December 2006. He  taught courses in news editing, news media ethics and newspaper  management. In 2003, Foreman received two awards for excellence in  teaching in the College of Communications—the Deans' Award and the  Alumni Society Award.
His textbook, "The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in  the Pursuit of News," was published in fall 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell.

Foreman spent 41 years in newspaper journalism—not counting eight  summer jobs in high school and college, or his carrier route before  that. He was the managing editor of three different newspapers: the  Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock and  The Inquirer. Also during his career he worked as a reporter and  assigning editor at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, as a copy  editor at The New York Times, and as the senior editor in charge of  news and copy desks at Newsday on Long Island.

He was president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1990 and  was a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from  1995 to 1998. He has been a presenter at the American Press Institute  and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and was a Pulitzer Prize  juror three times. In 1998 he received a career achievement award from  the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Transcript

[Discussion of ethics education during the 1950’s, when Gene Foreman graduated from college and began his news career.]

Foreman: …[T]there was not an effort in college [to teach ethics]; we certainly had a good Law of the Press course, not all that different than what we teach in COMM 403 here at Penn State. But what we had there was no formal training in ethics in college in the 1950’s. That has changed. I think that even the schools that don’t offer stand-alone courses in ethics as we do, at least integrate ethical issues into their skills courses. I think that what I learned going in was in a very general way what our mission was. But I had to learn from observation and trial and error as to a better way to try to resolve the ethical issues that came along. I think today we can at least look at guidelines and certainly decisions that had to be made. … On the question, for example, when should a journalist put down his or her notebook and help somebody out, the standard we have is that if you’re the best person or the only person to save a life or prevent harm, then you should do it. Obviously you had to make some extrapolations from that, but we didn’t have that sort of guideline then. If you’re faced with an instant decision, it’s not likely to be as good as if you had been trained in ethics in a more formal way.

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics of Professional Journalists

Gene Foreman Biography

Gene Foreman joined the Penn State faculty in 1998 after  retiring from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he managed newsroom  operations for more than 25 years under various titles—managing  editor, executive editor and deputy editor. He also was a vice  president of the company.At Penn State, he was the Larry and Ellen Foster Professor from 1999  until his retirement from full-time teaching in December 2006. He  taught courses in news editing, news media ethics and newspaper  management. In 2003, Foreman received two awards for excellence in  teaching in the College of Communications—the Deans' Award and the  Alumni Society Award.
His textbook, "The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in  the Pursuit of News," was published in fall 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell.

Foreman spent 41 years in newspaper journalism—not counting eight  summer jobs in high school and college, or his carrier route before  that. He was the managing editor of three different newspapers: the  Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock and  The Inquirer. Also during his career he worked as a reporter and  assigning editor at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, as a copy  editor at The New York Times, and as the senior editor in charge of  news and copy desks at Newsday on Long Island.

He was president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1990 and  was a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from  1995 to 1998. He has been a presenter at the American Press Institute  and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and was a Pulitzer Prize  juror three times. In 1998 he received a career achievement award from  the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Transcript

Interviewer: Parents’ concerns about their children seeing the paper come up a lot? How much should we really worry about that issue?

Foreman: About people reacting?

Interviewer: Parents wanting to shield their children from either graphic violence or graphic sex in the newspapers.

Foreman: Well, another case study in the book is about the Spokane mayor and editor Steve Smith of the Spokesman Review, the paper that ran the story about the mayor’s sexual involvement with younger men. People complained to him about that, and we said we don’t edit the paper for children. We recognize that some children will see it, but I think that we would be really hamstrung in trying to tell the news today if it were written exclusively as if it were only going to be read by children. So we’re probably a PG on stories like that rather than G, but we do have to pull our punches, I think, the question is that you drive away the readers if you are too explicit, and we have to constantly balance our responsibility to our audience; not upsetting them, not offending them, or driving them away, vs. our responsibility of telling the news about what actually happened. So I think that what I advocate teaching is two things. One is learn to recognize what is likely to offend. So I try in writing the book to give the students the benefit of my experience; things that I learned from trial and error. Frankly, I didn’t realize how incendiary the picture of the gun in the mouth would be. I knew that some people would be bothered by it, but the degree surprised me. The second thing of course, would be now that you know, or you’re pretty sure it’s going to offend somebody, are we justified in running it or is there another way to tell the story? Sometimes the answer is we’re going to offend them, but we think It’s important. I think those are things that are carefully thought out in advance so that you anticipate the reaction and you feel confident that you are still doing the right thing.