- University of Missouri at Columbia
- Columbia, Mo.
- Personal Website
Jacqui Banaszynski works with student, professional and citizen journalists to develop reporting, writing and editing skills, approaches and attitudes for the digital age.
Jacqui Banaszynski, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, worked in newspapers for 30 years. She became the Knight Chair at the Missouri School of Journalism in 2000, is an editing fellow at The Poynter Institute and was a 2009-2010 Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow. She won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for “AIDS in the Heartland,” a series about a gay farm couple facing AIDS. She was a finalist for the 1986 Pulitzer in international reporting for coverage of the Ethiopian famine and won the nation's top deadline reporting award for coverage of the 1988 Olympics.
Her edited projects have won ASNE Best Writing, Ernie Pyle Human Interest Writing, national business and investigative prizes, and numerous Hearst awards, considered the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism. In 2008, Banaszynski was named to the American Association of Sunday & Feature Editors Hall of Fame.
She develops and leads workshops for reporters, writers and editors around the world, reaching communicators in the field as well as leaders at the top of their organizations. Among her specialties: story editing, ethics, interviewing, writing mechanics, social-justice and human-interest journalism, and reporting/writing techniques for multi-media platforms. She is developing a website for her teaching materials; for now some of her work can be found at http://www.rjionline.org/fellows-program/banaszynski/index.php.
Building on Missouri's historic strengths in teaching and on its new strengths in applied research, the Knight Chair would help build a model program for the teaching of editing; work with news editors and Missouri faculty to develop editing curriculum models appropriate to the new technologies and other changes that are reshaping the way editing is done; coordinate an applied research program on the changing roles of editors and disseminate findings to editors and journalism educators; and work with other universities, high schools and the newspaper industry to develop methods to attract talented young people into editing careers.
The mindset and practices of editing have been pushed into the future through Knight Chair supported work in the newsroom (Columbia Missourian) and classrooms. The Knight Visiting Editor program is in its eighth year. In the past three, it has been refined to focus on transforming the traditional roles of copy-editing and production to a 24/7 digital desk that has community engagement as a central role. Professor Banaszynski’s capstone courses are based in practices that are transparent, multi-media and that partner with the public in identifying, developing and delivering information. In addition to the above, her seminar courses in in-depth reporting/writing continue to produce award-winning journalism.
Professor Banaszynski continues to work with professionals in the industry, doing training and coaching on a broad range of craft, leadership and ethics issues. She has been on a team at the Poynter Institute to revamp courses for mid-level newsroom editors. She continues to develop webinars through Poynter’s NewsU, ASU’s Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and more. Training workshops have been done at news organizations ranging from Thomson-Reuters to ASU Reynolds Business Journalism Center to Patch.com to community newspaper groups in Greenville, Michigan. She helped create (and presented at) the narrative journalism conference in Amsterdam, which has served as a springboard for a similar event this winter in Romania. She spent time working in Ukraine and Romania with journalists who are building a movement of independent reporting in emerging democracies.
Several months of discussions have resulted in a partnership between the Public Insight Network (American Public Media) and the Missouri School of Journalism/Reynolds Journalism Institute. She will be working on contract as collaborations editor for the Public Insight Network (PIN), hiring and launching a small reporting team to do independent and collaborative content, directing a special projects reporting team at the School of Journalism to do a statewide, PIN-based project as a collaboration among our resident newsrooms (Missourian, KBIA radio, KOMU TV) and professional outlets in Missouri, embedding PIN’s crowd-sourcing concepts into core classes at Missouri and brokering applied research projects. This work will be done in collaboration with other faculty and researchers at the School of Journalism and RJI, and with colleagues at other journalism organizations, schools and newsrooms.
Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair
What disturbs you most about journalism today? What excites you most?
Professor Banaszynski is most disturbed by two basic challenges facing journalism today: Trust and money.
The trend of public discouragement and distrust of the mainstream press is disconcerting on its face, she believes. But it speaks to a greater underlying issue of inaccurate inference and assumption.
“The ‘press’ is being painted with a broad and negative brush of accusation, suspicion, assumed bias and agenda. Even as the miracle of the Internet and open information grows, it also adds to the fire hose of misinformation, letting those who want to spread viral untruths do just that, and blurring the lines between screed and independent, principled, truth-based reporting.
“Even as the need for factual, vetted, independent, on-the-street, in-the-scene reporting grows, the industry contracts and contracts and contracts. The rise of independent, community, Web and blog-based start-ups should be celebrated and supported. But that can’t replace the kind of boots-on-the-streets reporting that puts journalists out where the news is happening (often risking their lives), lets journalists comb through documents and hold officials and institutions accountable, lets storytellers spend time out in the world finding and telling the true stories that need to be told. That kind of journalism needs the protection of the U.S. Constitution. It also needs the kind of unencumbered, untainted financial support that will let good journalists go where they need to go to get those stories, whether that means paying for insurance in a war zone, hiring a lawyer to fight a FOIA demand or spend the time it takes to stay on the scene and sit with a story subject.”
Professor Banaszynski is excited most by new tools and passion for the purpose of journalism.
She believes new digital tools give journalists greater ability than ever to find sources and information, and to share those sources and information with the broadest public possible. Shoe leather has become cyber leather. The latter doesn’t, and shouldn’t, replace the other. But it sure can speed it up and help it cover more ground. We have the ability now to reach everyone, touch everyone. (With the huge caveat that is the digital divide, which is a divide that must be bridged for this global community to work.)
Then there is passion and purpose. Even as the world gets more divided, and the scream and screed and sensational entertainment of what passes for journalism gets more problematic, she sees a passion rising from the veterans who remain the field and from the students who want to be in that field: they are more committed than ever to doing this work for the right reasons and with the right purpose.
“My great hope is that there will be a demand from the public for serious, accurate, vetted information, context, knowledge, story – and a rise among a core group of journalists committed to a mission that serves that demand.”
Should students be taught not just how to inform communities, but to engage them?
If there were one word Professor Banaszynski could remove from journalism education, it would be this: Objectivity. Over the years it has been clutched as a badge of honor – a shield to keep journalists credible, professional and pure. But too often, she believes, it is misunderstood, misused and hidden behind. No matter how hard professors emphasize the Kovach & Rosenstiel definition of objectivity (a reporting method that is verifiable and replicable, not an intractable wall between us and the public), it can too easily be translated into rigid rules that become an excuse not to think, not to engage, not to care.
That makes for safe journalism. It does not usually make for good journalism.
“My journalism took shape in small communities where the city councilman I covered at night was the guy I bought groceries from the next morning,” Professor Banaszynski said. “Nothing I reported felt removed from the impact it had on the people I reported about or for. Transparency was a given: there is no hiding in a town where everyone knows your name. If I made a mistake, I had to fix it. If a story I covered would hurt someone, I had to do my best to make sure that story was right and justified.
“I still believe in that approach, more deeply than ever. As information becomes commoditized, as society becomes divided by bumper-sticker screed, as journalists are chastised for being completely biased or completely uncaring, I know of no other way to live the values of purposeful journalism than to live them in the real world, going toe-to-toe and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people in that world. Dropping disinvested information from the other side of a safe wall seems the lazy way out and, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, a fairly useless exercise.
“This is not an argument for advocacy or bias. Rather it is an argument that we practice and teach journalism that requires more of us, both as practitioners of the craft and as members of a profession struggling to retain its relevance. Future journalists need to be taught how to respond to different situations with different solutions, but with their principles firmly intact. They need to learn to be all the things the word "objectivity" tries to stand in for: critical and caring thinkers who strive to be fair, skeptical, open-minded, independent, honest.
“Journalists should not be removed from their communities, but learn how to be a vital part of them with journalistic purpose – which is to find and share the information those communities, writ small or large, need to know and govern themselves.”