How J-School Students, Led by a Good Teacher, Can Do Great Journalism

By Jack Limpert

“Petraeus was all about Petraeus,” Bolger writes.

He was a charter member of “the careerist self-promotion society that hung out in the military throne rooms.”

“King David” excelled at selling—mostly himself, but also for a time the Iraq war.

—From the New York Times review of the book, WHY WE LOST A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, by Daniel Bolger.

Every time I read about the failure of United States military leadership I want to go back and re-read a Washingtonian article: “WHERE HAVE ALL THE WARRIORS GONE? Great Military Leaders Have Always Had Guts, Toughness, Daring. But Now Our Armed Services Are Led by Men Who Act More Like Corporate Managers Than Soldiers. Could MacArthur Make General Today? Could We Win a War?”

The story was published 30 years ago—it’s not news that the Pentagon, like much of Washington, rewards careerists more often than those with guts, toughness, or daring.

The Washingtonian story, written by Nick Kotz, Nancy B. Nathan, and Cathryn Donohoe, was a collaboration between the magazine and American University. Here’s the author’s note: “Nick Kotz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and adjunct professor at the American University School of Communication. He researched and wrote this story with the assistance of 14 AU graduate students in a course on investigative reporting. Nancy B. Nathan, the student leader, is also an attorney. Cathryn Donohoe is a Washington freelance writer. The other 12 students were Nancy Dettinger Caldwell, Wendy Carr, Deborah L. Gold, Suzanne M. Haynes, Richard James, Ruth E. Kane, Gwendolyn H. Lee, John Libby, Patrick McManamon, Protas Madlala, Annemarie Roketenetz, and Karen A. Wegrzyn.

The magazine worked with the American University J-school on several more stories. But, looking back, we should have done it more often. I wish we had reached out to area journalism schools to see how their students, led by a teacher-journalist, could work with the magazine to do great reporting and writing.

How great? The story, published in the July 1984 Washingtonian, won the 1985 National Magazine Award for Public Service.

I’ve wondered what happened to the 14 students. Did working with Nick Kotz on this story make a difference in their lives? If so, another reason for editors to work more often with journalism schools on stories of public interest.
Nick Kotz, as a newspaper reporter in Des Moines and Washington, also won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and he has written six books, the latest The Harness Maker’s Dream.



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