Ottaway Visiting Professor speaks on reporting divisive subjects

20160412-2_Press-Eyal-Ottaway-Talk_06Eyal Press, SUNY New Paltz’s 2016 James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism, gave an address titled “Telling the Story of What Divides Us,” on April 12.

The event was attended by a number of students, faculty, staff and community members, and also by Jim and Mary Ottaway, whose support for New Paltz’s only endowed professorship has created opportunities for hundreds of journalism students to interact with some of the field’s brightest stars.

“In a short time, Eyal Press has made a lasting impression on our students, and his semester on campus would not have been possible without the generosity of Jim Jr. and Mary Ottaway, who launched the James H. Ottaway Visiting Professorship in Journalism in 2001,” said President Donald P. Christian. “The legacy of that professorship continues to grow every year, and as our 15th visiting professor, Eyal Press joins a distinguished group of journalists working at the pinnacle of their profession.”

Press’s lecture focused on the work that has been central to the upper-level journalism course he’s taught at New Paltz this semester: reporting on subjects in which two or more sides are fiercely divided, and doing so in a long-form narrative style that allows thorough consideration of multiple perspectives.

“Eyal has introduced some of the most significant challenges of reporting I’ve encountered, and has facilitated a breadth of interesting discussions on everything from weighing in on controversy and cultivating sources, to profiling bad actors and covering moral dilemmas,” said student Sara Feinstein ’16 (Journalism). “His seminar made me confident to handle the real-life scenarios in the field, and eager to get started.”

Press’s speech touched on many of those topics, and concluded with a message for students like Feinstein who are preparing to begin their own reporting careers.

“There are generally two well-known formulas for writing about divisive issues,” he said. “One is the neutrality or objectivity approach, in which writers present both sides but do not take sides. A second approach is in the polemical tradition, with journalists arguing for the side they believe is right, without hiding their opinions. What I’m trying to teach is a third way: the hard work of trying to be unafraid to present what you actually think is right, but at the same time grappling with competing facts, viewpoints and worldviews, working to get to the argument you want, even as you make as strong a case as you can for the people who disagree with you.”

The evening’s program concluded with an audience Q & A and book signing with the author, featuring his most recent work, Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times.

More information about the James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship is available online.