Tributes To Fallen Journalists: The Evolution Of The Hero Myth In Journalistic Practice
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This dissertation explores a hero mythology in newspaper tributes to fallen journalists and examines whether these stories implicitly or explicitly encouraged risk-taking by reporters and discouraged them from acknowledging the psychological consequences of that behavior. This historical case study uses qualitative methods to analyze New York Times tributes to U.S. journalists who died from 1854 to 2012 and whose names appeared on the Journalists Memorial at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. This study finds that the Times wrote about 274 of the 362 fallen journalists and depicted one in four in heroic terms, with their stories invoking themes often found in classic hero myths. Eighty percent of these hero journalists were on foreign assignments that typically involved covering war. Virtually all of these hero journalists killed in the United States were targeted because of their journalistic work. These journalists were seen as answering a call and giving their lives in service to a greater cause often tied to normative journalistic values, such as pursuing the truth. The tributes for 27 percent of these journalists mentioned qualities associated with risk-taking, such as courage. One in ten of these journalists embodied a type of stoicism that involved them downplaying personal hardship. A central finding of this study suggests that this hero mythology emerged in the mid-1920s, immediately after the adoption of state and national journalism ethics codes and the opening of the first journalism schools in the United States. Consequently, this mythology served as vital part of American journalism's professional movement, melding tacit journalistic codes with the tales of heroic fallen journalists. These hero myths evolved, reaching their zenith during World War II, when the U.S. government assisted in this idolatry. This hero mythology then ebbed until resurfacing sporadically during the Vietnam War and Watergate era with antihero journalists whose work seemed to be in direct opposition to the authorities who once celebrated them. The post 9/11-era saw a resurgence of the hero myth despite the advent of research that questioned whether journalism's so-called macho code discouraged journalists from seeking treatment for occupational mental health risks such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.