BY FORMER STUDENTS & COLLEAGUES
Edmund B. Lambeth passed away May 2, 2020 in Columbia, Missouri. He was a professor of journalism at Indiana University, director of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism, and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research at University of Missouri School of Journalism. Here several former students and colleagues pay tribute to his memory.
Ed Lambeth was my Ph.D. adviser at Mizzou, back in the mid-1990s. I had several classes with him, including ethics, which were fascinating. I had sought him out because of his emphasis on ethics, but I learned so much more from him. He was a wonderfully caring man, and he took academics seriously.
Ed and I went around and around about my dissertation topic. At the time he was very involved in the citizen journalism movement in journalism. He tried hard to steer me in that direction for my dissertation, and I really had no interest in it. I wanted to do a study of the ethics of live TV reporting. He had no interest in that. As the semesters rolled on, I became desperate to find a topic.
One day he asked me to lunch so we could talk uninterrupted and decide on the topic. We walked to a Mediterranean restaurant near campus, and talked all through lunch, never even coming close to a topic. I walked with him back to his office, as dejected as I had ever been in the program. I really saw no solution. We went up to his office, and I know I let my disappointment show as I said goodbye. I had my hand on the doorknob as I left, and I asked him if he wanted me to close the door behind me. My back was to him as he said, “Maybe we should come at this from a different direction.”
I feared he was going to pitch the citizen journalism bit to me again with different words.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Have you ever thought about doing something like a biography for your disseration?” he said.
I stared at him. “I can do that?” I asked.
“Sure. Go down to the library and you’ll find several dissertations that are biographies.”
I have to say my heart just swelled. “If I can do a biography, I know exactly who I’m going to do,” I said.
He asked who.
“Jack Shelley.” Jack had been my undergrad adviser at Iowa State, was a veteran newsman from the 1930s with a 30-year career in Des Moines. He was a broadcast journalism pioneer in both radio and television. He was an original member of the National Association of Radio News Directors, now RTDNA, and chaired the committee that wrote the first code of ethics.
“I know Jack,” Ed replied. “If you can convince me in a couple of pages he’s worth doing a biography about, we’ll do it. But it has to be theory-based.”
My two pages easily convinced him, and I set off. Ed was the best dissertation editor I could have asked for. He returned chapters quickly, with tight edits and helpful suggestions. But we did argue back and forth in the margins. When I submitted the re-writes to him along with the original, I sometimes pointed out that I had not gone with his suggestion and why. Often he accepted it, but sometimes he told me to make the change, and why. I learned so much from him as an editor.
Many of my colleagues have horror stories about their dissertation defenses. I do not. When the five members and I got together there was not one hard question. As each one’s turn came, he started by saying, “I really enjoyed reading this.” The most difficult was, “When does a biography start becoming gossip?” It was, we agreed, mostly a rhetorical question (but really one worth exploring). The defense lasted an hour. A friend took me across the street to get a to-go cup of coffee, and by the time we got back less than 15 minutes later Ed was waiting to congratulate me. I give him all the credit. The committee didn’t have any hard questions, because Ed made sure I had answered them all in my work. He had every issue covered. He handed me my degree.
His work was extraordinary. But he, as a teacher, mentor, friend, was above them all.
- Chris W. Allen, Professor, School of Communication, and General Manager, UNO Television, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Like many others who teach media ethics, I’m an alum of Ed’s teaching workshop. But his most lasting influence on me has been as a scholar. My abiding interest in how the work of virtue theorist Alasdair MacIntyre applies to journalism ethics can be traced in part to Ed’s 1990 article in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, “Waiting for a New St. Benedict: Alasdair MacIntyre and the Theory and Practice of Journalism.” I was just learning about MacIntyre while doing my master’s degree at The Ohio State University. Ed, himself an exemplar for all of us, helped me to see some of the connections that still inspire my ongoing research agenda.
- Sandra L. Borden
The publication of Ed Lambeth’s Committed Journalism in 1986 by Indiana University Press was a memorable occasion. He directly argued against neutral journalism as the title indicates. He demonstrated that committment to ethics had priority over a legal commitment to First Amendment freedom, with the second related to the first and not the second in isolation.
But I’ll focus on the twelve years of week-long summer workshops in ethics for my remembrance. I participated every year with Ed and others, and his distinguished leadership of it has made the Gannett/AEJMC Workshops on the Teaching of Ethics a historic occasion for the teaching and scholarship in media ethics. Each summer he selected the 12 best applicants from those who had taught journalism ethics for 1-3 years and wanted to make that a priority for their lifetime.
I know that as a journalism professor and head of the Missouri Washington Program, Ed demanded excellence from aspiring journalists. In the Teaching Workshops he expected and required total commitment from the attendees. Preparation ahead was detailed and critically reviewed. Syllabi from the classes the attendees had taught were examined in every facet of curriculum and pedagogy. The overall framework that inspired me most was the liberal arts framework. Ed demonstrated and explained at every turn why journalism education is a liberal art with the mission of critical thinking. He often spoke of limiting the number of practical courses and requiring history, political theory, literature, and moral philosophy. Though I did not have formal professional experience, he totally supported my presentations. Recommending books for personal study and for classroom teaching was an important component of the Teaching Workshop, and every summer at least 75% of those recommendations were non-journalism but liberal arts classics.
Without exception, for every summer, and throughout every day of the teaching week, Ed was the gentleman scholar. His ability to listen closely and understand the questions and commentary were legendary. His indefatigable energy was always patient and considerate while honestly analytical. Whenever I see the Lexus advertisement, “The relentless pursuit of perfection,” Ed’s leadership of the Teaching Workshops comes to mind.
- Cliff Christians
Ed Lambeth was one of the “founding fathers” of media ethics research and teaching. For those unfamiliar with his life of accomplishment, I am compressing some of the highlights from his recent obituary into the next four paragraphs:
After serving his country in military intelligence during the Korean War, Lambeth chose a life of service in journalism and education. Ed earned a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism with honors in political science in 1954 and a Master of Science in journalism in 1955 from Northwestern University.
After beginning his career, he spent six memorable years as a Washington, D.C., correspondent for Gannett News Service. When he left in 1968, Ed originated the Washington Reporting Program for the University of Missouri School of Journalism and directed it until 1978.
He then served as a professor of journalism at Indiana University from 1978 to 1983 and director of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism from 1983 to 1987. Ed then returned to MU as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research. He later served as director of the Center on Religion and the Professions (2004-2006), during which time it was awarded a $1.5 million continuation grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts Inc.
Regarded as an expert in journalism ethics, his books included Committed Journalism, An Ethic for the Profession (1986, 1992), Assessing Public Journalism (1998), and Professional Creativity and the Common Good (2009). He served as president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication from 1997-1998, A recipient of numerous awards, Ed was a Congressional Fellow (1961-1962), a Nieman Fellow at Harvard (1967-1968), and served as a Fulbright Scholar in Israel in 1997-1998 and in Hungary from 2001-2002. He was presented the University of Missouri Thomas Jefferson Award in 1995.
It is fair to say that Ed was ambitious in the best sense of that word and that his life led to many important leadership roles including president of a major national organization in his field, and he became someone who knew how to originate, financially support, and grow vital initiatives.
Of great importance to the readers of Media Ethics was Lambeth’s full commitment to ethics from the outset of his career as a journalist. Indeed, his most influential book, Committed Journalism, developed his vision for what was to become one of the cornerstone texts for our field. Ed was similarly committed to the excellent teaching of media ethics and he convened major training programs each summer fully funded by the Gannett Foundation.
As a young arrival in the field, I was invited to one of these programs hosted at the University of Kentucky where I met Ed and some of the other “co-founders” of our field—Cliff Christians, Lou Hodges, Deni Elliott, Jim Jaksa, Don Gillmor, Ted Glasser, Marty Linksy—and others whom Ed had assembled as a winning mentoring team to us younger faculty.
In the midst of such weeklong intensives, Ed and his wife, Fran, found time to host me and other junior scholars in their home and demonstrate special care—care which also spoke to Ed’s intense commitment to religious and civic values. He loved to serve his church and the community and was also a great mentor to many junior faculty in the spirit of “ministering” to us. I so appreciated his encompassment and enfoldment.
When Cliff Christians and I convened the very first Media Ethics summit in 1987, Ed was a key contributor and already an “elder statesman” in the emerging sub-field of media ethics. To all of us it was obvious that his passion was great, his erudition was notable, and his commitment was genuine.
In the early years of Media Ethics Ed served as an advisor and also a resource. Unlike the current U.S. President who wishes to be added to the Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Ed Lambeth is already atop the Mount Rushmore of media ethics.
- Tom Cooper, Professor, Emerson College; and Founder of Media Ethics
I was a Ph.D. student at Missouri from 1993-96. Ed was my dissertation chair, and I worked with him as a research assistant. Ed had a huge impact on my scholarship and teaching. He taught me to probe across disciplines in my thinking about ethics and to think integratively—bridging multiple theories of ethics, drawing from the vantage points of philosophy and social science, and exploring deeply the intersection of theory and practice. I would come away from meetings with him so full of ideas and questions that I could never explore them all. He taught me to appreciate the place of media ethics in the broader sphere of professional ethics, and the intellectual introduction he gave me to Alasdair MacIntyre laid the groundwork for my long-term examination of the evolution of standards of excellence in journalistic practice.
Beyond the impact Ed had on me as a scholar, he showed me what it looks like to be a caring mentor. What I appreciate more deeply than anything else was the way that he and his wife, Fran, welcomed me when I visited Missouri to look at the doctoral program and later when our young family moved to Columbia. His kindness, which I know was quietly driven by a life of faith, modeled the care that I want to show to my own students.
- David Craig, professor and associate dean, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma
In 1983, I was a graduate student with a dissertation to write and an academic career to begin. Ed Lambeth asked me to be a faculty member for his forthcoming five-day summer workshop for journalism ethics instructors. After spending the academic year in a Cambridge basement apartment, five days talking ethics on a Kentucky horse farm sounded like heaven. The line-up of workshop faculty included rock stars: Ralph Barney and Jay Black, who started the Journal of Media Ethics and let me create JME’s book review section; Cliff Christians, who I was showcasing in my dissertation and Lou Hodges, too. My life was changed by those I met over 14 years at Ed’s workshop: Sandy Borden, Raphael Cohen-Almager, Tom Cooper, Stephanie Craft, Ted Glasser, Paul Lester, Steve Weinberg, and Lee Wilkins among them. Ed’s perfectly timed observations have sustained me in the most difficult moments of my career. A favorite from an early workshop, “You teach your best when your back is up against the wall.”
- Deni Elliott, Poynter Jamison Chair of Media Ethics and Press Policy, University of South Florida
I recall the smile that lit up his face and revealed his caring heart. When I was a graduate student and needed to use the library at the University of Missouri—Columbia, Ed Lambeth made that possible. He invited me to spend a year there as a visiting scholar. I worked closely with him doing some research, got hooked on learning about ethics, and I taught a few classes. Teaching was amazing on a number of levels. The students were devoted and hardworking. I had many conversations with Brian Brooks and others that shaped my ideas about teaching and journalism. I also went to faculty meetings to listen, and I discovered many things about faculty governance and civil discourse, even in heated debates. I left Mizzou at the end of that year ready to teach fulltime at the University of Northern Michigan in Marquette. Over the years, I saw Ed at conferences and always enjoyed conversing with him. He helped me like he helped so many others, and he made a way to assist me that was innovative, which also reflected one of his strengths—the ability to see possibility where others only saw a closed door. I will miss him. His legacy lives on in countless souls he helped along their journey, thus, expressing his belief in a world where kindness prevails.
- Paulette D. Kilmer, Professor, Communication Department, The University of Toledo
It was challenging to teach journalism ethics in the 1970s and early 1980s because most books and other materials focused on descriptive issues rather than ethical theory.
So, I was an apt pupil at a seminar about revitalizing mass communication ethics that was taught by Ed Lambeth and Cliff Christians in the early 1980s. The seminar provided a foundation to teach normative ethics to journalism students and professionals, such as handouts that suggested how to lead discussions about the teleological/deontological axis. The seminar additionally provided an intellectual road map for faculty to learn more about ethical theory.
Eventually, it was a pleasure to be Ed’s colleague at the Missouri School of Journalism for about 15 years. “A professor ought to have something to profess,” Ed told me early in my career. More than most, he showed me how to get there.
- Robert A. Logan, Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri-Columbia; U.S. National Library of Medicine retired; co-editor of two recent books about health literacy research, theory, and practice
I was a young academic when I attended the media ethics teaching workshop, organized and hosted by Ed Lambeth at the University of Kentucky. I still count those five days as the best and most memorable educational experience of my life. Over the years, I came to appreciate how much that experience reflected Ed’s commitment to nurturing young scholars and creating an excitement for learning and helping others to learn.
We bunked at the University’s retreat house out in horse farm country and spent our days around a horse-shoe table, absorbing one stellar presentation after another. All were designed to help us structure a media ethics course that was tethered to both ethical theory and practical application. I was too new to the field to recognize the faces of Cliff Christians, Gene Goodwin, Deni Elliott, and other leaders in the field. No distinction was made between who attended as a student and who were faculty until Ed introduced a presenter, and I recognized a name I knew only from a book binding. My teaching and scholarship still bear the mark of what I learned there.
Several years later, I asked Ed if I might attend the workshop again for a refresher. He invited me to do a presentation at its new location at the Freedom Forum Institute in Nashville. The gesture was typical of his generous spirit. I remained a part of that workshop for years after that. Every year, it opened new doors to knowledge, introduced fresh approaches to the field, and formed communities of scholars who became life-long friends and collaborators.
Ed united head and heart in all that he did. His legacy fans out into a diaspora of scholars, teachers, and practitioners who bear the mark of his teaching and sharing spirit. Surely, many see him, as I do, as the beacon that guided their careers. He imparted to all he touched a sense of social justice and democratic process that buoys the American press through rough waters it treads today. Well done, Edmund Lambeth. Rest in peace.
- Maggie Jones Patterson, Professor of Journalism, Duquesne University
Ed was a mentor to me. (I was about 50 when I could bring myself to call him Ed instead of Dr. Lambeth!) His thinking about, and contributions to, journalism ethics informed my own work in the classroom and in a textbook. I last talked to him a few years back while finishing up that textbook and getting his permission to use his work. We had a lovely conversation, sharing memories back and forth—of the J-School, of Columbia, of a visit to Durango. Ed lives on in the form of the hundreds and hundreds of students who have and will set out into the world of journalism with his principles in their repertoire, being better practitioners because of it.
- Faron Scott, Professor of English, Fort Lewis College
In July 1986, I participated in a week-long ethics workshop sponsored by Gannett and AEJMC, held at the University of Kentucky, and wonderfully organized by Ed Lambeth. I think I may have been the last person invited—that is, taken from the waiting list—but I was hugely honored to participate. The first night the entire group of us enjoyed a welcome, and welcoming, dinner at Ed and Fran’s lovely home. And from then on, we lived, breathed, and talked ethics from early morning to late at night (except for two expeditions, once to tour a horse breeding facility, which was more than a little shocking, and once to go to the racetrack). A couple of chapters from Ed’s Committed Journalism, An Ethic for the Profession were on the reading list; that book continues to be foundational. As a one-person journalism department who never got to discuss journalism ethics with anyone, I found Ed’s organization of the event so compelling and the conversations so provocative, that I couldn’t sleep. By night four, I was exhausted, so I took two sleeping pills at 11 p.m., and another two at 2 a.m., and even one at 4 a.m. … yet remained so wound up that I still couldn’t sleep. Ed’s ethics workshop remains in my mind as a formative influence on my thinking.
- Linda Steiner, Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Director, University of Maryland ADVANCE; Editor, Journalism & Communication Monographs
Ed Lambeth trained two generations of professors and media professionals making their way into the classroom in the art and science of teaching professional ethics. He was student-centered, theory-grounded, and all heart. He believed in internal goods and lived values. He defined journalistic virtues in a way both accessible and challenging. I still reach for his words from old lessons, his books, and the things he taught me during the decade I worked in his teaching workshop, and the decade later that I co-led it. He campaigned for the stand-alone media ethics class because he knew that if ethics were not taught deliberately and independently that it ran the risk to be an after-thought, a secondary component of complex decisions made at warp speed. The independent class laid the foundation for giving young communication professionals the honor and credibility they so desperately need. What a legacy: To be the champion of integrity and courage. He believed that stories told well, fairly, and justly could make the world a better place; because after all, we come to know who we are by the stories we tell. Lambeth is the only person I’ve ever known who could get thank you notes from people he sent rejection letters because they felt so affirmed by his condolences. As an advocate of deontology and virtue ethics, he taught us how to be effective as media ethics professors, in large part, by teaching ethics well.
- Ginny Whitehouse, Professor of Multimedia Journalism, Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Department of Communication, Eastern Kentucky University