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Burgess endows ethics chair for journalism school

April 21, 2005 By Chris DuPre

James Burgess, former publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal and executive vice president of Lee Enterprises, has made a $1 million gift to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication to establish an endowed professorship in ethics.

The James E. Burgess Ethics in Journalism Chair will be part of an envisioned center devoted to issues of fairness, accuracy and integrity in the media.

“This is something I’ve contemplated in my estate plan for many years,” Burgess says. “It seemed worthwhile to do now, and it offers a great opportunity for a connection with the centennial of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.”

Professor James Baughman, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says the time is right to put an increased emphasis on ethics.

“Although we have long integrated ethical issues into our courses, my colleagues and I had been considering expanding our instruction in ethics,” Baughman says. “Jim Burgess’s generous gift will allow us to do so. We are very grateful to Jim.”

Journalism ethics have been increasingly in the spotlight the last few years, with the cases of Jayson Blair at the New York Times, “Memogate” at CBS News and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom generating negative headlines. While the overwhelming majority of journalists perform ethically, Baughman says new times present new challenges.

“Journalists face a new set of ethical traps, many driven by technological change, some by economic considerations,” he says. “The magnitude of the problem became clear to me soon after I became director of the School in July 2003. Editors and producers began volunteering their deep concerns about the new ethical challenges facing their reporters.”

The Burgess Chair is seen as a leadership position that will spur national discussion. A nationwide search is planned to award the chair.

“Most journalism schools, as well as business schools, have, say, a course or two on ethics,” Burgess says. “Having a chair and a distinct center devoted to ethics offers a chance for learning and discussion at the university that I find very exciting. As this moves forward, it would be great to see UW–Madison’s journalism school become a center for national discourse and a spotlight on these issues. It’s time.”

Burgess grew up in La Crosse and earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from UW–Madison in 1958. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he interned at several newspapers. He was business and production manager at the Missoula Missoulian and publisher of the Helena Independent Record, both in Montana.

He went on to be publisher of the La Crosse Tribune and eventually executive vice president of Lee Enterprises, charged with corporate management and overseeing 19 newspapers from the Midwest to the West Coast. He then served as publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Of his time in newspapers, Burgess says, “It’s a clich� that publishers spend a lot of time worrying about profit, but they have to if the paper is going to stay in business. I know I took great pleasure in seeing young journalists grow, in making a newspaper that’s contemporary with its community.

“The testimony to any publisher is who grew in your newspaper and how,” he adds. “I think you’ll find, particularly at the Wisconsin State Journal, we had a terrific cadre of kids who became very competent, respected professionals.”

Burgess lives in Madison with his wife, Catherine. They share four children and 10 grandchildren.

The gift is part of the UW Foundation’s Create the Future: The Wisconsin Campaign.

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