New faculty profile: Patrick Walters

The Washington and Lee University Journalism Department has a new professor this year

Walters worked in journalism for 15 years before entering academia in 2014.

The Columns

Walters worked in journalism for 15 years before entering academia in 2014.

Claire DiChiaro, Staff Writer

For newly-hired journalism professor Patrick Walters, one story from his reporting days stands out in his memory.
As he reported on new regulations of African hair-braiding salons in Philadelphia, Walters was guided by the question, “How can I convey this world to people who may have never entered it?” he said in an interview with the Ring-tum Phi.
“Half of journalism is showing people the worlds they might otherwise never see and to try and advance cultural understanding,” Walters said.
Walters has 15 years of background as a journalist, including working at the Philadelphia bureau of the Associated Press. He found the instantaneous nature of the coverage at AP to be particularly challenging.
“We have to report news in real time,” he said. For example, “when there’s a Duck Boat run over by a trawler in the Delaware River and people are dying, you need to react in the moment.”
Consolidation also demanded that journalists take on editing and multimedia roles, Walters said.
“You have to think as an editor: shaping not only words but also videos and sound, and coordinating coverage,” he said. Walters said he had to shift to “telling stories in headlines, in short blurbs, in longer stories, in sound clips, and knowing they’re all important.”
The move to an academic career was prompted by Walters asking himself how he could take a step back, to contribute to journalism in different ways. He taught journalism courses at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania for eight years before joining the Washington and Lee community this past July.
Walters said his teaching methods reflect what he sees as the nature of journalism today.
“It has to be a dialogue,” he said. “I’m here to convey and explain knowledge, but that has to occur in conversation with students.”
Walters believes that a journalism education is best taught through coaching, with examples and practice. “I always want to answer questions,” he said. For his first semester on the job, Walters is teaching courses like introduction to mass communications and digital journalism.
As a professor, Walters also focuses on emphasizing the importance of listening as a critical skill for aspiring journalists.
“Sometimes when I was a young reporter, in my interviews, I would talk too much,” Walters said. “Listening is such a fundamental skill: making sure we’re approaching people and we’re able to talk to them and hear their stories when their stories are different from ours, or when their backgrounds are different than ours.”
Walters credits his love for journalism, and his decision to join the career field, to his undergraduate years spent working on the student paper at the University of Virginia.
He still believes that a student newspaper is “one of the most important aspects of a college community,” he said.