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Mark Winne

College of Liberal Arts alumnus

While Mark Winne was still a student at Auburn University and working part-time at The Birmingham News, he and a photographer spotted a hand sticking out of the trunk of a car and chased it across the city, ultimately leading to the rescue of a kidnap victim. Thus began a career of crime and corruption coverage.

Winne worked for three years at The Birmingham News and was then hired by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. After the AJC, Winne says that his first job in television was for an unusual 18-month contract because he suspects the management wasn't sure he could do TV, having no experience with the medium and beginning in a major market. He's been with WSB-TV since 1986 and has helped Action News break many of Georgia's biggest stories, including the recent story of an active shooter at an elementary school in DeKalb County. His print and broadcast work have been honored with numerous professional and civic awards, including a number of Southern Regional Emmys.

While always a proper and true Auburn gentleman, Winne is now an Auburn graduate. He walked across stage on Aug. 3, after completing the final credit he needed to officially become an alumnus of the College of Liberal Arts. Winne has been married for 26 years to his wife, Kate, and has two sons, Jack, a 2013 Auburn graduate, and Matt, who is a sophomore at Auburn.

1. How did you decide to attend Auburn University? And how did you decide upon your major?

One of three high schools I attended in three states was in Montgomery, and I suppose that's where I first became familiar with Auburn. But at the next high school, in a small town in the ranch country of northern California, I saw a catalogue in a guidance counselor's office that piqued my interest. The application fee was only $10, as I recall. A lot of military kids wound up at Auburn. Journalism as a major? I wrote for the high school paper at the last school, had briefly hosted a radio telephone-talk show when I was 11 and briefly during high school had a stringer job for a local paper. Thirty-five cents a columnar inch. Did not encourage brevity. Maybe I already knew for a while I was supposed to try to use the power of words to help people, though that would not crystallize until later.

2. What has your career path been since leaving Auburn?

After three-and-a-half years at The Birmingham News, I moved to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and then switched to TV less than two years later. My first contract, at another Atlanta station, was for 18 months, an unusual time-frame, but I suspect the management there wasn't sure I could do TV, having no experience with the medium and beginning in a major market. But the rules of writing and reportage are essentially the same, and when an opportunity came to move to the No. 1 station in the market, WSB, I took it.

3. What made you decide to come back and get your degree?

I left Auburn at the end of four years to take a great job with The Birmingham News. I wrapped up an incomplete in one class maybe 20 or 25 years ago, leaving only a foreign language class for my degree. I figured I ought to graduate before at least one of my sons. Plus, I have a lot of respect and affection for the outgoing dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Anna Gramberg, and wanted to walk across the stage while she could still hand me that piece of paper. I thoroughly enjoyed my return to academia, though I worked my tail off in an intensive German class this summer. The professor, Iulia Pittman, was outstanding, with a gift for both the language and pedagogy.

4. How has your liberal arts background benefitted you throughout your career?

Words spoken in the cinder block confines of Haley Center by the superb journalism faculty of my era- Jack Simms, Mickey Logue, David Housel, P.C. Burnett, Gillis Morgan or Jerry Brown- reverberate through my day-to-day work-life more than three decades later. And so do my many conversations with them outside the classroom, as a student or in the years since. Jack Simms, who built one of the best journalism programs anywhere, remains one of my closest friends and mentors. I was also blessed to encounter gifted writers on the English faculty, like Oxford Stroud, Madison Jones and John Nist. I can't tell you how many times I have repeated to interns at WSB Nist's words in a poetry class about the importance of keeping things lean and mean: "Economy is power." True in poetry, news or any other kind of writing. Principles absorbed from the lectures of philosophy professor R.V. Andelson and religion department head John Kuykendall- later president of Davidson College- inform my inner life. The same might be said of what I heard in lectures from history professors Joseph Kicklighter and Gordon Bond. Years ago I missed the new member classes for joining a Lutheran church. I met with the pastor, discussed what I learned about Martin Luther and the Reformation in a freshman history class and the pastor pronounced me, in essence, well-versed in the foundations of the Lutheran church. An encounter I had as a student journalist with then-trustee Shug Jordan in which he was uncommonly kind to me helped define for me what it means to be a gentleman in the most important sense of the word, and one who lives his life with grace.

5. Do you have any advice for students/fellow graduates who are looking to enter the news business?

Anyone who wants to get into the news business should be sure of why he or she wants to do so. If it is for the money, there are lots of less stressful ways to earn more money. If it is for the ego- there's always somebody waiting around the corner to lance the ego. If you want gratification when you look in the mirror at the end of the day- literal and proverbial- you ought to feel called to use the particular gifts with which God has blessed you to serve others by imparting important information. News is information people ought to know, packaged in such a way that they will want to know it. Which brings me to my next piece of advice for folks who want to get into news: Write. Write, write and write. It is hard to overestimate the importance of developing writing skills. That's something the Auburn journalism faculty hammered into us as students, and they were on the money.

Oct. 14, 2013