Calvin L. Hall on Journalism and the Humanities

Dr. Calvin Hall

To mark the North Carolina Humanities Council's 40th anniversary, every month in 2012 we'll ask our friends to respond, within the context of the humanities, to these three words: THINK. SEE. FEEL. So far, their responses are as individual as they are. 

Calvin L. Hall

Calvin L. Hall, an associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Communication at Appalachian State University in Boone, served as a Humanities Council trustee from 2005 to 2011. He received his Ph.D. in mass communication from UNC-Chapel Hill and his B.A. and M.A. in English from N.C. State University. Born and raised in Asheville, he also taught English and journalism at Asheville High School. He is the author of African American Journalists: Autobiography as Memoir and Manifesto. He has also served as a visiting professor in the international journalism graduate program at the Fudan University School of Journalism in Shanghai, China.


Think. See. Feel. So much has been written about those words by people of greater accomplishment and depth of thinking than me, that I feel inadequate to begin discussing them. They defy any real attempt to define. Put simply, they are actions that are a necessary part of our day-to-day strivings, of our immersive experience in the human condition. We must breathe, eat, and sleep to live. We must think, see, and feel to “be”— to give meaning to the living. 

My discipline is journalism, which, as an area of research, tends to favor the methods of the social sciences to answer questions about the people, processes, and products that comprise the field of journalism. Moreover, as an area of teaching, journalism focuses on giving students a specific set of skills that will allow them to inform, enlighten, and inspire readers. Even so, a sound journalism curriculum is one that is designed to provide students with an intellectual foundation that will enhance the skills needed to collect, evaluate, and process information and ideas. Thus, a sound journalism education becomes a sound education in the humanities — one that requires a student to engage in three basic behaviors central to the humanities: thinking, seeing, feeling.  

Think. See. Feel. The words describe human capabilities in the present and also impel us toward future action. Each thought, each sight, each feeling creates a moment — a fleeting, transitory present — that immediately and inexorably create a past as we move toward an indistinct future existing somewhere at infinity. Eugene O'Neill once famously stated that "There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now." However, it's not the past that happens over and over again. It's the present. Each time we think, see, or feel is an ephemeral present moment that immediately surrenders to another new instance of thinking, seeing, or feeling; creating a past and moving us toward the future. 

Think. See. Feel. The terms define and describe the responsibility that each person has toward another. "Think" means that we consider deeply the consequences of the actions we take. "See" necessitates that we develop an understanding of and a respect for the perspectives of others. "Feel" is a call for compassion and caring.

Think. See. Feel. These three dimensions of the humanities form the foundation of journalism practices that lead to excellent, responsible journalism. In order to practice the kind of journalism that contributes to a well-informed citizenry, journalists should think about the context in which they report stories. They should think about the historical background and factors that contribute to the facts of a story as a way of ensuring their readers or viewers have a complete understanding of a story. During the reporting process, a journalist should see all the complexities of a story and present them, moving their audience beyond the simple facts of a story to explore its multiple narrative aspects. And finally, a journalist should develop a feel for the voices that add value and reveal new truths about the human condition or present universal truths in a unique way with reporting that has the breadth and depth to provide real vision for an informed citizenry.