5 bad journalism lessons from Superman comics

If you’re a newspaper nerd, a comic book nerd or (like me) both, you’ll get a kick out of this DC Comics collection of Daily Planet-themed Superman stories.

Captain America and Thor have been in the news this week, but no superhero — besides Spider-Man, maybe — has been involved in as many news-themed adventures as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.

That said, the Man of Steel and fellow reporters Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen don’t provide perfect examples of how to do journalism. Here are five bad lessons from their early comic book adventures in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s:

1. Journalists are trustworthy.

From Action Comics #429 (published 1973)

From Action Comics #429 (published 1973)

Superman is like a Bizarro Janet Malcolm. But he’d find a kindred spirit in James Risen.

2. It’s OK to print stories about yourself.

From Action Comics #211 (published 1955)

From Action Comics #211 (published 1955)

Photographer Peter Parker might also have bad ethical standards when it comes to getting his alter ego in the Daily Bugle and providing it with scoops, but at least Spider-Man is putting up with bad press, not facilitating fawning features.

3. It’s OK to refer to a woman who’s a journalist as a ‘girl reporter.’

From Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #29 (published 1961)

From Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #29 (published 1961)

Elsewhere in the graphic novel, a fellow journalist remarks that Lois Lane is “the top female reporter in the country.” Newsrooms were different in the ’60s, as Poynter has noted.

4. Deception is an acceptable way to get scoops.

From Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #42 (published 1960)

From Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #42 (published 1960)

In another story, Lois Lane paints a panther white in order to gain an audience with the “Rajah of Sari” — who is interested in rare animals — and surreptitiously take a photo of him.

5. When journalists get laid off, it’s easy to find jobs in other industries.

From Superman #79 (published 1952)

From Superman #79 (published 1952)

But no matter where Daily Planet staffers ended up when the newspaper closed temporarily — driving a cab, selling vacuum cleaners — they couldn’t help but stumble upon story ideas.


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