Tough on crime: Mark Winne ’13 combines education, investigation at WSB-TV
For almost 40 years, Mark Winne has broken some of Georgia’s biggest stories as an investigative reporter for WSB-TV in Atlanta. But his own story, one that spans decades of crime, corruption and charity, started at Auburn.
Winne covers crime across Georgia, holding the powerful accountable as one of the most trusted voices in the state. From the halls of the capitol to the criminal underbelly, Winne has reported on it all.
“Other people might say it keeps me off the streets,” Winne said. “In my case, it keeps me on the streets.”
Winne’s first major story came when he was an Auburn student working part-time at The Birmingham News. He and a photographer received word of a hand sticking out of the trunk of a car, and they drove around the city until they found it—their chase ended with the rescue of a kidnapping victim.
After that story, The Birmingham News offered Winne a full-time position, which he accepted, opting to finish his degree later. On the night police beat, Winne learned how to develop sources, sift through incident reports and work with people going through traumatic events.
Winne said his successful investigative journalism career is founded on what he learned in the journalism department in the College of Arts and Sciences, today known as the School of Communication and Journalism.
“Investigative reporting is really taking what you learned in your first year or two of your journalism major and applying it more rigorously,” Winne said. “Applying a little more perspiration, a little more inspiration, but especially, putting in the hard work to get to the answers.”
After leaving Auburn in 1979, Winne covered crime and corruption for The Birmingham News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV. In 1995, he wrote “Priority Mail,” a book covering the 1989 mail bombings that targeted federal courts and the NAACP. His work has been recognized with numerous awards, including several Southern Regional Emmys.
Winne said the tenets of journalism drive all his stories, with a special focus on the human element.
“Everything we do can be covered under five headings: truth, accuracy, fairness, balance and human impact,” Winne said. “You can have the most important information in the world, but if you don’t give people a reason to care, it’s of no account. So, I work really hard at finding the voice of the victim or the witness or the person who’s affected by the story or the exciting video that will pull people into the story and make people want to pay attention.”
Despite being away from Auburn, Winne’s ties to the program remained strong throughout his career. He was especially close with Jack Simms, who built the Department of Journalism at Auburn and led the program to national accreditation. Simms mentored Winne from the time he came to Auburn until Simms’ death in 2016. Winne said he still applies what Simms taught him every day.
“When you can use the gifts God gave you to help other people and you make your living doing it, that’s the definition of calling,” Winne said. “A significant part of the suite of gifts that I feel like I’m able to bring to this job is the education I got at Auburn. In journalism classes, in philosophy classes, in world history classes, in English classes. It’s stuff that still touches me every day.”
Winne returned to the Plains in 2013 to complete the foreign language credit he needed to earn his degree. After one summer semester, he graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism.
He was the second person in his family to graduate from Auburn—one semester after his eldest son graduated and just before his youngest son graduated. They went on to become successful attorneys, and Winne returned to WSB-TV, now with a degree in hand.
“It means a lot to me, whether it had any practical effects, I had learned what I learned,” Winne said. “My Auburn education affects everything I do every day, every minute I’m on this job. But it makes me feel good, personally, to have that box checked. And now we have three Auburn graduates in the family. I like the idea that we all three have that Auburn diploma.”
In addition to his work with charities and his church, Winne said it’s important to him to give back to Auburn. Throughout the years, he’s engaged with the university to support the next generation of journalists.
“I owe Auburn a lot. Auburn gave me a place, a community, and I felt like I thrived there, and it gave me the foundation to go out and lead a meaningful life,” Winne said. “It gave me context for my values, for even my faith. Things I learned about the Reformation in world history gave more context to my Christian beliefs. It’s a debt I can’t really repay, but I feel like I have to make an effort.”
Four years after he graduated, Winne was invited back to Auburn to deliver a 2017 commencement ceremony address. He shared stories of what he’s encountered over the years as an investigative reporter and urged College of Liberal Arts students to hold on to their calling.
Winne said journalism is about imparting important information to people that will help their lives, and any other motivation to break into the industry will just disappoint you.
“Identify why you want to do this,” Winne said. “Examine those reasons, make sure they’re the right reasons, then lock them away in your heart so that when the stress gets tough on deadline, when the hours get long, when you’re having to dig deep into your reserves, you can turn to that and remind yourself why it’s important.”
For more information about the School of Communication and Journalism in the College of Liberal Arts, visit here.