Oral History Committee interviews Folkerts, Sweeney

12 May 2017 12:13 PM | Dane Claussen (Administrator)

By Teri Finneman

One of the primary tasks of the Oral History Committee is to conduct interviews with members at the convention. This year, committee members Melita M. Garza and Pamela E. Walck interviewed Jean Folkerts and Mike Sweeney. Below are summaries of those interviews, with more to come later.

Interview by Melita M. Garza:

Mileposts in the journalism history career of Jean Folkerts include a stint as a pupil in an 8-student, 1-room Nebraska schoolhouse, a doctoral dissertation on William Allen White at the University of Kansas, and the deanship of the highly regarded UNC Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism. 

Along the way, she became editor of the influential scholarly publication, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, a co-author of the important journalism history textbook Voices of a Nation, and also a leading historian of journalism education.

It’s easy to see why Folkerts, was named the 2016 winner of AJHA’s Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History. Folkerts received that award at AJHA’s St. Petersburg, Florida, convention, where she also sat down for an oral history interview. During the discussion, she shared her consternation at the steady elimination of journalism history as a requirement in undergraduate and graduate programs. Now more than ever students across disciplines and majors need a solid understanding of journalism and its role in the polity, Folkerts said.

“I’d like to see it (journalism) as a general education requirement, and I’d like to see it incorporated more into journalism schools and history departments,” said Folkerts, now Interim Director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism & Mass Communications at Kansas State University. “Students across the board will understand the intersection between democracy and the media. Scholars and teachers of history need to learn new ways to incorporate into the curriculum, sell it as a way to understanding the world.”

Interview by Pamela E. Walck

Michael Sweeney’s first college-level teaching gig was unpaid. He was working at the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram as a features editor, having successfully made the jump from news reporter to editor, when a newsroom buddy asked him if he wanted to try teaching at the local community college.

“So I—just as a lark—taught literature classes for free to old farts, people 55 and older, and now I am one at 56,” Sweeney said in an oral history interview during AJHA’s annual convention in St. Petersburg, Florida. “What I learned was that as much as I loved journalism, I loved teaching more.”

After taking night classes at North Texas to earn his master’s degree, Sweeney arrived at Ohio University for his doctorate and found himself terrified.

“I remember not knowing whether I would be a good teacher or not, and thinking in my mind that I was, but the proof in the pudding is in the eating. I remember the first time I taught at Ohio University just being scared out of my mind in front of these 18-and 19-year- olds,” Sweeney recalled. “But I had nothing to be afraid of. They were probably more afraid of me. But once I did it, I got juice out of it. I get electricity. Energy. . . . A good day of teaching just leaves me exhausted because I burn so much energy and so much excitement.”

To learn more about Sweeney’s foray into academia, how he began researching the wartime press and writing books for National Geographic, and how he once injured himself over an awesome headline in his news editing class, check out the latest additions to AJHA’s oral history collection.


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