Mentorship Shapes Grad Student's Own History as He Heads to First AJHA Conference

12 Sep 2017 2:45 PM | Dane Claussen (Administrator)
By Steven Listopad

With all due credit to Graham, Barth and countless others, the first person to introduce me to “journalism is the first rough draft of history” was my long-time adviser, mentor and friend Dr. Ross Collins. 

As a young adult, I was intent on pursuing a career in journalism and media. I wanted to report, write and enter a profession that I saw as adventurous. I did not, at the time, reflect too much on the scope of the discipline beyond education and professionalization.

As an undergraduate and graduate student in the mass communication program at North Dakota State University, Dr. Collins quickly relieved me of my narrow goals. In his discussions on media history, Dr. Collins made visible the quantum entanglements of events, past, present and future, and opened my eyes to the larger world of academic study.

I took time off between my master’s degree and Ph.D., working full time as a journalism professor and student media director at the University of Jamestown. I returned to my studies at NDSU, again having the timeless knowledge of Dr. Collins’ support. I also found another mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Crawford, to expand my base of support and field knowledge. 

Together Drs. Collins and Crawford have helped shape who I am as a scholar and student of history. Under Dr. Collins, historical research was central to my thesis on The Village Voice’s role in community building, and to my ongoing project on Native American newspapers’ roles in community building. Under Dr. Crawford, historical research is central to my professional passion--the relationship between the student press and the First Amendment. 

Prior to 1988, few questioned the negotiated autonomy the student press received from the First Amendment, seemingly cemented in the 1969 Supreme Court’s Tinker decision. Then, after the Court’s misguided Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision, the new status quo of unmitigated censorship authority quickly replaced any institutional or cultural memory of a time when student journalists were afforded a measure of protected freedom to express themselves in student publications. Now, only 30 years later, a free student press is mostly viewed as a gift to be given, not a right to be exercised.

In 2013, my students at the University of Jamestown and I turned a class project into what has become the national grassroots legislative campaign to protect student journalistic expression. New Voices U.S.A. (www.newvoicesus.com) has resulted in six states adopting new legislative protections for student journalists since 2015. I have been so fortunate to work with so many passionate influential people on this endeavor.

My contribution to New Voices was informed and enhanced by my mentors and their investment in me. They provided me the tools to look outside of the present and to identify the events in time that are connected to the way things are now. In joining the American Journalism Historians Association, I have discovered a family of scholars who share that historical appreciation for journalism and media. The research journal, Community Discussions, and support network have all been so valuable. And, as a life-long North Dakotan, I have especially enjoyed the recent work Teri Finneman has done on preserving the voices of important journalists in our state through multimedia and film. 

Now that I am a faculty member at Henderson State University, just a short drive from Little Rock, I look forward to finally participating in my first AJHA conference. I am also honored to be moderating a panel with fellow graduate students on another past time, international journalism. The panel, “Thinking internationally: Research opportunities connecting media history in the U.S. and abroad,” is at 11:20 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 12. 

The mentorship that I received from journalism and media historians helped me understand that “journalism is the first rough draft of history.” But that mentorship also concretely shaped my history.

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Steven Listopad is Lecturer/Student Media Adviser at Henderson State University, Oslo Program Director for ieiMedia, and a New Voices Advocate for New Voices U.S.A.

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