Journalism History’s First Michael S. Sweeney Award Goes to Brigham Young University Scholar for Article on the New York Times’ ‘Zipper’ in Times Square

01 Jun 2018 11:35 PM | Dane Claussen

Dale L. Cressman, associate professor of communication at Brigham Young University, has won the first annual Michael S. Sweeney Award for his scholarly article in Journalism History, “News in Light: The Times Square Zipper and Newspaper Signs in an Age of Technological Enthusiasm.”

The award, which honors the best article published in the quarterly journal over the past year, was created by the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) to honor the outgoing editor.

Mike Sweeney, since 2012 editor of the independent peer-reviewed journal at Ohio University, announced two years ago that he wanted to turn over Journalism History to the Division and to a new editor. The reason was two-fold, he told the division with frankness: he was being treated for a Stage IV cancer and the journal’s self-publication was no longer financially sustainable. 

Sweeney, who was also the incoming head of the History Division at the time, appointed an ad hoc task force to examine having the Division take over the journal. The mission that Sweeney initiated has now cleared the way for the Division to publish the journal for its nearly 300 members and institutional subscribers. The Division has also named the next editor, Gregory A. Borchard of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. 

In appreciation of Sweeney’s tenure as editor and his actions to ensure the journal’s future, the Division created the Michael S. Sweeney Award. The editor, in this case Sweeney himself, nominates four or five top articles from four issues over a recent 12-month period. The winner is selected from among the nominated articles by the Division’s three officers and is honored with a plaque at the AEJMC conference in August.

The other nominees for this first award were Juanita Darling, for “Jewish Values in the Journalism of Alberto Gerchunoff”; Michael Fuhlhage, for “To Limit the Spread of Slavery: A Boston Journal Correspondent’s Multiple Roles in the Kansas Free State Movement”; and Debra Reddin Van Tuyll, for “Protecting Press Freedom and Access to Government Information in Antebellum South Carolina.”

Cressman’s winning article, “News in Light,” traces the evolution of signs posted outside newspaper buildings, notably in New York City, feeding a public appetite for major news events. Electricity and technological advances, under competitive pressure among newspapers, led in 1928 to the “moving letter” sign around the New York Times building known as “The Zipper.” Cressman uses archives from The New York Times to document fights over the patent, but also theorizes that this history prefigured TV news consumption in the way it transformed readers into a collective audience.

The Division officers, Doug Cumming, Erika Pribanic-Smith and Teri Finneman, were impressed by the article’s insight, scholarship and readability. 

Cressman, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Utah, was formerly a television news editor and producer in Salt Lake City, Green Bay, Wis., and Waco, Texas, and an editor at the Canadian Broadcasting System.

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