Intelligencer is a blog featuring thoughtful essays on mass communication history teaching and research as well as highlighting the work of our members.
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By Tracy Lucht
We are a few months past our conference in Memphis, and I have been reflecting on some conversations that took place there. As I hope it did for you, the 2022 conference energized me and renewed my confidence in the relationships this group nurtures. The state of our organization is strong. However, it is clear we must pay attention to external headwinds as we chart a sustainable course forward.
Looking at the landscape of higher education, I see some immediate challenges for our field, namely:
Budget cuts mean less money for research and travel, along with higher course loads and curricular constraints. Budget models like Iowa State’s that reward student credit hours incentivize service courses with high enrollments over smaller, skills-based courses, which poses a challenge for professionally based, ACEJMC-accredited programs.
AJHA will need to advocate for our members, as we always have, while looking for ways to reinforce the importance of history in the curriculum. One area we might consider is news and media literacy, which is gaining traction among administrators who see it as part of a well-rounded education. Building on the efforts of former AJHA president Donna Lampkin Stephens as well as a board discussion in Memphis, the History in the Curriculum Committee will consider ways to leverage our expertise to meet a need and demonstrate value to administrators.
While these laws represent a challenge to academic freedom broadly, the topics targeted for censorship are quite specific. Alongside efforts to ban certain books from schools and public libraries, proponents are clearly and directly challenging perspectives from historically marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ people and people of color. Coupled with a rise in antisemitism and violent rhetoric, the danger to individuals and institutions is clear.
What can AJHA do? We can promote scholarship in underrepresented areas, as a recent call for microgrant proposals from Journalism History and American Journalism aims to do. This year’s effort focuses on the intersection of media history with “race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, class, religion, disability, mental health, and/or rural populations.” Not only does this initiative support members conducting research in these areas, but it also helps to correct and complete the historical narrative at a critical juncture.
We can also be mindful of our organization’s practices and positions. Should we be more vocal about legislation and policy decisions we view as harmful to our field and our organization’s members? How can we as an organization work toward greater inclusivity and belonging?
I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
Tracy Lucht is is First Vice President of AJHA and a professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism/Communication at Iowa State University. Reach her at: email@example.com.
By Gerry Lanosga
How many times have you started pulling on a thread in an archive only to realize that if you want to find where it started, you’re going to have to visit yet another archive? That’s what happened to me when I began researching what I thought might be the first competition to offer awards to journalists exclusively at the local level in the U.S. The timeline for when awards began to diffuse more broadly into the field – branching out from journalism’s first award, the Pulitzer Prizes – is an important piece of my book project exploring the history of prizes as a cultural and institutional force in the development of journalism as a profession.
My search for the first local prize had taken me a few years ago to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, home to the records of the Cleveland Newspaper Guild Local 1. The Cleveland guild awarded prizes for the first time in 1940, recognizing work done in 1939; organizers billed the prizes as “Ohio’s Pulitzer.” The prizes were plaster-cast statuettes of newsboys called Heywoods, named in honor of ANG leader Heywood Broun. Western Reserve’s collection of correspondence and other materials was filled with rich detail about battles over the contest’s rules, criticism of the judging, and complaints about inequities toward women, among other things.
What I didn’t find was clear evidence that Cleveland was truly the site of the first journalism awards at the local level. I wondered: What if the idea came from another guild? To follow the thread, my next stop was Detroit, home to Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther library and its massive labor archives, including the American Newspaper Guild collection. Thanks to a McKerns research grant from AJHA (and after a considerable delay owing to the pandemic), I was able to visit the Reuther library this past August.
The American Newspaper Guild (ANG) was founded in 1933, with Cleveland as its first local. The collection at Reuther includes records from local chapters all around the country, and I was particularly interested in 19 boxes of early correspondence between ANG and these locals. As I looked through folder after folder, I found lots of references to local contests, but nothing to dispel the notion that Cleveland had the first.
Feeling relieved that the chase was over (spoiler alert: it wasn’t!), I was able to glean a great deal of important context for my broader interest in how awards competitions continued to spread in the middle of the twentieth century and how they helped define the contours of contemporary journalistic practice.
Prizes are as much a marker of professionalization as trade associations, codes of ethics, and journalism education, but they have received much less attention from historians and other scholars. Yet professional prizes can provide both economic and cultural capital to those who win them, and Guild leaders clearly were keen to create a source of such capital at the local level. For instance, the Detroit local announced its annual competition in 1949 this way: “No, we’re not exactly trying to run the Pulitzer Prize people out of business. This is something local. It gives the local guy or gal a chance to gain recognition right here – from fellow newspapermen.” By 1952, according to an ANG survey, at least nine Guild chapters were running local journalism awards programs.
And, I thought, it all started with Cleveland’s Heywoods. Upon further review and research, it turns out that the Cleveland contest wasn’t the very first local prize. Since making my trip to the Reuther Library, I’ve learned about a little-known Guild rival called the American Press Association, which offered a local prize in Pittsburgh – awarded in 1940, the same year Cleveland’s contest began. And I also found a quirky, short-lived local prize in Indiana founded all the way back in 1928 by a wealthy widow whose only apparent connection to journalism was a romance with the first winner of her contest. You’ll have to wait for the book to read more about that!
Ultimately, I probably won’t ever be to say definitively where the first local journalism prize was. However, I am quite sure that the Newspaper Guild played a seminal role in the expansion of journalism’s prize culture in the twentieth century – and that Cleveland was almost certainly the first chapter to have a local prize. I plan to keep pulling this thread, although I really do need to finish the book! I look forward to sharing the whole story with you when it’s done, and in the meantime, I am most grateful to AJHA for supporting my research.
Gerry Lanosga is an Associate Professor at the Media School of Indiana University Bloomington. He was the 2019 AJHA McKerns Research Grant award recipient.
When and how did you first become involved in AJHA?
I first became involved in AJHA during this year's Memphis conference. My paper, "Wielding the Blade: J. Anthony Josey, the Wisconsin-Enterprise Blade and the Construction of a Contemporary Black Political Identity", won the Robert Lance Memorial Award for Best Student Paper at this year's conference. And I'm hoping to be involved for years to come.
How did you become interested in Milwaukee’s English-language ethnic press during the New Deal era?
I became interested in Milwaukee's English-language ethnic press during the New Deal era by way of Wisconsin's labor movement history. Milwaukee has had such a diverse population throughout the 20th century and its connection to organized labor is well-documented. However, less has been discussed relating to the city's ethnic populations (aside from its significant German influence). By the 1930s, many within these ethnic populations were 2nd and 3rd generation members of the community. They were not only predominantly speaking English and reading English-language newspapers, they were occupied significant positions within the labor force and, significantly, could now vote. And alongside the popularization of many elements of the New Deal as a means to counter the influence of the Great Depression, Milwaukee experienced sweeping support for the New Deal, throwing its political support behind President Franklin Roosevelt in large numbers. Understanding this shift and the role of the city's English-language ethnic press in its realization tells us so much about the significance of the New Deal in Milwaukee.
How did these newspapers help construct identity?
Typical of communities throughout the United States, many of Milwaukee's ethnic communities were hit particularly hard by the Great Depression. And FDR's New Deal promised much-needed economic rejuvenation. Significantly, these communities' newspapers typically viewed the New Deal in positive terms, highlighting its significant elements and framing them in relation to their reading audiences. Aside from outright praise for FDR and the New Deal Democrats' legislative efforts, even in cases where the newspaper publisher favored Republican politics, evidence shows a construction of identity orienting a sense of self cohered around labor and financial interests. Members of these papers' audiences frequently began to embrace a brand of 'New Deal liberalism' that reshaped the city's electorate for much of the 1930s, leading to widespread support for FDR and the New Deal program.
How did those identities intersect with the social movements of the era, such as the Labor Movement?
Labor issues were paramount for ethnic communities throughout Milwaukee during the period. Members of these communities often worked in blue-collar positions and many found representation within trade unions. The labor movement itself was immensely popular within Milwaukee during the period. Coupled with a 'sewer socialist' disposition sympathetic to the labor cause, New Deal-era legislation like the National Industrial Recovery Act and later the Wagner Act codified labor rights to organize. And Milwaukee's ethnic communities, particularly those of German-American and Jewish descent, with strong ties to organized labor, found themselves within union organizations, better positioned than ever to strike and bargain for better working conditions, increased wages and few work hours.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of academia?
Outside the academic world, I love playing music, going to concerts, enjoying nights out playing pool in Madison, WI with friends and watching the Philadelphia Eagles.
By Mike Conway
At some point during the AJHA conference I heard someone say they didn’t realize how much they needed the in-person experience until they got to Memphis. I couldn’t agree more. As much as I enjoyed our online conferences during the past two years and our ability to keep AJHA active during the pandemic, getting together with my fellow AJHA historians is what has kept me coming back to AJHA conferences for twenty straight years.
I have to admit that the past three years had me worried. I had already witnessed and heard about steep declines in academic conference submissions and attendance in the past year. We were sweating out reaching the hotel room minimum numbers to fulfill our contract.
But when we got together Thursday morning for President Aimee Edmondson’s welcoming address, there they were: the people that make AJHA such a special organization. In fact, attendance in Memphis matched our numbers at our last in-person conference in Dallas in 2019 and most in-person conferences in recent memory.
Those of you who joined us in Memphis and those who were only kept away because of circumstances or schedules made it another memorable conference. The reason we could restart our in-person experience so smoothly is because of our great AJHA volunteers. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Caryl Cooper and LoWanda James quickly reached out to the hotels in Memphis and Columbus, OH and pushed back our hotel contracts by two years without penalty. When we made the decision to go back in-person earlier this year, Executive Director Erika Pribanic-Smith and AJHA President Aimee Edmondson worked with the Memphis site team to pull together the logistics while 2nd Vice-President Tracy Lucht built and adjusted the conference schedule throughout the summer. It reminded me of re-starting an engine that had been idle for a few years. It took some extra effort, but once we got it running, it was just like the AJHA conferences we remembered.
The Future: Columbus and Beyond
It’s customary at this point for AJHA presidents to put forth a vision for their year leading the organization. Mine is quite simple. I want to do whatever I can to continue AJHA’s mission to help media historians dig into important issues and provide an encouraging and safe venue for the presentation and publication of that scholarship. I want all media historians to view AJHA as I have for the past two decades, as a welcoming organization that does its best to provide resources to encourage research and an organization filled with members willing to share their time and expertise to lift up those who are building their careers. I was drawn to AJHA over other academic organizations because the top scholars were welcoming and supportive, not lording over graduate students and assistant professors as if they held the keys to an exclusive club.
If AJHA does not have that reputation for all of us, then what can we do to make it more inclusive and welcoming? The pandemic and the current political and cultural climate have made some existing issues quite clear. Universities are cutting back on research and travel funding, make it more expensive for us to visit archives and attend conferences. In some less enlightened cases, scholars are being told to stay away from historical research in favor of quantitative methods to increase the number of publications. At the same time, some states are passing laws to limit what history can be taught. These efforts show us the power and necessity of our work. AJHA should be our advocate to keep us pushing forward in our area of media history. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues.
Finally, a less exciting, but just as important topic: money. We need to give serious thought to how we keep AJHA working for media historians into the future. Our Board of Directors is very generous every year, budgeting roughly $15,000 a year more than we bring in. There’s nothing nefarious about this. As AJHA Finance Guru Lisa Parcell always tells us, the money we spend fits directly into the mission of AJHA, providing grants, travel stipends and other financial incentives to conduct, present, and publish our research. We also have a bit of a financial cushion. But at this rate, we will run out of money in about 13 years. We have to look at our annual membership dues, fundraising, and establishing an endowment to provide stable funding for our next generation of scholars. We’ve put together an ad-hoc committee to look into the endowment idea. AJHA Finance Director Lisa Parcell, Treasurer Ken Ward, Joe Campbell, and I hope to present a plan to our Board in the next several months. Aimee Edmondson and the Long Range Planning Committee will be surveying AJHA members about the future, especially what we’d like to see as our conference experience in the coming years. As always, ideas and comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kim Todd
My recent book, Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s “Girl Stunt Reporters,” started with curiosity about a particular woman that expanded into curiosity about a whole genre. In Leslie Reagan’s When Abortion was a Crime, I had read about the Chicago Times journalist who, with a male companion pretending to be her brother, approached Chicago physicians in 1888. Hinting that she was pregnant, she asked for an abortion, a procedure that was illegal at the time. Throughout December of that year, the Times ran story after story by the woman who signed herself “Girl Reporter,” detailing her revealing conversations with doctors and midwives.
Her reporting made fascinating reading, offering a look into the reality of abortion (it was completely available in many forms and was sought out by women of all classes) at a time when, thanks to Comstock laws, even discussing the operation could be forbidden. But neither Reagan’s book nor any other source I could find indicated who the “Girl Reporter” actually was. With a free afternoon on a trip Chicago, I went to the microfilm room at the Harold Washington Library Center, to scroll through back Chicago Times issues to see if I could find out her identity.
That didn’t lead to a name, but the search took hold of me, and I found myself returning to Chicago to look up libel suits against the Chicago Times that might have named the “Girl Reporter” in the archives of the Cook County Circuit Court, to pore over articles by named journalists in the region to look for textual similarities, to read the minutes of the Chicago Medical Society meeting where doctors discussed the “Girl Reporter’s” exposé. As I encountered more responses to her work, I became increasingly aware that, as unique as her project seemed, she was only one of many women going undercover during 1888, a number that would only increase in successive years.
The abortion exposé appeared one year after Nellie Bly feigned insanity to get committed to Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women in fall of 1887. Though Bly’s expose for Joseph Pulitzer’s World is famous, what is less well known is that the popularity of her story opened up a decade of opportunity for female journalists to escape the women’s page and report on topics of great societal significance. They uncovered abusive labor conditions in factories, poor treatment of female patients at public hospitals, children locked up in adult jails. At times their reporting was sneered at as “stunt reporting” and “sensations,” but it resulted in new laws and high pay for those willing to attempt it.
Looking beyond the “Girl Reporter,” led me to Eva McDonald, who would interview the president about the New Bedford textile strike; Winifred Sweet, who was first reporter on the scene of the Galveston hurricane; Kate Swan, who recorded the only interview with Lizzie Borden; and Victoria Earle Matthews, who uncovered exploitative employment agencies. And they were only a few of the many women all over the country doing this kind of work.
I found that the questions I had about the “Girl Reporter” extended to the genre over all. What made this brand of journalism possible in this window of time? How does their first-person narrative nonfiction relate to immersion journalism and creative nonfiction of today? This kind of reporting endangered both body and reputation: were these women exploited by unscrupulous editors, or taking control of their professional lives by embracing meaningful jobs? Why was their writing condemned and then forgotten?
It hit me during the Memphis conference when I was taking a group picture of the graduate students with their AJHA coffee mugs and Sweeney Stipend checks. I was witnessing the result of one final selfless act from one of AJHA’s most selfless members.
Backing up a year, AJHA President Aimee Edmondson asked me to chair an ad-hoc committee to come up with ideas to bolster our commitment to graduate students. Many of us got hooked on AJHA as graduate students and we wanted to make sure the organization is doing all it can to encourage media history research for those working on their degrees.
Gerry Lanosga, Michael Fuhlhage, Graduate Student Committee Chair Claire Rounkles and I got to work. We were later joined by Jason Guthrie and Erin Coyle. One of the most popular ideas was bringing back the AJHA Auction, a long-time staple of the annual conferences that ended several years ago.
None of us were involved in the auction logistics so I reached out to Ford Risley, who ran the auction for several years, and Mike Sweeney, who was the unforgettable auctioneer that cajoled us into bidding on items to help fund graduate student conference travel. With their feedback, we decided to try the hybrid version of the auction that you witnessed in Memphis. The bidding was done on an online site but the actual auction items were on display at the conference. More on the auction in a bit. Back to the selfless act.
As we worked on various graduate student initiatives, Aimee Edmondson learned that her colleague, Sweeney, who had been living with cancer for years, did not have long to live. We decided that it would be appropriate to name our graduate student travel stipend after Dr. Sweeney, because of his role as mentor to so many graduate students as well as his memorable years at AJHA auctioneer. Carolyn and Mike Sweeney not only gave the idea their blessing in his final days, they also added the AJHA graduate student fund to Mike’s obituary.
Our committee also convinced the AJHA Board to make a statement about our commitment by offering graduate students $400 in travel funds for the Memphis conference, more than double what had ever been offered in the past. Leave it to Mike Sweeney. The money raised from his obituary notice covered the Sweeney Stipend for all graduate students in Memphis, ensuring AJHA would not have to dip into the general fund to cover the cost.
That is where the reborn auction comes in. We set up the Sweeney Stipend so the money raised in one year would be used for the next year’s conference, allowing us to let graduate students know exactly how much we could offer in advance. The Sweeney Stipend in Columbus next year depends on how much we raise this year.
Because of the generous donations of historical media items from so many AJHA members as well as the healthy bidding on those items, along with the hours spent by the ad-hoc committee putting together and running the auction, we were able to raise $1700 for next year’s Sweeney Stipend. This amount alone translates to about $115 per graduate student next year which will be added to any other donations we receive to the Sweeney Stipend by the end of the year. (Donations are always welcome at https://ajha.wildapricot.org/Donate !)
All of the above leads to the question in the headline. Should we continue the auction in Columbus in 2023? If so, we need volunteers to keep the auction going. Our ad-hoc committee was a one-year commitment and the members are all moving on to other obligations. I am certainly ready to help and pass along what we learned this year, but we need one AJHA volunteer who would be willing to take over the auction, and maybe a few others to help. Most of the work happens in the summer and through the conference itself. If you would be interested or have ideas about the auction, please let me know. email@example.com.
by Melita M. Garza, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
On May 29, 2020, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, producer Bill Kirkos, and photojournalist Leonel Mendez were arrested on live television by armed National Guardsmen while reporting on the police killing of an unarmed Black man—George Floyd. The CNN crew was held for one hour and later received an apology from Minnesota’s governor. However, as the New York Times media critic James Poniewozik noted, “the messages had already been sent. The arrest told all media that there are people within law enforcement who now feel empowered enough to shut down coverage of unrest — unrest resulting from police violence — flat out in the open.”
The anecdote was provocative—and at the time I wrote the first syllabus for my course, among the most timely and powerful exemplars of U.S. journalists’ truth-telling struggle. What follows in this teaching essay is an overview of how I developed the Journalism and Moral Courage course, which in 2022 won the Jinx Coleman Broussard Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Media History from the AEJMC History Division.
Clearly, the incident involving CNN’s Jimenez was neither the first threat to happen on U.S. soil, nor the last. It was nonetheless jarring since attacks, harassment, and murders of journalists are often popularly linked to repressive regimes in distant regions of the globe. The election of Donald Trump—a president who made journalists his prime bête noir—and his administration’s blatant bending of the truth with “alternative fact-making,” raised the stakes for journalists in this country. Of course, presidential disdain for the media was nothing new, but Trump was very far from Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism” name-calling. In this contemporary culture of fourth-estate contempt, I asked: “How might students make connections between abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy’s 1837 murder and the 'Rope. Tree. Journalist' meme?” Or between 1892, when Ida B. Wells feared returning home after her press was attacked, and 2018, when in an attempt to shut down and discredit Yamiche Alcindor, Trump accused the then PBS NewsHour correspondent of asking “racist” questions at a White House news conference.
It was that year when my idea for this course began percolating. Time had trained a spotlight on the contemporary attacks on journalism in 2018 when it named the “‘Guardians of the Truth’” as its “Person of the Year.” Among the magazine’s honorees were slain Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the staff of the Annapolis Capital Gazette, five of whom were murdered in the newsroom by a disgruntled story subject. Time’s cover story rebutted Trump’s “enemies of the people” frame against another proposed by Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, who countered that journalists should be described as “protectors of the truth.” In fact, Time portrayed the journalists as “guardians” who were battling “the manipulation and the abuse of truth.” But what is truth?
These issues of today in the news struck me as an opportunity to get firmly present-minded students to explore connections between current events and journalism history. Moreover, it was a way to get students thinking theoretically about the concepts of truth and moral courage. In other words, one aim of the course is to enable students to move beyond the Kovach and Rosenstiel maxim that the purpose of journalism is to provide people the information they need to be free—and to ask at what cost? This course differs from typical war reporting or conflict journalism courses per se. It doesn’t focus on skills or safety training, and it doesn’t focus on international conflicts, but on challenges that journalists, both internationally and domestically, have faced, with a particular focus on the struggle to find and convey “the truth.”
The overarching objective for this course is to help students develop an understanding of the role of journalists in promoting democracy, justice, and equality, whether reporting domestically or in conflict zones abroad. The first part of the course focuses on defining “truth” and moral courage, while providing a grounding in key attributes of journalism. Readings for subsequent weeks relate to specific journalists and historical periods and are broken out by themes. I teach this course as a readings and research colloquium. Students lead class discussion for assigned weeks, interspersed with mini-lectures from the professor, visits from guest speakers, and in-class assignments with professor-developed worksheets and reflection prompts. Looking for another way to sneak journalism history into the curriculum? This course enabled me to teach historical methods in a way that let students see how researching the journalistic past can illuminate our understanding of the journalistic present.
Although I designed this course for undergraduates, most of whom were not journalism majors, the course could easily be adapted to the graduate level. For instance, in the first part of the course, one of the required readings is Lee McIntyre’s Post-Truth (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018). McIntyre’s book is a pocket-guide to understanding theories of truth, including the impact of post-modernism. Graduate students might be asked to explore conceptions of truth from Aristotle, Plato, Milton, and others directly. Likewise, the final project for the course, which is a research paper exploring a specific journalist’s struggle with moral courage and truth, might also be developed as a graduate project and conference paper submission (as it might be for undergraduates also).
The AJHA presidency transferred to Mike Conway (left) from Aimee Edmondson on Oct. 1 at the AJHA convention in Memphis. (Photo courtesy of Erika Pribanic-Smith)
American Journalism Historians Association leadership is set for the 2022-2023 year, which will culminate in our 42nd annual convention in Columbus, Ohio, next September.
Mike Conway (Indiana) has taken the gavel as AJHA president. Tracy Lucht (Iowa State) has ascended to first vice-president. Ken Ward (Pittsburg State) has taken over as treasurer. Erika Pribanic-Smith (Texas Arlington) continues as executive director.
Members of the AJHA have elected Debra van Tuyll (Augusta State, emerita) as second vice-president for 2022-2023; van Tuyll will then serve as first vice-president in 2023-2024 and president in 2024-2025.
Newly-elected board members serving three-year terms (2022-2025) are Tom Mascaro (Bowling Green, emeritus), Elisabeth Fondren (St. Johns), and Ashley Walter (Utah State). See the board page for the full Board of Directors, including continuing elected and ex-officio board members.
Aimee Edmondson (Ohio) has completed her term as president and will serve as an ex-officio board member, leading the Long-Range Planning Committee. The board also has confirmed the following new committee chairs: Julie Lane (Boise State, Public Relations), Pete Smith (Mississippi State, Blanchard Prize), and Willie Tubbs (West Florida, Service Awards). See the committee page for the full list of committee chairs, including those who are continuing.
Autumn Linford (Auburn) is resuming her Intelligencer editor/ex-officio board member position after a year away to complete her PhD. Web Editor Christina Littlefield (Pepperdine) will be assisting with the email newsletter.
The AJHA thanks the following outgoing officers, board members, and committee chairs for their service:
The AJHA welcomes volunteers to assist with our committees and other initiatives. If you are interested in helping AJHA in the coming year, please contact First Vice-President Tracy Lucht.
Sid Bedingfield is an associate professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Bedingfield entered academia after spending more than two decades as a professional journalist covering political contests in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of Newspaper Wars: Civil Rights and White Resistance in South Carolina, 1935-1965 (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and co-editor with Kathy Roberts Forde of Journalism and Jim Crow: White Supremacy and the Black Struggle for a New America (University of Illinois Press, 2021).
When and how did you become involved in AJHA?
In 2008, a paper I wrote for Ken Campbell’s media history course at the University of South Carolina was accepted for presentation at AJHA’s conference in Seattle. I was allotted ten minutes on a panel moderated by Leonard Teel. At about the 12-minute mark, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. Leonard was wind-milling his right arm like a third-base coach waving the runner home. I was encouraged to do a better job timing my presentations.
Your co-edited book with Kathy Roberts Forde, Journalism and Jim Crow, has won multiple awards—including the AJHA Book of the Year. What do you believe is the importance of this topic?
The book takes a fresh look at the rise of Jim Crow in the South by focusing on newspapers as institutions of power within their communities. It documents the role of the white press in building white supremacist political economies and social orders in the New South—and the critical role of the Black press in resisting those efforts. The publishers and editors who ran major white newspapers used the soft power of public discourse, but they exerted hard power, too. They were political actors who worked closely with other institutions of power—the Democratic Party, the railroads, mining companies, and other industries eager to take advantage of cheap labor in the emerging New South.
How does the book fit into your overall research agenda?
I began my research on journalism and its role in the nation’s racial politics when I joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina in 2007. My first book, Newspaper Wars, showed how the white, mainstream press had collaborated with politicians and business leaders to resist Black equality in the mid-twentieth century. Kathy saw the same thing in her initial research on Henry Flagler and his control of newspapers in Florida. That research launched the Journalism and Jim Crow project, but you can trace its roots to our many long conversations about journalism, race, and democracy during our years at USC.
How does your professional journalism experience informed your approach to media history?
During my time at CNN, I watched Roger Ailes build Fox News into a ratings juggernaut, and I saw how he worked closely with political and business allies to wield the network as a political weapon—an extremely effective political weapon.
How does your historical knowledge influence your teaching?
My research on journalism and democracy infuses all my media history courses, including a new one this semester where I’m taking students into the university’s special collections archive to conduct research in the papers of Hedley Donovan, editor-in-chief of Time, Inc, during the 1960s and '70s. This week, they are scouring Donovan’s papers for material on coverage of the Vietnam War.
What are you working on now?
In the short term, I’m working on multiple articles, including one on contemporary Black advocacy journalism, the mainstream press, and the public sphere. I also have launched a book project on Journalism in the Jim Crow North. Early days on that one.
My wife and I have three aging pets, and it sometimes feels like they dominate our spare time. But we spend most of our free time focusing on our grandkids—ages 8 and 5—and rooting on our daughter, who works in politics at this fraught moment in our nation’s history. Not for the faint of heart.
Lynn Hamer, professor in the UToledo Judith Herb College of Education, presents on Ohio HB 616 "Regarding Promoting and Teaching Divisive or Inherently Racist Concepts in Public Schools" at a 2022 UToledo Banned Books Week event.
By Paulette D. Kilmer, Professor and Coordinator of the UToledo Banned Books Week Vigil
For 25 years, we have joined the American Library Association in celebrating the right to read and think freely during Banned Books Week. We host an all-day program of 20-minute presentations to raise awareness of censorship. We give away door prizes, banned books, and light refreshments donated by sponsors. These gifts increase our web of involvement and make the Utoledo Banned Books Week Vigil a campus legacy event.
Sometimes, people ask us why it matters if books are banned since the Internet empowers people to buy whatever they want. Chilling incidents in 2021 threaten the future of our right to read freely. For example, in Virginia, a judge ended two lawsuits to force Barnes and Noble to require permission slips from parents and to remove forbidden books from the state.
Censorship episodes occurred all over the country. For example, in the spring of 2022, Idaho, Texas, and Oklahoma considered laws to fine, fire, or imprison librarians who did their job and refused to remove books some in the community considered offensive.
When my former student, Aya Khalil, found out that her award-winning picture book, The Arabic Quilt, a story about a Muslim girl, was banned in Pennsylvania, she wrote The Book-Banning Bake Sale, which will be released in 2023. The resistance she faced is part of an unfortunate national trend of restricting books about diverse groups and by people of color.
In another episode, two parents living near Cincinnati asked Milford Exemption Schools to remove Julia Alvarez’s book about two girls resisting a dictator in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s.
The American Library Association listed 1,597 individual book challenges or removals in the organization’s 2021 Field Guide, explaining that many challenged or banned books go unreported, and so the number of targeted books in 2021 was much greater. PEN America reported that 2 million students in 86 districts throughout the United States lost access to books through these restrictions. The percentage of challenges at public libraries rose to 37 percent.
In April of this year, The Washington Post reported that the principal at an elementary school north of Columbus, Ohio, told an author to read another book to students other than the popular It’s OK to Be a Unicorn. The unicorns and rainbow lettering on Jason Tharp’s book convinced one parent it would recruit students to be gay. Actually, the protagonist, Cornelius, hides his true self from his horse neighbors fearing rejection; however, when they find out he is a unicorn, they accept him because it’s okay to be different. The story does not mention LGBTQ+ issues.
Although the second graders at a school in Byram, Mississippi, thought Assistant Principal Toby Price’s Zoom reading of Dawn McMillan’s I Need a New Butt was hilarious, the administrative top brass fired him for inappropriate and unprofessional conduct. Many former students, parents, and even strangers have donated to his GoFundMe account to help him pay court costs for suing to get his job back.
As ultra conservative groups form in Ohio and elsewhere, the attack on books, schools, and libraries gains momentum. For example, Ohio’s HB322 and 327 if passed will punish teaching controversial subjects, like racism, with denying students credit for courses, not funding schools, and suspending teachers’ licenses. Last year state legislatures drafted bills making teaching banned books a crime or outlawing lessons about race, the civil rights movement, or diversity if the content might make white people feel bad.
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