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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  • 22 Feb 2023 9:48 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    How did you become involved in AJHA? 

    I don't remember how I learned about AJHA. I attended my first conference in 1988, in Charleston. I had done a collective biography of labor press editors for a social history seminar as part of my Ph.D. program at Illinois, and presented the paper there (and later published it in American Journalism). I felt welcome, and experienced a welcome break from the pretentiousness I saw at some other conferences. I've attended several times since then, reviewed for the journal, and such. It's been harder to make the conferences recently; they hit at a fairly awkward time in our academic calendar and it's not as easy to skip town for a few days as it used to be.

    What drew you to the labor press?

    I entered Illinois thinking I would do a dissertation on the American labor press, grounding it in social movement theory and exploring the ways the labor movement sought to construct a democratic, accountable communications system. But it quickly became obvious that this was a far more complex task than I had imagined. On the one hand, I had not given nearly enough thought to the role of immigrant workers and the vast array of working class newspapers they created and sustained. While there was some excellent work on a few of these papers, overall there was very little.

    The situation has improved a bit in recent years, especially as regards the Yiddish-language press. There was also a lot of work to be done on the English-language labor press, and especially on local labor papers -- most weeklies, but also including daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee, New York and Seattle. It became clear that I was going to have to do a lot of basic research, and so I shifted to studying the working class press in Chicago. Chicago had several dailies published by and for working class communities, in Czech, English, German, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovenian and other languages, as well as scores of weekly and monthly publications issued by local and national unions, mutual aid societies and political organizations. And these existed in a particular ecological context, negotiating the relationship between ethnicity and class within their communities as well as their place in the broader media and political environment.

    As I was exploring the Chicago Daily Socialist's rise from an undercapitalized small-circulation political daily to the city's largest circulation daily newspaper (which inevitably led to its bankruptcy, given its inability to attract the advertising dollars that subsidized its capitalist competitors), this quickly led me to turn to the archival records of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Chicago Daily News publisher (and head of the Newspaper Publishers Association) Victor Lawson, which contained a wealth of material about collusion between the publishers to manage competition, control labor, and ensure a business-friendly political environment. The hiring of gangsters by rival publishers to control newsboys was documented in Lawson's papers, as were squabbles over publishers refusing to share the costs of gunmen to shoot up news wagons delivering rival papers. This led to studies of the Chicago Newspaper Trust, Chicago newsboys, and book chapters on the economic role newsboys played in the U.S. and on newsboy strikes. The newsboys themselves left few records, but there is quite a bit of material in the archives of publishers and other labor organizations, and also in the records of social reformers and organizations battling child labor. These materials need to be read critically, of course, filtered as they are by economic interest and middle class sensibilities, but we can learn quite a bit from them about newsboys and the central role they played in newspaper distribution for over a century.


    What are you working on now?

    Recently I've returned to work I was doing in grad school on the political economy of the media. I had published some articles on the retail book industry, on radio regulatory policy, and on collusion between newspaper publishers at the turn of the century. A few years ago I became intrigued by the debate over news deserts, a problem that to me involves much more than the decline in the daily press. Even before papers began closing and news departments were transformed into Potemkin Villages of prognosticating pundits, the lives and concerns of ordinary people had disappeared from the news columns. Several years ago I developed a first year seminar on the intertwined crises in democracy and the media, and three years ago began offering a political economy of communications course that meets our college's general education junior seminar synthesis requirement. I've been revisiting Bagdikian's Media Monopoly books, trying to better document the extent of a problem he wrote about quite convincingly, but largely anecdotally, and to explore how these trends have continued in the two decades since his last volume was published. I'm also looking back to concerns over concentration in book publishing and newspapers dating back to the 19th century. I have a fairly heavy teaching schedule, but there's certainly a book in this if I can carve out some time for it.

    As I've poked around in archives over the years, I've gathered quite a bit of material that I need to develop more fully. I have some papers on labor struggles in Chicago newspapers  that I'd like to get into publishable shape. I had been holding off on these for a larger book on Chicago newspaper ecology, but I have several hundred pages written on different aspects of that and it's probably time to start letting them out into the world. A couple of years ago I published a chapter on Cultura Obrera, a Spanish-language anarchist labor paper published in New York City under different auspices from 1910 into the 1950s. This was an explicitly transnational publication, distributed by seamen from Buenos Aires to Boston, and in its first two decades played a central role in efforts to build an international maritime workers union. The Spanish immigrant marine firemen who sustained the paper into the 1920s (when they were displaced by diesel engines) were one of the anchors for the Industrial Workers of the World's strong presence in the industry (the other was its control of the Philadelphia docks and its strong appeal particularly to African-American dockworkers across the country), resulting in Congressional hearings, deportations, and other repressive measures.

    What hobbies (outside of academia) do you have?

    I don't know that I have hobbies as such. Years ago I used to play trumpet and go to jazz clubs. But between work and my wife not much caring for jazz and my daughter's homework, I don't get out that often. We have a community bookstore that takes a fair bit of time, and publish a labor magazine and a labor history calendar. And I read, not as much as I'd like to, but certainly more than most.

    Jon Bekken is a Professor of Communication at Albright College in Pennsylvania. 

  • 30 Jan 2023 9:36 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    When and how did you become involved in AJHA?

    I attended my first AJHA conference as a master’s student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I took a media history seminar with Dr. Betty Houchin Winfield that focused on press coverage of historic American heroes, considering what scholars had written about the concept of heroism. For my paper, I wanted to write about a woman, a “heroine,” but I had a hard time finding one. I flipped the assignment and focused on how the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book wrote regularly about female heroism in the 19th century, despite the fact that women weren’t supposed to be either heroic or well known. Betty proposed an AJHA panel that included several studies from that seminar, and the panel was accepted. We presented at the 13th AJHA convention in Roanoke, Va., in October of 1994, and it was a blast.

    I fell in love with AJHA. It was remarkable to me how welcoming the association was to graduate students. Senior researchers whose books and articles I read for class were there! They didn’t put themselves on a pedestal. They attended sessions, listened and encouraged emerging scholars. I have been involved in AJHA in one way or another ever since. I love attending research presentations, and the conversations about history in-between sessions. I always leave an AJHA conference fired up to do more or better research.

    What drew you to studying memory?

    That first heroism study was really about how the press reflects and reinforces mainstream values, for better or worse. We venerate heroes (and heroines) based on our own needs and ideas about what’s important. As those ideas change, so do our heroes. I find this fascinating.  My next big project looked at newspaper obituaries, which also mirror cultural values. As America evolved culturally, who we remembered in death and how we remembered them changed dramatically.

    I study memory because I believe that it matters. People care deeply about the past.  Consider the recent controversies over the removal of Confederate monuments or the nation’s reaction to The 1619 Project in The New York Times. Consider the importance of the “founders” and the American Revolution, or the icons of the Civil Rights Movement. Consider the damage done by the “lost cause myth” following the Civil War. Journalism and pubic memory are connected in complicated ways, and I believe that relationship is worthy of study.

    Why is memory important to the study of journalism history?

    The cliché insists that journalists write the first draft of history. Perhaps. Journalists produce subsequent drafts, too. They use history as a storytelling tool. Consciously or not, they sometimes misuse, distort and “forget” history, and those narratives also enter the public consciousness.


    What are you working on now?

    I’m still interested in how the press reflects values, but in this period of media disruption, I’m narrowing my focus to journalism values specifically. I’m starting with obituaries of journalists from the American Revolution to the establishment of journalistic codes of ethics in the early 20th century.

    I also spend a lot of my time on my duties as associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA.

    What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of academia? 

    I am a fan of murder mysteries and read them like crazy. My dog is actually named for a famous fictional British detective’s sidekick, Inspector Lewis. I live near a park with excellent trails, and walk every day with MY sidekick, Lewis, who likes to inspect/sniff out anything he can. I like sports (as a spectator), mainly football and women’s gymnastics. Go Dawgs! I love attending classical concerts at UGA’s performing arts center.  

  • 30 Jan 2023 9:26 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    By Dianne Bragg

    On the first weekend in February 2023, a small band of AJHA journalism teachers and their students will descend upon Panama City Beach, Florida, for the AJHA Southeast Symposium. It will be the first such gathering since 2020, as COVID prevented the group from meeting the last two years, and the excitement over being together and showcasing students’ work is palpable. I am fortunate to be a part of this group, a tradition that began for me with my first Symposium in 2007.

    The Southeast Symposium began in 1992 with Dr. David Sloan from the University of Alabama and his idea to have a small weekend retreat for a small group of journalism historians from various institutions. Sloan recalled that they initially met in the mountains for a couple of years, but an intervening snowstorm put the skids on that. Afterward, the Symposium moved around to various locations, but eventually settled on Panama City, where the chance of snow was pretty remote. More importantly, it evolved to having faculty attendees choose up to six graduate students to participate and present their original historical research.

    The Symposium was one of the first places I presented my historical research. I remember feeling instantly at ease, as people like Vanessa Murphree, Dave Davies, and Bernell Tripp, along with many others, seemed interested in my work and offered critiques and words of encouragement. I already enjoyed the research I was doing, but the Symposium and the faculty there sealed the deal for me and my decision to pursue journalism history as my focus.

    We often hear the phrase “Pay it Forward” used in various situations, usually referring to monetary aid or acts of kindness. But it most certainly also applies to the teaching profession, both in and out of the classroom. The AJHA Southeast Symposium does just that. Several of us who first attended as students are now bringing our own fledgling historians to the Symposium. I remember meeting Willie Tubbs there when he was a graduate student under the tutelage of Dave Davies. He is now teaching at the University of West Florida with some of his own students attending.

    I share this story in the hopes that maybe AJHA members in other regions of the country might consider starting their own annual regional gathering. Without question, the faculty at the Southeast Symposium have developed a special connection over our years of meeting together. Many of my students who have attended consider it to be a highlight of their graduate school experience.

    Part of the Symposium’s success lies in the opportunity for the faculty members, now scattered across several states, to reconvene, reconnect, and revitalize our research and our teaching. We share ideas, see what’s happening in history courses in other classrooms, and come away feeling inspired by new ideas and treasured friends. Often when we “pay it forward,” we are not able to see the results of doing so. Since its small start forty years ago, the AJHA Southeast Symposium has become one place where we can.

    If anyone is interested in starting their own similar event, please reach out to me, and we can share how ours is organized. Meanwhile, it looks as though we will need a warm coat for a walk on the beach this year!

  • 20 Dec 2022 2:10 PM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    By Kimberly Voss 

    More than three decades ago, there were few archives that documented the work of women journalists. Today, much has changed. In 2022, the State Historical Society of Missouri celebrated its 35th anniversary with an elaborate exhibit exploring over a decade’s worth of women in journalism. In Their Own Words: Celebrating the National Women and Media Collection features diaries, photos, letters, and interviews from the Collection.

    The collection includes documents of media organizations and professional and personal papers of more than 120 notable women from across the country who worked as reporters, editors, publishers, press spokespersons, and other positions in mass communication. They addressed the changing roles for women in the media industry, trends for the future, and how they were able to navigate careers in a typically male-dominated industry.

    • Established in 1987, the National Women and Media Collection is housed at the State Historical Society of Missouri. The papers and other materials document the roles women played in various media fields, both as employees and the coverage of women. It includes how those roles have changed over time.
    • “By drawing attention to the anniversary with a large-scale display, we hope the collection will grow and be supported by the voices of additional women in the media today and in the future,” said archivist Elizabeth Engel, who oversees the collection.
    • The National Women and Media Collection includes materials from the NWMC, including correspondence, diaries, and interview clips. Many of the items have been digitized. The National Women and Media Collection documents the many roles that women have played and are playing in the field of mass communication, both as media representatives and as objects of coverage. The collection offers opportunities to study how those roles have been altered over time and how attitudes toward women have changed. The primary sources are valuable to researchers and the press.
    • There were podcasts about the anniversary available through “Our Missouri” on Apple Podcasts during June and July. The episodes examine the history of the Collection and how its documents had been used by historians.
    • There was also a panel in honor of the exhibit and the Collection’s anniversary. The panelists included Betsey Bruce who spent 46 years covering St. Louis area news. She was the first woman assigned to daily hard news TV reporting in the area when KMOX-TV (now KMOV) hired her in 1971.
    • Sheila Gibbons is a communications executive with extensive experience in journalism and public relations. She is the longtime editor of the quarterly publication Media Report to Women about the relationship between women and media.
    • Andrea Stone spent 24 years at USA Today where she covered national news, presidential and congressional politics and foreign affairs. In 2009, she became Washington bureau chief for AOL News and, in 2011, The Huffington Post hired Stone as senior national correspondent in politics. In 2013, she launched the website of Al Jazeera America as a senior online executive producer.
    • Elizabeth Engel is a senior archivist for the State Historical Society of Missouri and manages the National Women in Media Collection. Engel was instrumental in helping to put together the current exhibit for the collection. Engel, an Iowa native and a University of Iowa graduate, holds a master’s degree in library and information science. She has been with the State Historical Society since 2006.
    • As the NWMC moves into its 36th year, the Collection continues to collect papers – including working with JAWS. The Journalism And Women Symposium (JAWS) works to advance the empowerment of women in the field of journalism, as well as advocating for more inclusive coverage of diversity. According to Jean Gaddy Wilson, a founding member of JAWS and the National Women & Media Collection: “As all communications’ structures shift their shapes, the mission of the National Women and Media Collection to gather the insights and materials of media women, and stand strong as a witness to our shared worlds of information and news, becomes even more important.”
    • Many of the organization’s members are JAWS members and can help with that mission. NWMC seeks to document more about JAWS’ women’s careers and careers of women of color whose work is not being preserved in other archives. For those interested in donating, here are a few tips to donate materials:
    • Do not throw away any materials. After all, rough drafts can be as important as the published article. The NWMC archive will help with the organization.
    • Browse through the current holdings by clicking on the “finding aid” by each woman or organization’s name.
    • Contact Elizabeth Engel ( to discuss your donation.

    Kimberly Voss is a Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Florida.

  • 20 Dec 2022 1:29 PM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    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 in higher education, particularly in the liberal arts. At my own institution, Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has instituted a multiyear effort to “reimagine” each of its departments. While the journalism school received a midrange reduction of about 10% on top of previous cuts, the history department faces a cumulative 34% cut, effectively ending its graduate program. The American Historical Association wrote a letter to the university denouncing the action: “To decimate a history department is a lose-lose proposition: it deprives students of essential learning and skills, even as it strips a university of the essential perspectives and intellectual resources so necessary to confront the present and shape the future,” the group’s president and executive director wrote.

    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.

    • Opposition to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Sadly, my home state again serves as an example. Last year, the Iowa Legislature passed a “divisive concepts law” that prohibits K-12 schools and public universities from teaching certain ideas related to sexism and racism in required trainings and courses. Similar legislation has been passed in more than 20 other states, leading to a statement from the AHA and other scholarly groups about the infringement on academic freedom and the need for accuracy in history. “Educators owe students a clear-eyed, nuanced, and frank delivery of history, so that they can learn, grow, and confront the issues of the day, not hew to some state-ordered ideology,” the statement reads.

    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:

  • 20 Dec 2022 1:17 PM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    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.  

  • 22 Nov 2022 5:38 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    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.

  • 17 Nov 2022 4:31 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    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

  • 17 Nov 2022 4:27 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    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?

    The final book interweaves both strands—the search for the woman behind the “Girl Reporter” and the exploration of this overlooked period of innovative reporting. I didn’t find all the answers but deepened my understanding of journalism history in general and investigative reporting specifically, well beyond the “muckrakers” who get much of the credit.

  • 17 Nov 2022 4:14 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

    By Mike Conway

    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 !)

    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.

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