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 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?
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 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. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of academia?
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.
Gerry Lanosga and David Nord of Indiana University look at the rare 18th & 19th century publications that Nord is donating for the AJHA auction in Memphis.
by Mike Conway, 1st Vice President
What journalism or media historian would not like to have a framed front page of the Dallas Morning News from the John F. Kennedy assassination hanging on their wall? Or how about a Spiro Agnew watch? A World War II ration book? These are just three of dozens of items up for bid in the AJHA auction, which is part of our first in-person annual conference in three years, taking place in Memphis from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.
This year’s auction has both an online and in-person presence. You can look at the items and start bidding now at our Galabid site. As of this writing, there are more than 40 items up for bid and more on the way.
You can also see the items in person starting Thursday, Sept. 29 at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel. The bidding will end just before midnight Friday, Sept. 30. You will need to pay for your items online Saturday morning, and winning bidders will receive their media history items during the AJHA business meeting on Saturday, Oct. 1.
“Overbid and Often.” You will often find great deals on historic items at the AJHA auction. But keep in mind that the purpose of this auction is to raise money for our Michael S. Sweeney Graduate Student Travel Stipend. If you can afford to bid (donate) higher, please do. In the old days of the in-person auction, the late Mike Sweeney was a master at guilting us all into spending more money than we expected to help us fund student travel to our conference. Another option is to seek out a graduate student at the conference and see if they have their eye on any auction items and then bid on it for them.
Even though the bidding is online, you must be in Memphis to pick up your auction items. We will not be shipping any auction items. If you can’t be there but really want a specific auction object, you can talk to one of us going to Memphis to see if we’d be willing to get it to you in exchange for a healthy bid/donation.
Of course, we would also like to encourage everyone to donate directly to the Michael S. Sweeney Graduate Student Travel Stipend. You can do that any time. A reminder that this year’s healthy $400 travel stipend was only possible because of Mike and Carolyn Sweeney’s generous decision to list this fund in his obituary earlier this year, bringing in more than $5500. We won’t have that money next year, so the stipend amount will depend on how much money we can raise from the auction and other donations to the Sweeney Stipend.
We will also be honoring all of the graduate students involved in this year’s conference during the AJHA business meeting on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 10:10am in Memphis.
For those of you who have donated items for the auction, don’t forget to bring those items to Memphis. We will have instructions on where you can drop off your items when you register.
The AJHA auction is returning this year because of AJHA President Aimee Edmondson’s decision to put together a special committee to look into ways to encourage and support graduate students who get involved in our organization. Special thanks to Jason Guthrie, Gerry Lanosga, Erin Coyle, Michael Fuhlhage, and Claire Rounkles for their work on this committee over the past year.
If you have any questions about the auction, please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Caption for mug photo: A New York Times Obama victory front page coffee cup, sold by the newspaper in 2009, is one of the items in the AJHA Auction in Memphis.
Former AJHA President David Vergobbi (center) recognizes outgoing committee chairs at the 2017 AJHA Conference.
As an all-volunteer organization, AJHA only succeeds because of the generous donation of time and expertise by its members. Right now, we have several opportunities for members to get involved in our group. If you have served on committees before and are looking for a new challenge, or if you haven’t been involved beyond membership and conferences, we’d like to hear from you.
In the current academic climate, we know there is added pressure to concentrate your service work on your home institutions. That is why we are very appreciative of everyone who gets involved in AJHA to keep the various committee efforts and the entire organization moving forward.
For those who are looking to guide one of our committees, we will soon (or now) have openings in Research, Membership, Graduate Students, and History in the Curriculum.
Committees that are looking for new members include Public Relations, Oral History, Membership, Education, and Service Awards.
If you don’t really know where to start, please let us know and we can find a position that matches your interests and time availability.
Let us know if are attending the conference in Memphis this month so we can talk to you in person about AJHA.
If you’d like to get involved, or have questions, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or AJHA 2nd Vice President Tracy Lucht at email@example.com. You can also go to the AJHA Committee web page and contact the committee chairs directly.
Ashley Walter with her Penn State advisor Ford Risley at the 2019 AJHA conference.
by Ashley Walter, Utah State University
My favorite AJHA conference, which was in Dallas in 2019, also happened to be my last in-person conference before COVID-19 struck. To be honest, I can’t tell you which presentation was my favorite, or even about my own presentation. I don’t recall what anyone wore, or if I was nervous before my presentation (although it’s safe to assume I was). Rather, I remember feeling immense support from other journalism historians. I fondly recollect lunching with a group of senior scholars who decided to treat a group of younger scholars to Mexican. We laughed, talked scholarship, and chatted about our families. Since 2019, I’ve spent the last couple of years emailing and Zooming with some of these senior scholars during an isolating pandemic.
This conference wasn’t unique. AJHA scholars are always welcoming and warm to graduate students. However, 2019 was the year I felt truly a part of the academic community. I hope you too can feel like a community member while you’re in Memphis, or at least start building the foundation. For those graduate students attending their first AJHA, I have tips and suggestions for you.
1. Be present: It’s a small conference, so it’s very easy to meet people. If you have work to finish, do it in the hotel lobby where you might run into other people. Don’t hide in your room. Attend the events. Volunteer. Working at the registration table is your opportunity to meet everyone, including other graduate students.
2. Don’t miss breakfast: There are two reasons you don’t want to miss breakfast. The first is obvious, as it’s included in the price of registration. I could stop there, but as it turns out, it’s also a great time to meet people. I don’t wait for people I know to begin eating. I just sit down and introduce myself. Conversation at 7 a.m. doesn’t come naturally to me, but I do it anyway. These conversations are casual, and you’ll get a feel for which panels you should go to throughout the day. It’s also nice to see friendly faces throughout the long day.
3. Go on the tour: Each year AJHA offers an afternoon away from panels to attend a historic tour. The tour very much feels like a high school field trip, except instead of bored teenagers, this trip is filled with like-minded history nerds. It’s a great time to meet people. It usually includes a bus ride to and from the location. Sit by people you don’t know. They will talk to you! I didn’t attend the tour during my first two AJHAs and I regretted it once I finally went.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask: One of the best parts about AJHA is that scholars love graduate students. If you can’t afford to go to an event, senior scholars often sponsor graduate students. I was able to attend tours, lunches, and dinners because of the kindness of other scholars. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are any sponsored tour tickets or lunch tickets floating around. No one wants you to miss out on anything.
5. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself: It can be intimidating to be around scholars who publish books and are veterans of our craft. But don’t be afraid to talk about your research, even if it’s just budding. I cannot tell you the amount of fantastic advice I’ve been given in the halls of AJHA hotels. You’ll want to keep your Notes app open.
6. Presentations: Show up early for your presentations and have your visual aid on a USB. Never go over your presentation time. Most people’s PowerPoint presentations aren’t very text heavy and usually include just a few visual aids. Also, I find that most people skip over the literature review and just dig right into their findings. Each panel ends with a question-and-answer portion. Don’t be nervous about this part. Any horror stories you’ve heard about combative Q&A's don’t happen at AJHA. Scholars are there to build knowledge and support others. If you don’t know the answer to a question, feel free to use this line: “That’s a great question! That was outside the scope of this research, but I’ll be sure to look into it.”
7. Clothing: AJHA dress is business casual during the presentations, but casual otherwise. Don’t be afraid to wear comfortable shoes/clothing, especially during the tour. It’s usually a busy day and includes a lot of walking.
8. Be nice to yourself: My first two years I felt like a graduate student lurking on the sidelines. And I was. That’s not to say people weren’t friendly in 2017 and 2018—in fact, they very much were. While confidence surely played a role, 2019 was different because, after a few years of attending, I really put myself “out there” at the annual conference. I went to all the events and eventually, I saw more faces I recognized than didn’t. So, if you leave your first AJHA feeling like a lurking graduate student, that’s totally normal. You are!
9. One last thing: I am sure other AJHA members have even better tips. I suggest you ask them in Memphis this year.
Gwyneth Mellinger is a professor in the School of Media Arts & Design at James Madison University. She is serving her second term on the AJHA Board of Directors. Her research focuses on the southern press of the 1950s, the newsroom diversity movement, and journalism ethics. Mellinger is the author of Chasing Newsroom Diversity: From Jim Crow to Affirmative Action and co-editor, with John Ferré, of Journalism’s Ethical Progression: A Twentieth-Century Journey.
When and how did you first become involved in AJHA?
I was recruited by Carolyn Kitch. While working on my doctorate in American Studies, I presented a paper at the 2004 conference of the Middle-Atlantic American Studies Association in Lehigh, PA. This was my very first paper presentation, and I had the good fortune to draw Carolyn as the moderator and respondent. She suggested that AJHA would be an appropriate venue for the research I was doing on race and press history. In 2005 I attended my first AJHA conference in San Antonio and have missed only a few since then. Although American Studies influences my approach to scholarship, AJHA and the AEJMC History Division have been my primary academic homes.
You'll be receiving two awards for your paper at the upcoming AJHA convention. What inspired this research? How does it fit into your overall research agenda?
The paper examines criticism of the Pittsburg Courier’s Double V campaign that appeared in the white press during the early years of World War II. The paper is in conversation with the extensive research on the wartime Black press by Patrick Washburn and others, but my project asks why prominent whites like syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler and newspaper editor Virginius Dabney, who wrote for magazines, used their national platforms to disparage the Black press in 1942. Given the existential threat posed by fascism, why was the Black press suddenly their priority? The historical context of the wartime civil rights movement is important, as is the oppositional relationship between the Black and white presses. Ultimately, I am concerned with how this discourse fed into the segregationist backlash during the 1950s.
What can you tell us about other research projects you're working on?
I am on leave from JMU this semester to work on a book I hope will be published in the Journalism and Democracy series at UMass Press. The AJHA paper has already been folded into a chapter in that manuscript, which explores the ways that the white press, particularly in the South, tried to use journalism standards like objectivity to control the news narrative as civil rights gains chipped away at the legal and social structure that supported white privilege and Black subjugation. I’ve been collecting research for this book for years; earlier AJHA papers on the Associated Press and the Southern Education Reporting Service also contribute to this historical narrative. This also underscores one of the benefits of the AJHA scholarly community, where a project like this can evolve over time.
How has your career as a professional journalist informed your historical research?
I love doing archival research, which feels like doing journalism except all my sources are dead. My methodological technique, specifically the way I focus the scope of an inquiry and triangulate information, is something I knew how to do before graduate school. The perspective of the journalist also has allowed me to see that nothing happens in isolation, that historical events or episodes (topics for conference papers) are part of an overarching narrative. Graduate seminars that teach this are useful, of course, but being a journalist is on-the-job training for work in the archive. In addition, my years as a journalist provide insight into newswork and the function of the press. These are not theoretical concepts for me, even if I am doing research on a period that preceded my own time in the newsroom.
How do you incorporate your historical knowledge into your teaching of non-historical subjects?
In the spring my teaching portfolio will be courses in media ethics and media literacy. I am this year transitioning from administrative duties to full-time teaching and research. In neither of my spring courses will it be possible to draw students through the content without placing it in historical context. Our conceptions of both media ethics and media literacy have evolved over time, and the fact of this change makes history relevant to how students perceive the subjects today. Nothing about media is static and that is one of my themes in the classroom.
I’ve been fortunate to travel a fair amount and am looking forward to doing more now that we have vaccines for covid. I also have a semester-long teaching-abroad opportunity coming up in a few years. I was fortunate to spend a semester in the UK and to take numerous side trips then. My husband and I have a list of places we want to visit before we hang up our passports.
My relaxation is gardening. When I get writer’s block, I often head outside, where the act of pulling weeds or working the dirt gives me the space to reflect on my work. Even if I don’t return to the den with an insight, I’m in a different place mentally when I do resume my writing. This year I harvested 88 heads of garlic, along with tomatoes, squash, asparagus, peppers and melons.
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