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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I’m Thomas Schmidt, an assistant professor at the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. Prior to my academic career, I worked as a journalist for a variety of news organizations in Austria, where I’m from originally. AJHA is very dear to my heart, because its annual conference in Oklahoma City in 2015 was one of my first academic conferences. In addition, I felt particularly honored and humbled to receive honorary mentions for a best student paper at the conference in Little Rock 2017 and for the Margaret A. Blanchard Doctoral Dissertation Award in 2018, respectively.
What drew you to your topic/time period?
When I was in my twenties, I discovered American narrative journalism as I was spending a year in New York City thanks to a Fulbright fellowship. There, I for the first time read writers like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, and Gay Talese. Later, I studied the practice of narrative nonfiction at the University of Oregon, and I became increasingly curious about the larger context of this journalistic tradition and why it felt so different from the journalism that I grew up with in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. So, when I began my Ph.D. studies, I just wanted to explore this question from a historical and conceptual perspective.
How did your thinking in the development of your topic start and then lead to this publication? Did it stray? Did you make any sudden and unexpected turns?
Thanks to the wonderful guidance from my mentors Lauren Kessler and Gretchen Soderlund, I had a pretty good idea where to begin (the Washington Post in the late 1960s) and where to end (at the Oregonian in the early 2000s). The tricky part was trying to find reliable archival materials because, for example, unlike the New York Times, the Washington Post didn’t have a repository for its organizational documents. I was lucky enough to get access to a special collection at the Poynter Institute (thanks to the amazing support of Roy Peter Clark), which allowed me to tell the story of the Washington Post Style section in great detail. As I was revising my dissertation to be published as a book, I spent some time at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin and felt incredible elation when I found documentation about the first Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing, a discovery that greatly enriched my book. It was one of those moments when you sit in a very quiet special collections room and you just want to scream because you’ve found such a gem!
What surprised you most about this project?
From a historical perspective, I was most surprised by finding out that the evolution of narrative journalism was not just a result of a few writers in New York who just happened to be cultural trendsetters. What really propelled and sustained the emergence of narrative journalism was the interplay of individual actions in newsrooms and institutional initiatives such as writing awards, writer’s workshops, and personal networks. From a personal perspective, I was amazed to find so many primary sources stemming from personal correspondence and organizational communication. The range and quality of these materials would be impossible to find in Europe because journalists and their organizations are not that interested in keeping these kinds of records.
What did you find to be your biggest challenge in working your way to completion of your monograph?
I was in the comfortable position to graduate from my Ph.D. program with a book contract from the University of Missouri Press in hand. But my first son was just a few months old at that point and because my wife was working full time in a demanding job, I was juggling being a stay-at-home dad with finishing the book while doing some part-time postdoctoral work. That said, I think these external pressures also helped me to stay focused on substantially expanding and revising my dissertation. Chris Wilson from Boston College helped me figure out some of the more intricate writing challenges and the library at Central Oregon Community College became my second home as I spent wintry nights there writing from 8 p.m. to midnight.
What are you working on now?
Aimee Edmondson took the gavel and became president of AJHA at the 2021 National Conference. In this column, she outlines her goals for her term.
Goal 1: Hook ‘em young.
Those of you lucky enough to have been introduced to the AJHA as graduate students, think back to the first conference that got you hooked.
For me, the dealmaker was the 2006 conference in Wichita, Kansas, and the “party bus,” a tricked out, rolling romper room of a vehicle that hauled our group of distinguished scholars to the Saturday evening gala dinner at a nearby museum.
During the height of football season, all of the regular buses apparently had been scooped up for the “away” high school teams in that part of the state, and the AJHA conference organizers had been relegated to renting what was left over. The party bus.
This thing had a seriously loud stereo system, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling and flashing neon lights bouncing off the walls. The seats had been pulled out and bench seating installed around the sides so there was plenty of room for dancing in the middle. And on our way back from the dinner, there he was: distinguished journalism historian Dr. Dave Davies, then associate dean of the College of Arts & Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi, doing what only could be described as….the funky chicken.
Who were these people? Had I been transported to some retro rave rather than an academic conference?
My contemporary, fellow graduate student Amber Roessner, also remembers “one strange night of karaoke,” in Wichita. Her adviser, Dr. Janice Hume of the University of Georgia, told her at the time: “What happens at AJHA, stays at AJHA.”
Make no mistake, I had heard Dr. Davies discuss major trends of America’s daily newspapers (1945-1965) earlier at the conference, and I’d already read his edited volume, “The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement.”
Roessner, now an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, wrote in the Intelligencer in 2011: “As a graduate student, after my initial shock of seeing singing and dancing historians, I had numerous opportunities to discuss journalism history with the best and brightest in our field.”
So, if you are like me, the annual AJHA event was the academic conference you didn’t want to miss. These days, it feels a bit challenging to keep that AJHA work-hard, play-hard spirit alive during a pandemic. Slashed university travel budgets and COVID-19 have kept us isolated – away from each other and the archives.
We’ve had two fantastic virtual meetings, and these annual conferences have enabled us to think big in terms of speakers and sessions. We have seen some advantages of zero travel worries and therefore less of a time and financial commitment. But nothing can replace the AJHA’s in-person research sessions, robust panels, chance meet-ups with old friends and new over breakfast, often where research collaborations begin and take shape. There’s the Donna Allen luncheon, chats over coffee, and always, the Friday afternoon historic tour. The annual conference leaves me invigorated and even more enthusiastic about journalism history and this organization.
As we begin to ramp back up for in-person conferencing, among my goals as this year’s AJHA president is to refocus on expanding our membership numbers and especially to the recruitment of graduate students. The connections we make most often start at the in-person convention and keep us working together throughout the year.
Since our annual October meeting, AJHA members have remained hard at work in their service to the organization. I’ve appointed an ad-hoc committee to look for ways to encourage graduate student attendance and retention at the conference. Special thanks goes out to First VP Mike Conway and Research Chair Gerry Lanosga, both from Indiana, along with board member Michael Fuhlhage from Wayne State, and Claire Rounkles, Graduate Student Committee chair and a Missouri doctoral student. Thank you all for the generous gift of your time and talents.
I don’t want to give too much away yet, but this group will bring to the Board of Directors tangible ways to help expand conference attendance and graduate student funding. Stay tuned to the Intelligencer as more details emerge. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help get involved in this effort or have ideas for this committee, please reach out to me or Mike Conway.
Goal 2: Continue AJHA media literacy efforts
Given the urgent need for an informed populous in a functioning democracy, media literacy topped the list of AJHA officers’ goals in 2020-2021 under the leadership of Donna Lampkin Stephens of Central Arkansas. To maintain these efforts, I have continued to ask our members to help come up with ways we might combat the flood of misinformation and revisionist history narratives that remain all too common in our media ecosystem. And now we’re ready to take things a step further.
I have asked AJHA board member Jennifer Moore of the University of Minnesota Duluth to take the lead in reaching out to other organizations who are working in the area of media literacy. She is researching and gathering resources, making connections and pondering how we as journalism historians can contribute to the conversation on this vital topic. She will then work to put knowledge into action, leading discussions with AJHA members and creating an action plan on how we might help lead the broader conversations within our own communities and nationwide. We can call Jennifer the point person or our media literacy czar, but regardless of her title, I’m grateful that she has stepped into the significant service role that I expect will yield tangible results for our membership and our communities.
We took the lead in highlighting/emphasizing the importance of history in the journalism curriculum. Now is the time to make the same commitment as it relates to media literacy. We’ll talk about this issue at our conference in Memphis, Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2022. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help Jennifer or get involved in this effort, please reach out to me or her.
Goal 3: Facilitate your work where I can – and sometimes just stay out of your way!
I continue to be amazed by the energy and hard work of our members. Take the efforts of Teri Finneman of Kansas, Pamela Walck of Duquesne and Ashley Walter, a doctoral student at Penn State. These scholars have kept up their momentum from the fantastic oral history preconference event held Oct. 7. These three, along with Candi Carter Olson of Utah State, Melissa Greene-Blye of Kansas, and Will Mari of LSU, provided attendees with two hours chock full of information to advance the field of oral history. A highlighted speaker of the special event was Bonnie Brennan of Marquette, a widely noted expert in qualitative research and oral history.
The preconference oral history organizers have maintained the enthusiasm of that day, and now we are expanding the Oral History Committee by breaking its work into two parts.
Gheni Platenburg from Auburn will continue to oversee the AJHA Oral History Project and work to preserve and publicize the materials gained through the interviews in this project. Please reach out to her or me if you’d like to be part of this exciting effort. Thank you, Gheni, for your leadership in this area.
According to the AJHA Constitution and Bylaws, the second half of the Oral History Committee’s charge is this: “work to encourage the use of oral history in research by journalism historians by developing panels and convention presentations.”
As you can see, the charge of this committee big, so Teri, Pam and Ashley will proceed with some events you won’t want to miss, and that will incorporate some of Pam’s work as editor of American Journalism. They have some exciting things cooking in 2022, so stay tuned to the Intelligencer for details. Thanks again, you three, for all you do.
I see my job as helping to facilitate your work where I can – and where appropriate, just stay out of your way to let you do your jobs. So, I’m finally wrapping up my president’s column about my goals for the year, per the request of our newly-named executive director, Erika Pribanic-Smith of UT-Arlington. You’ve heard my “origin story,” and I’d sometime I’d like to hear yours. (This is what long-time AJHA member Gwyn Mellinger calls your first brush with the AJHA.) And I look forward to making more fun memories at future AJHA conferences in Memphis, then Columbus, Ohio, in 2023, and beyond.
We’ll share what we know about all things historical far and wide. But when it comes to party buses and karaoke, Janice is right: What happens at AJHA stays at AJHA.
Wayne State doctoral candidates Darryl Frazier, left, and Keena Neal present the Research Gang’s paper “Spinning toward Secession: The Interplay of Editorial Bellicosity and Exchange News in the Press before the American Civil War,” at the 2018 AJHA annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The manuscript is now in press in the Southeastern Review of Journalism History.
Michael Fuhlhage is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University.
When and how did you become involved in AJHA?
I took Earnest Perry’s grad seminar in media history during my master’s program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He encouraged me to submit my paper, and it got accepted for the AJHA 2005 conference in San Antonio. I’ve been to all but one AJHA conference since then, and my involvement deepened with panel, paper, and research in progress submissions during my PhD studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frank Fee, my advisor, and Barbara Friedman, who was on my dissertation committee, really encouraged me to get involved. Since then, I’ve been a frequent paper and panels presenter, panels coordinator, research committee chair, and a member of the AJHA Board of Directors.
Your paper on the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act in Detroit River Borderlands Newspapers recently won AJHA's awards for outstanding paper on a minority history topic. What led you to that particular subject?
Part of it came from being an opportunistic archive pack rat, and part of it was interest in the events that led up to the American Civil War. Some of the journalists I researched for my first book, Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets, were involved in abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. That led more famously through Philadelphia and New York, but it’s a real point of pride for Detroiters that the UGRR’s western network running through Detroit was nearly as busy. I noticed that Michigan journalists’ part in that story had been neglected, with the exceptions of recent works by Afua Cooper and others, and I’ve become more and more interested in local and regional history here in Michigan.
You've been successful forming a research gang with several students. Talk a bit about your process when you're working with a team of students?
It started when I was a panelist for a grad student brown bag session in my department on research agendas and how to get them off the ground. A couple of colleagues in the Wayne State Department of Communication and I did a sort of show and tell about what we were working on and how we got interested in it. And I was brimming with excitement and ideas about news and editorials about the secession movement in 1860-61 after doing research at the American Antiquarian Society in summer 2015. I mentioned I’d like to collaborate with grad students on the primary sources I had brought back. That led to a couple of students following me up to my office to look at a database I’d started that tracks the flow of secession news and opinion from one newspaper and region to another, and they followed me down the rabbit hole. That turned into an AEJMC History Division paper and then an article in American Journalism. That’s how the Research Gang started.
Here’s how the Fugitive Slave Act paper came together: The first thing to remember is most of this in the pandemic lockdown. Campus was closed. Vaccines weren’t even available yet. It would have been easy to give up and sit it out until we could get together in person. But I knew that we had already gathered the primary sources that we needed to explore Detroit journalism’s role in that story. One of the first things I had done after arriving at Wayne State University in 2014 was to spend a few hours combing the card catalog at the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection and learning about their Michigan newspaper holdings. A couple of titles stuck out to me: complete runs of the 1851-52 editions of Henry Bibb’s Voice of the Fugitive and the anti-slavery Baptists’ Michigan Christian Herald in nearly perfect condition in bound volumes. I knew the Detroit Free Press was a pro-slavery voice among the city’s newspapers and thought it would be interesting to compare how the three framed the slavery issue in the same time period. It can be hard to find full runs of a single newspaper, so we were really fortunate to find three in the same time period for direct comparison of their framing of slavery. So in the fall of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne State doctoral candidate Darryl Frazier and M.A. student Eloise Germic and I set out to make digital images of each page of the Voice of the Fugitive and Michigan Christian Herald, and we put them in a shared Google Drive file. Digitizing those papers was initially an exercise in archival methods. We didn’t know exactly what might be done with them at the time. Eloise graduated and moved on to doctoral study elsewhere, and other matters like my going up for tenure, Keena preparing for comps, and oh that’s right, the pandemic hit. Darryl and I pretty much forgot about the digitized newspapers until we all got past those other events and figured out how to teach remotely.
My model for collaboration with graduate students was my professor at UNC, Donald L. Shaw, who would lead free-flowing discussions first about possible general topics, research questions we might ask, how we might locate primary sources to answer those questions, and how to organize our findings. He put a lot of care into creating an agenda for each research team meeting, explaining steps in the research process, working with us to set deadlines, and analyzing the evidence. So I followed that model. The core of the Media History Research Gang at Wayne State consists of myself and students who took my graduate seminar in agenda setting, my doctoral advisees, and M.A. and undergrad honors students in my American journalism and media history course.
I got the ball rolling by convening an organizational meeting to decide which of a list of ongoing research projects they’re most interested in. The Research Gang had tackled the flow of news about secession in 1860, newspaper news and opinion during the secession crisis, and the work of a Wayne State journalism alumnus who had covered the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s. Variations on those topics were on the list, but we also had these really rich primary sources that we hadn’t done anything with yet that concerned the struggle over slavery in the Detroit River borderlands connecting Michigan and Ontario. I think we were all really curious about what we would find once we started to explore them, so that became the topic. Then it became a matter of dividing the work according to our interests and skills. We used Zoom, email, and Google Drive to coordinate on the project.
Keena, who is my doctoral advisee, Darryl, and I had already collaborated on a couple of projects, and as new members of the Research Gang each of them had started with compiling, analyzing primary evidence, and discussing how their findings fit with everyone else’s. Darryl had photographed the Voice of the Fugitive, so he already had a stake in that title. Keena was intrigued in the idea of interracial cooperation and allyship in the fight against slavery. The Michigan Christian Herald fit that theme, so that became her object of analysis. Anna Lindner, another of my doctoral advisees and the junior partner on the team for this paper, took on analyzing the Detroit Free Press, which we accessed through a database. She also wrote our methods section in consultation with me based on team discussions of how we would execute the study.
As the established historian, I had the most solid grounding in the literature, so I wrote the background section. Keena, Darryl, and Anna started reading and taking notes on their newspapers while I completed the background section—and that really was crucial for everyone to understand enough about the political, economic, and cultural context in order to do their analysis of their respective newspapers. We touched base about whether the research questions guiding us were really doing the job and adjusted after everyone had swum in the evidence a bit. Once everyone was finished with analysis, we reconvened as a group to make sense of what had been discovered and to assign writing and editing duties. Keena took on writing the introduction and Anna wrote the conclusion. My role at this stage was to merge all the parts together, line edit it so it read as one piece, and make sure we hit deadline. We all proofread. For the conference presentation, I feel that it’s my students who need the most exposure as people bound for the job market soon, so as long as they don’t have something heavy at conference time like defending comps or a dissertation prospectus I offer that role to the students. My role then is to prepare rough slides that they’re free to tweak and otherwise be their cheerleader.
What do you believe is the value of co-authoring with students?
There are so many valuable things that come out of it. Of course, my students learn how to execute a historical research project step by step. But I always learn something new from them because they have the benefit of having recently studied with my faculty colleagues from disciplines different from my own. Because of this, the students often bring different ways of seeing to a project. Here’s a confession: I recognize that I’ve sometimes been guilty of methodological sloppiness. Working with my students keeps me on my toes in terms of rigor in our methods of analysis. I benefit from their knowledge and expertise as they benefit from mine. In addition, it’s really satisfying to see how the students are growing as each phase of a project comes together. And it fills me with pride when I see them present the work that we completed together.
How do you incorporate research into your teaching?
For one thing, teaching historical methods from scratch to the Research Gang students has made me pay close attention to how to explain the steps that I outlined above in a step-by-step fashion. This semester, I’m experimenting with a hybrid group/individual final project for my undergraduate journalism history students. I created a list of 13 topics through various periods in U.S. and Detroit history. Then I surveyed my students and assigned them to nine teams. This way, they have a degree of ownership in the project in that they were able to pick something they were already relatively fascinated with. I’m getting them off the ground by guiding them as they formulate initial research questions, master some of the secondary literature for their topic and period, refine keywords to use in a newspaper database, and analyze and organize their findings. This pretty much follows the Research Gang model, but it feels a little like building an airplane while it’s taking off. It’s a fun challenge, and I’m learning a lot in the process by examining secondary lit about topics and historical periods that haven’t necessarily been at the center of my own bull’s-eye of research interests.
What are you working on next?
I’ve got a few projects at various stages of completion. I’ll just describe one of them here: It’s an extension, reorganization, and rewrite of my dissertation on the prehistory of stereotypes about Mexicans in the American nineteenth-century press.
What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of academia?
Madeleine Liseblad presents her co-authored research on Lee Zhito at the 2021 AJHA convention.
by Madeleine Liseblad, California State University, Long Beach
When Greg Pitts, my Billboard research co-author, dragged me into the Center for Popular Music to look at the Lee Zhito archival collection, I was lukewarm to the idea. I did not know anything about Billboard magazine, other than the name and that it covered the music industry. I had certainly never heard of Lee Zhito. But, it was an archive no one else had explored yet. Zhito had spent almost fifty years at Billboard and worked his way up to publisher and editor-in-chief. I figured there was probably something there to work with.
Fast forward to today. I am now a big Lee Zhito fan. By reading his writing and the correspondence in his files, you get a real sense of who he was. He was an excellent writer, seemed to be a great boss, had solid business skills, and knew how to network like no one else. His writing is incredibly colorful. He speaks in soundbites. In almost everything, there is a perfect quote waiting to be discovered.
For our first manuscript, Greg and I outlined Zhito’s career. It was presented at a national conference. We re-worked it based on reviewers’ comments and submitted it to a journal. I figured we would get a revise and resubmit. But, we did not. It was an outright reject. Thank you, but no thank you. I was devastated, but not for myself. I was devastated for Zhito because I felt his story was worthy of exposure. One of the reviewers commented we should have built the paper more around big events, such as how he exposed editorializing at radio station KMPC. I muttered to myself, yeah, of course that would have been nice. If only there were primary sources to tell that story.
As I was getting ready to leave Middle Tennessee State for a new position at Cal State Long Beach, I told Greg I wanted to review everything in the archive again. Since I was so green to the topic initially, I wanted to make sure I had not missed anything significant.
Box 7 folder 8 was labeled “Federal Communications Commission – 1951.” I haphazardly flipped through the pages of the FCC reports--I had seen them before--and found a letter from Ben Cottone, at one time the FCC legal counsel. The letter was addressed to “Dear Lee.” Interesting, I thought. I put folder 8 back in the box and took out folder 9. I casually started going through the items. I think I was halfway through the folder when I finally realized what a gold mine it was.
Zhito had not only saved everything related to KMPC, but he had also put items in a chronological timeline. He was 30 years old when he discovered the story. His prior writings focused on lighter, entertainment coverage. This was his big story. He was so afraid of libel, he taped stories, logged correspondence, and retained items he had gathered together in a big, long manuscript just waiting for me to unfold. As I read the items, following his intended trail of discovery, I could feel his excitement and fear. I read the back and forth correspondence with supervisors. It felt like I was there, listening in. I have never been so elated in an archive before.
The paper wrote itself. By far the hardest part was the literature review. I probably should not admit this, but the manuscript came together in less than a week. Part of it was that I was mesmerized by what I had. The primary source material was excellent. I was eager to see how Zhito framed his stories, how Billboard covered the topic, and what exactly transpired. The process of pulling it all together gave me some sort of natural high. I knew this was something special.
Generally, historical research is done in solitude. It is not a method that naturally lends itself to co-authors. But Greg and I balance each other well. He has a radio background so he knows things I do not. He added details to our paper that I had missed.
I would like to say I knew what I was doing when I went back to the archives. But, it was my stubbornness, and some luck, that led us here. I do not know how I initially missed it, but I did. We have now received a second chance to tell the world about this terrific journalist and Billboard leader. As Zhito would phrase it, he did not do “namby-pamby journalism.” His KMPC exposé had an immediate ripple effect with national ramifications.
Greg and I are obviously thrilled to have won the 2021 Wm. David Sloan Award for Outstanding Faculty Paper. But, the satisfaction goes well beyond the award. For me, it took us from a painful failure to sweet success. The quest to tell this story is personal because the world deserves to know about Lee Zhito and his impact. The KMPC story also reminds us that journalists and scholars have a responsibility to investigate and question media power and the potential abuse of that power. Good work, Lee Zhito!
by Jane Marcellus, AJHA Book Award Chair
If you scroll to the bottom of the page labeled Book of the Year Award on AJHA’s website, you’ll find a list of fabulous books related to journalism history published during the past two decades. You’ll find books on newspaper editors and press censorship, foreign reporting and religion, public relations and television production. You’ll find several related to race, abolition, the Black Press and the Civil Rights movement, as well as one on the Holocaust.
What you won’t see is a single book about women. Eighty-five years after the New York Times ran a nearly full-page review of Ishbel Ross’s Ladies of the Press, there are no books on AJHA’s awards list about female journalists or representation of women in the press, no books about women’s magazines or women and television. There are no books on women’s suffrage, though we’ve just passed the centennial of the 19th Amendment.
You also won’t see many books by women, on any topic. If you attended the Recent Books by AJHA Women panel at the 2021 conference, you know the reason is not a lack of productivity.
The fact is that in the two decades since the AJHA Book of the Year Award first was presented (in 2001), nineteen of the 23 authors given AJHA’s Book of the Year Award have been men (including co-authored books). Only four have been women. Put another way, that means men have won roughly 82 percent of the top book awards, while women have won 18 percent. Granted, this doesn’t include runners-up, but those aren’t listed on the website.
I happened to notice these statistics one rainy Sunday morning a few months ago when I was sitting at my computer, though they have been there all along for any of us to see. I asked myself how this could happen. I have never thought of AJHA as a particularly sexist organization; if it were, I wouldn’t have remained an active member for 20 years.
When I look back on that morning, what surprises me is how reticent I felt about causing a stir. Raised female in America, I wanted to be, you know, nice, since women often pay heavily for being perceived as troublemakers. But those statistics warrant a stir. After all, this is 2021, not 1921—although having studied women of the 1920s, I can say with assurance they would be outraged.
I talked to others about the issue and we speculated on possible reasons. Judging is not dominated by men (actually, more women volunteer) but fewer women do enter. That fact may indicate a self-fulfilling prophecy—why enter a contest you’re unlikely to win?
I wonder if the reason is more subtle. Could it have something to do with narrow or outdated ideas about what counts as award-worthy journalism history? That possibility merits a conversation about the field—possibly in a panel at next year’s convention. Another idea: Do judges—even female judges—unconsciously place less value on a book when they see a woman’s name on the front?
Back in the 1980s, Ramona Rush of the University of Kentucky came up with what she called the Ratio of Recurrent and Reinforced Residuum or R3 hypothesis. It predicted that “the percentage of women in the communications industries and on university faculties will follow the ratio residing around 1/4:3/4 or 1/3:2/3 proportion females to males.”(1) She was talking about the gender ratio in jobs, but it fits our book award, too. Granting women 18 percent of awards over two decades is actually less than 1/4.
This seems like a good spot to note that AJHA is not alone. Some other organizations have similar ratios.
My goal is not to lay blame, but to offer leadership in fixing the problem.
I agreed to chair the Book Award Committee, and this past week, the Board approved my proposed new process for judging. Modeled on the Blanchard Dissertation Prize, which I previously chaired, it calls for a two-step process, with finalists chosen after committee members first look at an introduction, table of contents, and sample chapters. Unlike the current process, where each judge reads only one or two books, it gets more eyes on more initial entries. Finalists will be invited to submit their complete books. At that stage, we will welcome digital Advance Reader Copies or PDFs from publishers, a change that will cut down on the expense of providing several hard copies and make it easier to share the books among judges. Also, edited collections will be welcome.
It may not be a perfect solution, but the Blanchard model seemed like a good place to start, since the ratio is less problematic there. Since 1997, 10 of the 25 winners of the Blanchard Prize have been women, while 15 have been men, making the ratio 60-40 male to female.
The first step toward any kind of change is raised consciousness. I’m hopeful that the good men and women of AJHA will rally behind this effort. After all, journalism practice at its best is all about fairness.
(1) Rush, R.R., Oukrop, C.E., and Sarikakis, K. “A Global Hypothesis for Women in Journalism and Mass Communications: The Ratio of Recurrent and Reinforced Residuum.” Gazette, 67 (2005: 3). pp. 239-253. Online https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/464/1/sarikakisk2.pdf. Rush’s hypothesis can also be found in Seeking Equity for Women in Journalism and Mass Communication Education: A 30-Year Update, eds. Ramona R. Rush, Carol E. Oukrop, and Pamela J. Creedon (Routledge, 2004).
by Aimee Edmondson, AJHA President
Four months after Joe Biden took the oath of office and moved into the White House, one quarter of all American adults believed Donald Trump was the “true president” in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in May 2021.
In fact, Biden won by more than seven million votes, and U.S. courts have rejected Trump’s challenges to the 2020 presidential election results in at least 60 different lawsuits as baseless conspiracy theories continue to permeate the media ecosystem.
Similarly, about a third of Americans believed that it is “definitely” or “probably” true that “powerful people” intentionally planned the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a June 2020 Pew Research Center Survey.
Given the urgent need for an informed citizenry in a functioning democracy, media literacy topped the list of AJHA officers’ goals in 2020-2021 under the leadership of Donna Lampkin Stephens. To continue these efforts, I ask our members to continue to help combat the flood of misinformation and revisionist history narratives that remain all too common.
Media Literacy Week is Oct. 25-29, and there’s lots we can do as journalism educators and media historians in our continued search for truth in this fractured environment where people don’t — or can’t — even agree on basic facts.
Please check out the fantastic resources provided by the sponsor of this effort, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), a nonprofit organization whose members are as motivated as we are about helping people become more critical thinkers and understand how to evaluate news sources.
Here’s a list of events co-hosted by NAMLE, all for free, next week (I’m particularly interested in the Amanda Knox session as well as the session on mis- and dis-information relating to algorithms via social media). You can also join NAMLE for free, with access to newsletters, new resources, curriculum ideas, along with opportunities to attend or present at the organization’s biennial conference as well as connect with other members.
In addition, here’s a cool set of classroom ideas and events for post-secondary educators with examples of what some faculty members and universities are planning for Media Literacy Week. We know that media literacy is most vital for K-12 students as educational attainment can have a huge impact on one’s critical thinking skills.
And as Donna mentioned during the AJHA’s conference earlier this month, we as AJHA members can get out into our own communities to talk about media history and media literacy. We can speak to our local Rotary Club or at our neighborhood elementary school. After all, it should be as cool for third graders to meet a real journalist as it is to meet a real firefighter! (Career day, anyone?)
We face a continued crisis in funding of local journalism and the polarization of voters who have scattered to digital media echo chambers on the left and the right. As such, we must provide the historical context to show the importance of verified information and the role of journalists to provide an accurate view of critical issues facing our communities and our country.
In case you missed it, the AJHA has already worked closely with the good folks at NAMLE:
NAMLE executive director Michelle Lipkin (@ciullalipkin) spoke at the 2020 AJHA virtual conference on the panel on media literacy and inspired us to get involved in the effort.
Our own AJHA members have also become members of NAMLE, including Nathaniel Frederick II of Winthrop University, who attended his first NAMLE conference way back in 2013 where he met educators, academics, activists, and students with a similar passion for understanding media messages and the role of media in our culture. He began incorporating critical media literacy into his own courses and even held a series of sessions at Winthrop entitled “News Literacy and the Future of Journalism.” The series included eleven events over eight months that sought to deepen the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the vital connections among democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry. Topics included the history of fake news, editorial cartoons, investigative journalism, and the future of journalism. In his Intelligencer column published in April 2021, Frederick encouraged the AJHA membership to take advantage of our new-found emphasis on virtual conferencing to Zoom in media literacy experts into our own classes and campus programming.
The Intelligencer has also hosted guest commentary from Kristy Roschke, an expert in media literacy. She is the managing director of the News Co/Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and serves on the NAMLE board. In her column, “Why teach students about media literacy – and how,” Roschke gives the AJHA membership tangible ideas for incorporating such information in courses in media history, reporting, introductory mass communication, and media law, for starters.
I’m eager to hear your ideas as we continue the conversation about media literacy and media history.
Elisabeth Fondren is an assistant professor of journalism at St. John’s University in New York. She received her Ph.D. in Media & Public Affairs from Louisiana State University (2018).
I participated in my first AJHA conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2016, when I was a doctoral student at Louisiana State University. My mentor, Dr. Erin Coyle, encouraged me to submit my work, and I was excited that I won both the Wally Eberhard Award for Outstanding Research in Media and War and the Robert Lance Memorial Award for the Outstanding Graduate Student Paper. I was welcomed very warmly by members and was impressed with how encouraging and open the organization was, and intrigued by the quality of research and discussions about journalism history.
Your paper recently won AJHA's awards for outstanding paper on a women's history topic and outstanding paper on transnational/international history. Talk a bit about that paper. What led you to that particular topic?
This paper explores the little-known story of Leonora Raines, an American female reporter (originally a fashion and music journalist) who covered the Great War from Paris. Raines had several brushes with foreign censors, including French and German military police, and she wrote about her interactions with propagandists, soldiers, and ordinary civilians. She gained access to dangerous frontlines, reported hospitals, ammunition factories, war-torn cities, the Western Front, German-occupied Belgium, and toured enemy Germany in 1915. Through her war reportage and eyewitness stories, which were primarily published in the New York Evening Sun, Raines brought the conflict home to distant American readers. At a time when most war reporters were men, Raines published her regular column under her own byline. Readers in the U.S. but also in Western Europe read her accounts, as foreign newspapers were widely distributed and, surprisingly, uncensored.
How does your research on Leonora Raines fit into your overall research agenda?
My research broadly explores the history of international journalism, government propaganda, military-media relations, and freedom of speech during wartime. I first came across Raines’ name while working in diplomatic archives in Berlin. The U.S. Ambassador to Imperial Germany, James W. Gerard, sent a letter to the German Foreign Office in spring 1915, announcing Raines’ arrival. German censors, in turn, then had secret discussions about how they could influence this female correspondent. I was really surprised that historians have neither mentioned Raines’ work nor fully studied her wartime journalism from Paris and Western Europe, and this led me to seek out and backtrack her story. In a related project, I am looking at international journalists’ discourse about government propaganda and publicity campaigns at the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920). This period was marked by anxieties about the role of words and images used to ‘sell’ diplomacy and peace after belligerent countries had relied heavily on propaganda during the Great War.
How has your international experience influenced your approach to media history?
My worldview was shaped by having lived in Germany, Canada, the UK, and now the United States. After finishing high school in Germany, I backpacked coast-to-coast through Canada for one year. I completed my B.A. in humanities in Germany and pursued my master’s degree at City, University of London, where I studied international journalism. I met incredible people from all over the world, and their perspectives and experiences influenced my belief that our work as journalism historians is valuable. Some of my best friends are now correspondents in dangerous places or conflict zones. I think of them when I research reporters’ interactions with propagandists during past conflicts and how important it is to: 1) have journalists as eyewitnesses, and 2) for scholars to dig deep and reveal how governments continue to build proficiency in propaganda and censorship that restrict reporters’ access to all sides of the story.
How does your journalism history research influence your teaching?
I teach classes in Online News Writing, International Reporting, and Journalism History, which is really a great combination. I often feel that students have an interest in understanding the historical dimensions of news coverage and media systems, and I enjoy looking at news and journalism cultures through a comparative lens. Throughout the semester, I emphasize global perspectives and share work from reporters (past and present) to have discussions with students about the eyewitness role journalists play during conflicts and wars, the different reporting/writing styles, and the state of press freedom around the world, among other topics.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a long-form article that examines the German government’s “propaganda blackbox” during World War I (1914-1918), including their failure to modernize their messages and institutions, and how they tried to copy (unsuccessfully) the propaganda produced by enemy countries. All countries during and after the war claimed that they did not do propaganda—only other countries did it. Archival records, of course, paint a very different picture. This article will be published in Journalism & Communication Monographs later this fall. Currently, I am collecting primary sources and news materials for my first book project, which will be a cultural history of American reporters stationed in Berlin during the early twentieth century.
I love traveling and exploring the East Coast and New England region with my husband, our seven-month-old daughter and our red heeler, Maxi. We try to do lots of weekend trips. I grew up in a mountainous region of Germany with much forest and small villages, which is why living in NYC (8.4 million people!) and being so close to the Atlantic Ocean is very exciting.
Are exams necessary in a survey course on the history of American journalism?
I asked myself this as I prepared for teaching in the first full semester of the pandemic. I would have 59 students in two classes. They would be freshmen taking their first course in the journalism major. Their transition from high school would be on Zoom.I was so apprehensive that before the fall semester, I reached out to each student individually – via email and then Zoom – to make a connection. I was delighted to see how eager they were.
I dreaded giving timed exams online, especially if students would be ill or in quarantine. I recalled the cramming students do in the days before midterms and finals. What’s jammed into their brains doesn’t have much of a shelf life. I wondered if marathons of cramming could be replaced with opportunities each week for students to capture what strikes them as important and do some critical thinking. What if students could keep journals and use the entries to craft midterm and final essays – with prompts addressing themes of the course?
I decided on Adobe Spark for what I called a “personal learning journal.” Spark makes a simple web page with text and multimedia elements. Students could share the URL with me rather than posting to the open web. I thought that if I could master Spark in minutes, so could they.
Each week, students got a new prompt. In the second week, the prompt included this: “Make an entry … on ways that tensions between freedom and repression of the press played out in the time period we are covering this week - from Publick Occurrences to the Partisan Press era. Include a connection you might have made to whether you see these sorts of themes playing out today.”
Although this was not a newswriting class, they did write a research profile of a historical journalist plus several “reflections” on current news stories. These allowed me to help with writing. We talked about “mastery,” and we looked at primary sources to see the evolution of newswriting over time. One journal prompt said, in part, “I would like you to reflect on whether and how any of the material we covered has inspired you or surprised you in any way as you think about your own writing.” The entries were not graded for writing quality but figured into class participation scores. I provided individual feedback on the journals every three weeks. And I let students know well ahead what the midterm and final essay prompts would be.
The students took to the journals. And I could tell in real time what was resonating with them. I treasure this from one entry after we read Ida Wells: “This queen wrote what she wanted and changed the world...” The same student included this in her entry on the Black press: “Very important moment for me. Inspires me to keep going even though times are tough.”
In the spring, when my students came from many majors, the journals worked just as well. A theater major wrote: “… having more chances to just explore what I was learning from the course really helped – way more than traditional exams ever could… I also think it helped my writing relax.” A student who plans to be a music teacher wrote: “I have never been so emotionally attached to a school assignment in my life.”
In the end, I am glad the pandemic forced me to rethink how we teach, how students learn and how we assess what they have learned.
Ira Chinoy is the winner of the 2021 National Award for Excellence in Teaching. A Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran journalist with 24 years of experience at four newspapers, Chinoy has been on the faculty at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism since 2001.
The AJHA 40th annual conference is just a few weeks away. We are excited to host the virtual conference on the Whova platform and hope that members will find it to be an enjoyable experience.
A primary reason that we selected Whova was for its networking capabilities, including the following highlights:
Another reason we selected Whova was for its security. The platform is seamlessly integrated with Zoom video conferencing. Each session will be embedded directly into the Whova platform. Only registered attendees will have access, and they will not be able to share the meeting with anyone. Whova's own Q&A feature allows attendees to post questions and comments during the sessions.
Though online, the research paper sessions, panels, and even the virtual historical tour will provide the same enlightening and engaging conference experience AJHA members have come to expect. Check out the schedule and, if you have not registered yet, you can do so through Oct. 6 at this link.
Erika Pribanic-Smith, AJHA Secretary &
Virtual Conference Administrator
Linda Lumsden is the author of Social Justice Journalism: A Cultural History of Social Movement Media from Abolition to #womensmarch.
Please introduce yourself and include your connections/role with AJHA.
I’m Linda Lumsden, and I just retired from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona, where for 15 years I taught courses in journalism history, journalism ethics, diversity in journalism, and social movement media. Before that I taught for ten years at Western Kentucky University.
I’ve been affiliated with AJHA since I was a graduate student in the 1990s at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve found AJHA to be a friendly and nurturing community over the years. I’ve filled just about every role in the organization from presenting papers to serving on the Board of Directors. I’m most honored to have received the Maurine Beasley Award for Outstanding Paper in Women’s History for three consecutive years--a record, I believe. AJHA also has been instrumental in advancing my work by awarding me two Joseph Kerns Research Grants.
I’ve been studying advocacy media of the Progressive Era for thirty years. I’m drawn to its producers’ belief in the power of the word and facts as well as their passion for justice. Oftentimes these publications are the best exemplars of the journalistic mission to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’ I started out as a student looking at how suffragists used the right of assembly to make their case, which of course led me to the suffrage press, particularly Alice Paul’s The Suffragist.
Inez Milholland kept popping up at the head of suffrage parades and, later, as the impetus for the White House pickets after she died while stumping for suffrage in California. Milholland dipped her toes in just about every Progressive movement of the 1910s, so I learned more about socialism, feminism, and other movements as I researched her biography. That led to a full exploration of the prewar radical press in Black, White, and Red all Over (2014).
I studied the role of online news media and its “contentious journalism” in opening up political discourse in Malaysia when I was a Fulbright Scholar there during its 2013 election campaign. The connections between print and online advocacy media intrigued me. As were many journalists and scholars at the time, I also was reconsidering the meaning of journalism in the digital era. The Internet spawned a renaissance of what some call ‘activist journalism’ and a reconsideration of the elusive ideal of ‘objectivity.’
People seemed to think activist journalists were born on the Internet, so I wanted to demonstrate their roots in a venerable print culture of dissent that goes back more than a century. As I delved more into current digital mashes of journalism and advocacy, I wrestled with how to characterize the genre. The result was Social Justice Journalism.
As the title indicates, I’m most interested in the aspects of journalistic social movement media, not its propagandizing. I argue facts can be powerful persuaders. To those who say real journalism is neutral, I have two words: Tucker Carlson.
The similarities in functions of 20th-century social justice journalism in print for with 21st century digital media. For example, I write about how the Black Lives Matter interactive website Mapping Police Violence, which documented 1,175 police killings in 2014, is a technologically advanced iteration of Ida Wells-Barnett’s documentation of terrorism against African Americans across the South in her 1892 pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.
Conceptualizing and theorizing what actually comprises “social justice journalism.” Negotiating the amorphous lines between journalism and activism remains a challenge. I wrote the conclusion in 2019, when the so-called Trump Resistance Movement was in full swing. I focused on its use of the Internet to spread information, educate citizens, and inspire recruits, but in the end I have to confess its use of media veers more into electoral politics.
As an old print journalist, I found myself vexed by the general lack of print publications at the nexus of current social movements. For example, I questioned whether BLM could survive without at least an online periodical to serve as its institutional memory and maintain movement momentum. Well, I guess the answer is “Yes!”
I just retired, and I spent 2020 coping not only with the COVID pandemic but cancer. I am eager to toss my mask and hop onto my bicycle instead of my laptop. I’m spending the summer visiting family and friends in the Carolinas, Vermont, and Colorado before returning to Tucson in autumn. Hikes, bikes, kayaks, and cocktails figure prominently in my itinerary.
What topic would you like to tackle next?
After about a year’s sojourn from academia, I might like to return to more popular writing. I’m a big fan of books that combine travel/memoir/natural and cultural history. I’d love to write one.
Of course, I’m also closely observing how social movement media evolves. One of my favorite books this summer was Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism by Alissa Richardson. She does a fantastic job of exploring this form of social movement media.
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