UC Department of Journalism’s Hall of Fame Ceremony Inspires Fourth Estate’s Next Generation

Latest inductees include former UC spokesman and iHeartMedia general sales manager.

Date: 4/11/2017 12:00:00 AM
By: Jonathan Goolsby
Contact: Jeff Blevins
Phone: (513) 556 - 0788
Photos provided by UC Photojournalism Student, Gretchen Semancik

UC’s Department of Journalism may be just 5 years old. But, department head Dr. Jeff Blevins noted, the University has been shaping impactful, mindful journalism for the majority of its existence — ever since the 1880 founding of the Belatrasco student newspaper, which in 1936 became the News Record.

“They’ve been offering journalism classes here for a long time,” he said, but those classes were offered as English or Communications courses.

In part due to advocacy from Blevins’s indirect predecessor, Professor Jon Hughes, the University began offering Journalism certificates; this, in turn, led to UC’s first offering of Journalism as a distinct major in the mid-2000s. In short order, enrollment had grown enough to warrant the formation of a full-fledged Journalism department.

Connecting Students to Successful Alumni

Since its founding, the Department of Journalism has sought to inspire its current students by connecting them with UC alumni who have significantly contributed to the profession. Under Blevins’ leadership, the department started the UC Journalism Hall of Fame and now annually invites notables to campus for induction into same.

Past inductees have included, among others, Cincinnati Post reporter Mary Linn White, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Jim Knippenberg and former WCPO sports anchor Dennis Janson.

Last month, the Hall inducted former iHeartMedia general sales manager Mary George Meiners, who served as the News Record’s editor-in-chief prior to her graduation in 1992, and longtime UC spokesman Greg Hand, who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for the Western Hills Publishing Company before returning to the University.

In her acceptance remarks, Meiners called attention to the role that Arts & Sciences instructors play in conditioning new journalists to be courageous — a necessary quality for a career in which the subjects of reporting often take strong issue with the reporter him or herself.

“The best things happen after walking through a little fear,” Meiners said. “Your students may not know today what kind of impact you’re going to have, but you’re having one.”

Hand observed that, regardless of a proliferation of new media, the tenets of journalism itself remain fundamentally unchanged.

“Ever since Gutenberg, the technology’s been changing,” he said. “But at the root of it, there are certain values that are still solid and still good and [people] like me ought to be making sure that the people coming up realize they’re going to have a great career if they adhere to those values.”

Liberal Arts Foundation Beneficial for UC Journalism Studies

One of the best methods of training journalists to decipher truth is by training them to look for the broader cultural, political, scientific and historical contexts that inform immediate events.

In that regard, UC’s Department of Journalism is well-positioned, Blevins said, because it falls under the auspices of a liberal arts college, as opposed to departments at other universities, where Journalism belongs to a Communications college, or exists as an insular school unto itself — as it did at his previous institution, Iowa State.

“You’d have these students who wanted that journalism skill set, but I’d have to work really hard to push them to get that outside area of expertise that would inform [their] reporting,” he remembered.

Here, outside perspectives are a matter of course — they’re built into the A&S curriculum. For example, his department recently partnered with colleagues in Political Science to take a fresh approach to journalism instruction. They have a single professor who teaches Political Science and Journalism students together in a class on research methods, and another combined class on political reporting. This past fall, these students were able to test their learning through covering the DebateWatch event on campus, where they used a social media lab in order to watch, comment, and analyze reactions during the second presidential debate.

College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ken Petren noted that journalists with deep cross-cultural understanding, well-developed critical thinking skills and historical grounding are especially needed in today’s rapidly-shifting sociopolitical circumstances.

“A journalist learning their trade in this social justice environment will understand the history,” he said. “They’ll have a deeper understanding of the culture, how culture is studied and the depth of cultures and human beliefs. The context of any story they’re reporting on later is amplified by what that student gets in other A&S courses.”


Take Time To Think About Ethics

Hand agreed that experienced journalists and journalism educators alike must continue shaping well-informed minds that can filter out obfuscations or distractions, and report the critical truth.

“There’s a real mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Hand asserted. “Companies are claiming the name ‘journalism,” but they’re not really practicing journalism. It’s up to journalists to tell a compelling story and make it clear that there really are facts and there really is truth.”

“I like to think of journalism education as kind of the ‘think tank’ for the industry,” Blevins said. “Our job is to have that time to think about ethics, to think about the law, to think about how we can do the job better.”

“Like any good journalist interrogates their own story,” he said, “I think that’s what good journalism education does for the profession.”

Second-year Journalism major Alberto Jones, recipient of this year’s prestigious Scripps Howard Foundation Internship Scholarship and a key co-reviver of UC’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, was among those who met this year’s Hall inductees and heard them relate their experiences.

“We often get discouraged by what’s going on,” Jones said. “We’ve got to think — these people who have come before us have dealt with similar things. They dealt with the Civil Rights movement, the AIDS epidemic.”

“But they encourage us to keep going. And I feel like that’s their duty.” He smiled. ”Seeing these people who paved the way for me, inspires me."