“This is the premier place in the country as far as journalism goes. I wanted to stay close to home, and it’s great that there is such a big program so close. The prestige of Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting got my attention,” says junior Jason Stamm, a news editorial major from Morehead.
How did WKU’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting build a reputation as a top school in the nation?
WKU, which had an enrollment of around 5,000 in the early ’60s, is a regional university with now more than 18,000 students. Two journalism courses evolved into six majors, with 24 faculty members teaching more than 1,000 students each semester in a new $18.5 million building equipped with the latest technology.
Groundbreaking for a second building to house student publications is scheduled for this spring.
Last April, the School of Journalism and Broadcasting received first place in the Hearst Journalism Awards program, considered the most important national gauge of journalism schools. It marked the third time since 2000 that the school—which includes news editorial, photojournalism, broadcasting, public relations, advertising, and mass communications—received this award.
That same month, Robert Adams, an associate professor and director of the Office of Student Publications, was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, an honor for individuals who have “made a significant contribution to the field of journalism.”
The timing was more than coincidence. In many ways, Western’s journalism program and Adams grew up together professionally. Yet it would have been hard to imagine the success both would enjoy back in 1962, when Adams first enrolled as a student and a second journalism class was added to the English curriculum at the college nestled on a hill high above Bowling Green.
In fact, the program’s reputation now draws students from across the nation and the state such as Jason Stamm.
Stamm hopes to work for a mid-size newspaper when he graduates, and believes that the professionalism of the faculty will help him achieve that goal.
“All the professors have experience at big newspapers,” he says. “They know the people to talk to. Other places may teach you, but they don’t have the connections. Having those connections sets Western apart.”
Increasingly, those connections are graduates. Many, such as Chuck and Donna Stinnett, work at newspapers like Stamm hopes to write for. The Stinnetts have been with The Gleaner in Henderson for 25 years. Chuck is the business editor; Donna is the features editor.
“Western prepared me magnificently,” says Chuck, a Lexington native who graduated in 1979. “The people we learned from weren’t so much college professors as they were newspaper men. Western really helped instill in me that newspapering isn’t something to be done on a lark. You have to be somebody who is reliable, truthful, and probing. You have to take it seriously. You need for yourself and your material to be capable of being held up for judgment.”
Donna concurs. The Caneyville native was editor of the 1977 Talisman (the student yearbook), and says that the experience helped her learn to connect with people in her community.
“You learn to interact with people and ask the right questions,” says Donna. “You learn how to present what you have gathered in a logical way so that people can understand the story you are trying to tell…When I think of those times at Western, it feels like such a safe place for learning and growing as a person.”
Of course, not only the students were learning and growing. The program itself was growing each year, adding faculty members such as Adams, who joined Western as an English teacher in 1966 and in 1968 became a faculty advisor for the campus newspaper, the College Heights Herald, a position he still holds today.
To truly understand how Western’s program rose to national prominence, you have to go back to 1924 when the first issue of the Talisman was published. The following year saw the birth of the Herald.
For decades, little changed. In the early 1960s, Adams received basically the same education as many English/education majors before him, including two journalism classes that came with an automatic position on the Herald.
In the late 1960s, radio, television, and photography courses were added to the curriculum, according to Adams. Then in 1970, two events quietly marked the beginning of today’s professionally oriented school. The journalism program was moved into the Department of Mass Communications, and David Whitaker came on board.
“It all started to come together in the early 1970s,” Adams recalls. “In 1970, David Whitaker came to Western from The Courier-Journal. He brought years of professional experience at what was then one of the top 10 newspapers in the country. I credit him with bringing the professional focus to Western’s program.”
That focus shows up in many ways. It is why, in early 2004, Western established Imagewest, a student-run advertising and public relations agency that manager Heather Garcia believes is the only one of its kind.
“Other schools have ad agencies,” she says, “but they are more of a class. Some just do pro bono work.”
Imagewest is a revenue-generating firm that does graphic and Web design, marketing, and research. As of November, the agency had served more than 50 clients and generated more than $35,000 in revenue since its inception.
Each semester, a new student group works with clients. One of those students is Jaclyn Green, a senior advertising account services major from Morgantown. In the fall, Green was account executive for Imagewest. During the 16-1/2 hours she worked each week, Green was a liaison between the agency and the clients, and also helped with creative work such as copywriting.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” Green says. “I knew I needed some experience before starting a career. I needed to apply what I had learned in the classroom to real clients.”
Preparing students for professional jobs is, in fact, the focus for the entire school, which distinguishes Western from many of the other 105 accredited journalism schools.
“We bring professional experience into the classroom,” says Pam Johnson, School of Journalism and Broadcasting director. “The director before me was here for 16 years. She built a solid program, and the mission was clear. We are a school that graduates people who are ready to enter the workforce on a professional level.”
It helps that Western receives additional funding because the School of Journalism and Broadcasting was chosen as a Program of Distinction. That money helps buy ever-changing and expensive equipment, such as AVID systems, that lets students learn on the very equipment they will use on the job.
“As a school we are committed to having every upgrade possible,” says Steve White, coordinator of the broadcasting program, the largest School of Journalism and Broadcasting program. “We’re very cutting edge and have enough for everyone. That is a very big draw.”
“We have a very narrow focus of preparing people for entry-level jobs in the profession,” he says. “I think it started that way, and it has stayed that way. We rejected a number of bids to start a graduate program, for example. One of the reasons is that graduate programs require more people with Ph.D.s. We thought that would come at the expense of people with professional experience. All the people who are teaching classes have done this for a living at one time or another. So many places try to be everything to everybody. We just carved out a small niche and decided that would be ours.”
Even so, maintaining success is slippery because technology keeps changing the way media professionals work and the equipment they use. What doesn’t change is one of the main reasons Adams believes the school has enjoyed such success.
“David Whitaker always said that somebody had to be the best, so why not us,” Adams recalls. “He also said that the people who worked the hardest would be best. I hope that we have proven he was right.”
INTERESTED IN WKU’s SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM AND BROADCASTING?
Go online to www.wku.edu/Journalism or contact them at (270) 745-4144.
WKU SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM AND BROADCASTING AWARDS
The top award in journalism is the Pulitzer Prize, and 23 Western Kentucky University School of Journalism and Broadcasting graduates have been a part of 13 Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, nine for photography, one for general news, and three for public service. An interactive wall in the Mass Media and Technology Hall honors their accomplishments.
Other national awards also keep pouring in. In 2005, the College Heights Herald and the Talisman both won National Pacemakers, collegiate journalism’s top award. Western was the only university to take home Pacemakers in both the newspaper and yearbook competition. The Herald has won the National Pacemaker 11 times, and the Talisman has nine National Pacemakers.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: CELEBRATING FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS
To learn about WKU’s First Amendment rights celebration, click here: First Amendment