Women Journalists in the 21st Century: Jo-Ann Huff Albers
Jo-Ann Huff Albers
Jo-Ann Huff Albers, founding director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University retired in 2007. Under Albers’ leadership, the photojournalism program at WKU never finished below eighth nationally the William Randolph Hearst Intercollegiate Championship, and won overall scoring in 2000 and 2001. In the Hearst photojournalism competition, between 1990 and 2003 the program finished first twelve times and placed second twice. Albers worked at The Cincinnati Enquirer for 20 years and was and was the paper’s Kentucky executive editor before entering academia in 1987. In 2002, she was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. She was the second woman to be president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. In 2000, she was honored as the Gerald Sass Journalism Administrator of the Year designated by the Freedom Forum and the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. Albers served 28 years on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication representing the Association for Women in Communications. In addition to her time at The Enquirer, Albers was editor and publisher at two daily papers: the Sturgis Journal General in Michigan and Public Opinion in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Albers earned her undergraduate degree in Broadcasting, from Miami (Ohio) University in 1959. She earned a Master’s of Education in Communications from Xavier University in 1962. Her email is: joann.albers(at)wku.edu.
Albers was interviewed by Katie Galbreath, 20, a junior majoring in Communication Studies with minors in Mass Communication and Sociology at the University of Iowa.
Katie Galbreath: Why did you become involved in journalism?
Jo-Ann Albers: It was almost accidental. I went to college to study math and physics and quickly discovered my high school teacher wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t well prepared for the major. I switched to Phys ed and banged up both knees playing field hockey. By then I was taking my second education class and hated it. I switched to liberal arts undeclared. A good friend was a broadcasting major. I went to the campus radio station with her and fell in love with broadcasting. My move to print came after working at a broadcasting station in Cincinnati and realizing how low the pay was and how little opportunity for advancement existed in broadcasting at that time. I moved to newspapers to improve my prospects – pay and advancement. I switched my graduate study from broadcasting to print and never looked back.
KG: How do you define journalism today?
JAA: Sharing information that is important in people’s lives.
KG: How has technology influenced or affected your career?
JAA: Mastering technology made it possible for me to perform well and advance in my chosen field.
KG: How will technology affect the future of journalism?
JAA: It will change the methods, but hopefully not the tasks – keeping the people informed and equipped to make daily decisions and enhance the quality of their lives.
KG: What one word would you use to describe the status of women in journalism today?
JAA: Problematic. As the number of jobs diminish, competition for them increases. It becomes more and more important to keep yourself in a position to be known by those individuals who make hiring and promotion decisions.
KG: What role(s) will women have in future journalism?
JAA: Surely they will perform at all levels. I used to tell my students there are only two gender-fixed tasks – sperm donor and wet nurse.
KG: What was a typical day in your career like?
JAA: A typical day for an editorial clerk, a reporter, an editor and a publisher varies greatly. Once I got to be a reporter, the thing that attracted me most was the unpredictability of my days. I liked the uncertainly, not knowing when I started my day how it would end and what I would do before the day ended, not knowing when the day might end if a big story broke or some major problem arose.
KG: Do you feel that objectivity still exists in journalism? Should all journalists be objective in their coverage?
JAA: Objectivity is a difficult subject to deal with. Ideally reporters and editors keep their personal feelings out of news reports. Reporting should be factual, balanced, fair and as complete as possible. My approach is to present the facts and let the reader draw conclusions – unless one is an editorial writer and charged with opinion formation.
KG: Since you have spent many years in the newsroom as well as teaching journalism, what do you think the biggest change in the subject has been?
JAA: The biggest change has been in the definition of importance or relevance. Front-page news includes much of what was considered soft news in the past – happenings in the lives of celebrities, for example.
KG: What are some major differences between covering journalism and teaching it?
JAA: I don’t know what you mean by covering journalism, so I’m going to assume you mean practicing journalism. Deadlines and schedules differ. A reporter’s workweek is controlled by wages and hour laws; they are entitled to overtime for hours worked beyond 40 in a week. Reporters’ breaks from work are determined by legal holidays and vacation benefits. Teachers’ schedules are determined by school calendars. There’s a lot of teaching in the practice of journalism. Beginning reporters learn from veteran ones. One difference is a person’s obligation. A teacher prepares students, instilling skills and attitudes that will lead to a successful career, always being aware that the one constant about journalism is change. A teacher should prepare students to advance beyond entry-level jobs, because those jobs will not remain static.
KG: Can you explain your award-winning photojournalism program at WKU more in depth? What are some topics your students covered?
JAA: Success of the photojournalism program at Western Kentucky University has been dependent on the attributes and quality of the faculty, and the fact that it is an undergraduate-only program. The faculty members all have extensive professional experience and contacts within the field and necessary academic credentials to enable them to design a curriculum that prepares graduates to succeed in the field. There is emphasis on attitude and ethics, as well as technical skill. Following is the current curriculum. If you want to check more, go to: http://www.wku.edu/journalism/undergraduateprograms/photojournalism/photojournalism.php
Major in Photojournalism – Curriculum
For students entering the University fall 2009 and thereafter
The major in photojournalism requires 42 semester hours in the School of Journalism & Broadcasting. Specific objectives are to:
1. Develop the artistic, technical and personal qualities of those who pursue a professional career in photojournalism.
2. Develop a background for understanding the role of photojournalism in shaping and reflecting contemporary society.
3. Provide instruction in photographic theory, principles and practice for the student in any area of scholarly pursuit where such knowledge is needed to improve understanding and abilities.
Prospective majors may take no more than 18 hours in the major before admission.
1. Completion of 30 hours of course work applicable to the baccalaureate degree with a minimum overall grade point average of 2.5.
2. Required courses include COMM 145 or COMM 161 (preferably COMM 161), HIST 119 or 120, the university math requirement, and ENG 100 with at least a ‘C’.
3. Completion of the following courses with at least a ‘C’: JOUR 201, 202, 231, 261
CURRICULUM: The major in Photojournalism requires a minimum of 42 semester hours and leads to a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Each major must have a concentration of study (minor or second major) outside journalism/mass communication/communication studies. Generally, students may select any other minor as long as the major advisor approves it; 80 hours are taken outside the major area of journalism and mass communication with no fewer than 65 semester hours of traditional liberal arts and natural sciences. A grade of ‘D’ in any JOUR/BCOM course will not be accepted toward the major and may not be used as a prerequisite. Refer to the University catalog for additional information.
Required Courses – 36(prerequisites in italics)
JOUR 201 Media & Society
JOUR 202 Introduction to Media Writing, Reporting
JOUR 231 Introduction to Photojournalism
JOUR 261 Introduction to Multimedia (JOUR 231 photo majors; JOUR 131 non-majors)
One of the following two law classes
JOUR 301 Press Law & Ethics Junior standing, (JOUR 201,202)
BCOM 301 Mass Communication Law & Ethics(PS 110, BCOM/JOUR201)
JOUR 302 Intermediate Reporting (JOUR 201,202)
JOUR 333 Lighting Technologies (JOUR 231, 261)
JOUR 334 Picture Stories (JOUR 336)
JOUR 336 Picture Editing (spring) (JOUR 333 Photo majors; JOUR 131,232 News/Ed majors; or permission)
JOUR 362 Web Narratives (JOUR 334)
JOUR 432 Photojournalism Practicum (JOUR 362)
JOUR 436 Photojournalism Projects (spring) (capstone course)(JOUR 432 )
Restricted Electives – Select 6 hours
JOUR 323 News Editing (JOUR 202)
JOUR 325 Feature Writing (JOUR 302,323 or permission)
JOUR 443 Interactive Advertising Design (JOUR 343, or permission)
JOUR 439 Advanced Studio Lighting Techniques (JOUR 333)
BCOM 368 News Videography & Editing (JOUR 261 for photo majors)
Requirements outside the major
PS 110 American National Government (Category C)
PS 210 State & Local Government or effective fall 2010 PS 304 State Government
ENT 312 Entrepreneurship (Junior Standing)(formerly MGT 312)
GEOG 110 World Regional Geography (Category E) or GEOG 360 Geography of N. America (Category C)
KG: What made you want to found a journalism department at Western Kentucky and what were some challenges you faced?
JAA: I did not found the journalism department. What I founded was the School of Journalism & Broadcasting, which resulted from a merger of the Department of Journalism and the broadcasting program from the Department of Communication & Broadcasting.
A great incentive was to reclaim my broadcasting background. Another was to make the WKU broadcasting majors eligible to enter the William Randolph Hearst Intercollegiate Journalism Competition that so greatly benefitted students in the Department of Journalism that was first accredited in 1979. The Department of Communication & Broadcasting at WKU was not accredited and not likely to be for a number of reasons. The merger also increased out chances to be named a Kentucky Program of Distinction (greatly increasing our operating budget) and securing state approval for the new building I started seeking when I first got to Western in 1987. We moved into the new building in fall 2003. I retired from the director position in June 2003 and entered the optional retirement program, teaching part-time through the spring of 2007.
KG: Do you see the gender gap trend in university journalism programs (currently a majority of women) increasing or decreasing in the future?
JAA: I’m guessing there will be little change. This is more related to the phenomenon of male high school graduates not going to college than to anything else.
KG: Out of all your accomplishments, what was the most rewarding part about your career?
JAA: The advancement of people I supervised or helped educate.
KG: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like us to know about women in journalism?
JAA: I believe women do make a difference in journalism. By their very nature women are interested in how other people think and are more likely to pursue multiple reactions to events and policies than are men, which means readers will be exposed to a more broad info base to help in individual decision making. There’s an excellent McCormick Foundation report you might read on the subject http://www.newmediawomen.org/site/facts_and_figures_weve_got_both/
This is part of a series of profiles of JAWS members by University of Iowa students. For a complete listing, see this page.