To my students
While you’re taking Capstone with me, I hope to give you both the space, the support and the inspiration to demonstrate all that you’ve learned in your Capstone project. I also want to reinforce your identity as a writer and to foster the professional reading and writing habits that will sustain your creativity as you launch your professional career. Along the way, I hope to show you why I find journalism history and the history of Baltimore so intriguing. Above all else, I hope you’ll remember this: every chance to write is a chance to inspire.
I have experience in print, broadcast and online journalism. I graduated with a Ph.D. in Media Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2005. My research focuses on the history of Baltimore journalism. Most Fridays, you can find me at the weekly meeting of the Aging Newspaperman’s Club in East Baltimore.
I’m interested in the history Baltimore and the history of journalism, particularly as it relates to race, class, gender and technological change. My published research includes:
The Epistolary Mencken? Lively Letters as Evidence of an Editor’s Business Education in Menckeniana no. 209 (Spring 2015): 3-11.
A 1905 letter to the editor pasted into one of Mencken’s early scrapbooks is signed “M.L.H.” Could this be another of Mencken’s many pseudonyms? The answer to this question sheds light on Mencken’s authorship of early letters to the editor and the importance of his experience editing the Evening Herald, a business education he later put to good use at the Evening Sun.
Race Goes To War: Ollie Stewart and the Reporting of Black Correspondents in World War II [Kindle Edition]. Written with Antero Pietila. Now & Then Reader, 2015.
The call to arms that followed Pearl Harbor in 1941 found American blacks in a peculiar position. Could they fight for the freedom of others while their own country denied theirs? And could they fight honorably in a still segregated armed forces? Black newspapers—notably the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender, and the Baltimore Afro-American—faced these issues head-on. Their war correspondents were the largest group of black newsmen in American history to be allowed on the frontlines with the same credentials as white journalists, and they were not about to soft-pedal the racial issues they discovered. In this illuminating perspective on World War II reportage, Antero Pietila and Stacy Spaulding show how questions of race followed troops to the battlefields. The response of blacks and the attitudes of military authorities foreshadowed the civil rights struggles of the postwar era.
“The Poetics of Goodbye: An Examination of Plot, Change and Nostalgia in Narratives Penned by ex-Baltimore Sun Employees.” Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. First published online Oct. 6, 2014.
This study examines a website produced by a group of workers laid off by The Baltimore Sun in April, 2009. This study describes the poetics of ‘goodbye narratives,’ reflective stories written by ex-employees regarding their organizational experiences. This paper uses plot and thematic analysis rooted in narrative and organizational studies to understand community sense making of organizational change. Individually, these writers told stories that expressed attachment to their work and profession, while collectively these narratives dramatically illustrated the impact of organizational decline. Furthermore, these stories provided an opportunity to examine the role of nostalgia within interpretative community discourse. This paper theorizes that nostalgia performs both individual and collective sense making, building a bridge between local and durational interpretative modes.
This study examines the World War II correspondence published by the Baltimore Afro-American, concentrating principally on Ollie Stewart. We argue these wartime dispatches constitute a style of social action and narrative journalism best understood through the lens of feuilletonism. These works featured the correspondent as the reader’s “tour guide” of the war, wandering about and reporting what was seen and heard from black troops of their wartime experiences. Within the context of the Double V campaign, this body of work provided evidence for the Afro’s argument that blacks were loyal and heroic citizens who deserved equal rights in the post-war world. Published alongside provocatively worded articles on racial and civil unrest in the U.S., these works provided an undemanding style of reading that depicted soldiers as fulfilling—and exceeding—the expectations of a country dependent on their support to win the war.
Using the works of Baltimore journalists Rafael Alvarez and Michael Olesker, this paper identifies “urban community narratives” as a regional genre of literary journalism. This genre filters one or more elements of story—such as character, plot, theme, voice or structure—through the lens of setting with the explicit intent or implicit effect of creating civic memory and/or identity that preserves, creates, or reinforces urban community. This paper argues that an urban focus is increasingly timely and relevant, given that over half the world’s population now lives in urban centers and that all future population growth likely will take place in towns and cities, especially in developing countries. This paper is grounded in a theoretical framework that views cities and civic memory as keys to citizenship.
This case study examines the 1982 protest of a blackface performance by a white singer—a Baltimore police officer who fought and won a First Amendment battle with the police department over his right to perform Al Jolson tunes in black makeup. How did newspapers treat this episode of blackface performance, and how does this coverage illuminate the dynamics of class, race, and the media in Baltimore in the late twentieth century? This study examines the pages of the Baltimore Afro-American, the city’s primary black newspaper, and the Baltimore Sun, the city’s mainstream newspaper of record. Whereas the Afro more directly addressed the NAACP’s protest of racial representation, both newspapers refrained from commenting editorially on the case until the issue was resolved in the courts. Most notably, Sun coverage evolved from nostalgic profiles of the act before the protest to denouncements of blackface by columnists after the court cases were settled, evidence of the beginning of a broader shift in the representation of race spurred by protests against the newspaper itself. Additionally, this study considers the cultural functions of nostalgia and privilege in alleviating economic anxieties of the white working class during discrete time periods.
This detailed case study documents the anti-communist attacks on Lisa Sergio, who worked as a news commentator for The New York Times-owned WQXR from 1939 to 1946. Using her 300-page FBI file and her personal papers, it examines the FBI’s investigation of Sergio, the circumstances surrounding WQXR’s decision to fire her, her blacklisting experiences (including her successful bid to remove her name from American Legion lists) and a few of the many public attacks she endured. Altogether, this paper contributes to a portrait of blacklisting as a complicated web of collaborators that encompasses private citizens, business, social organizations, and the executive and legislative branches of government.
Did Italian propaganda broadcaster Lisa Sergio, who claimed to have been Europe’s first female radio announcer, flee Italy in 1937 because she became an anti-fascist (as she claimed) or because she boasted too much about affairs with high fascist officials (as her FBI file asserted)? This article examines Sergio’s writings and her 300-page FBI file to attempt to determine which story was true. During the analysis troubling aspects of her autobiography surfaced (such as dramatic narrative arcs and factual inconsistencies), suggesting that factual analysis alone cannot fully explain the discrepancies. This study borrowed a framework from autobiographical theorists and scholars to show that these writings were a performance for the U.S. audience: an act of identity, gender, and culture, concealing a hidden subtext of historical agency.
This paper critically analyzes the generalizations researchers made about women’s program preferences and the quantitative data used to support these statements. This study suggests that researchers drew on per-conceived notions of what programs women preferred listening to, even as their research suggested otherwise. In particular, early research published in 1935 in The Psychology of Radio failed to see significant overlaps in men’s and women’s program tastes. Later research by Paul Lazarsfeld perpetuated the myth that women were not interested in news or current events.
Before her death in 1989, World War II radio commentator Lisa Sergio professed that she never did women’s programs. Yet at least one reference claimed her programs contained “information mainly of interest to women.” These claims are investigated by examining the surviving scripts from the “Column of the Air,” located in the Lisa Sergio Papers at Georgetown University. First, this study shows that Sergio never aimed her commentary specifically at men or women. Second, this study finds that Sergio began giving newscasts after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, underscoring that event’s influence in setting aside gender norms. Third, this analysis finds that Sergio’s program was sponsored, evidence of the commercial acceptance and public approval she received. Finally, this study argues that the disappearance of Sergio’s life and achievements from the historical record is evidence of what has been called the “suppressed history of women in radio.”