A Forgotten Object in Journalism History

The press pass isn’t necessarily the most glamorous piece of a journalist’s life. To many, it is nothing more than a piece of paper that allows journalists (or the press generally) to enter or attend an event. For journalists, it can be a memory; it is a symbol of a moment in their life and career that is a piece of history.

This summer, I have the privilege to bring this forgotten item to the forefront. I have the honor of sharing the University’s Special Collection of Tom Brokaw’s work with a larger audience through his vast collection of press passes.

Becoming a Hawkeye: A special moment in my history

When I decided to leave my teaching jobs (I was both a high school journalism and English teacher and an adjunct instructor of journalism and media studies) and become a Hawkeye, a number of people in my life were confused. They couldn’t grasp why I was willing and able to give up a career–one I was successful at to say the least. It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the motivation, but it seemed like something someone in my position wouldn’t do. Getting my doctorate was always a goal, but I built my life up in a way that it seemed unattainable.

Then I turned 30, life happened, and now here I am.

I’m here, in Iowa City, and a part of one of the most storied journalism schools in the country. I’m getting to work with and be mentored by one of the foremost experts in news literacy, one of my areas of emphasis. I’m getting to teach and engage in scholarship that enriches me each and every day. I’m certainly blessed. But the kismet of my life intertwining with Iowa (I almost went here for undergrad, two of my closest friends are Iowa grads, I visited here quite often, and I’m on the board of directors of an organization founded and housed at Iowa) is hard to deny. That continued when I accepted my HPG internship with Special Collections, working with Brokaw’s storied history.

Brokaw’s career inspired my own. His book Boom is why I chose journalism over biology for my teaching emphasis. His coverage of some of the most iconic moments in world history, such as the fall of the Berlin wall and his interview with Gorbachev, are imprinted in the minds of journalists (and viewers) around the world. Getting to interact with the archives he donated is a dream. And I’m beyond excited to be able to help bring this archive to life for others.

The Brokaw project: Bringing a legend of journalism to the classroom

The project I am working on integrates journalism, history, and education through an interactive timeline. Brokaw’s press passes (over 200 in the collection) become the center of attention. The passes tell the story of post-60s American history, moments that are often glossed over or aren’t covered in United States history curricula around the country. Through the use of the material objects, a number of additional pieces of the collection, and a number of videos, viewers will get a chance to explore history through one of the most forgotten items in journalism history: the press pass. [some of those can be seen below]

I am currently in the early stages of the project. The first two weeks of my time with this collection involved a deep soak and conducting research on the times and events the passes represent. In this time, I’ve been able to identify the events and collect historical information on nearly every press pass. This required me to take a deep dive in a number of historical presidential diaries; use Google translate to shift from German, French, Polish, Russian, and more to English in order to identify context; and reach out to scholars in Arabic to help understand context of related to the Middle East, as well as translations of notes and passes Brokaw used and had during his time there.

As I embarked on the writing process, I am also looking forward to what this project will offer teachers, in particular, around the country. The hope is this becomes a public good where teachers and students are able to interact with history in a way they hadn’t previously. They can see history in a way they hadn’t previously. As journalism is the first draft of history, students will not get to see that draft through the career of one of journalism’s most famous storytellers.

And for me: this project is another chapter in my journey. One that I cannot wait to share, especially with Brokaw himself later this summer.

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