The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Immediate

UI students and professors to record oral histories of Iowa journalists

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The first systematic effort to chronicle the lives and contributions of Iowa's senior journalists is under way at the University of Iowa.

UI journalism professors Stephen G. Bloom and Hanno Hardt have developed the Iowa Journalists Oral History Project to record the professional histories of Iowa reporters, editors, photographers and columnists, covering decades of newsgathering. With a start-up grant awarded last month by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation, the project could become a national model for other states and regions to follow.

The Iowa Journalists Oral History Project will become the repository of videotapes and transcriptions of scores of the state's influential newsmen and newswomen. Journalists, historians, scholars, students, and relatives of the archived journalists will have access to these invaluable pieces of resurrected Iowa history.

In the spring, Bloom and Hardt will teach a semester-long course devoted to the Iowa Journalists Oral History Project. After assembling a master list of senior Iowa journalists, journalism students will capture with video camcorders the voices and images of these newsmen and newswomen. Students will transcribe the tapes and write appraisals of the contributions of each journalist. The project will begin with those journalists who are over 65 years old.

Ultimately, Bloom and Hardt envision a book that gathers hundreds of oral histories of Iowa journalists. Allied to the book, the professors hope to pioneer a CD-ROM, which will contain excerpts from interviews, along with photographs and newspaper clippings that will recount much of the history of Iowa journalism.

"The nature of the business is that journalists write about other people, seldom about themselves," said Bloom, who conceived of the project. "The strength of the profession, then, also is its weakness. When it comes to the stories of the witnesses to the events that shaped our lives, we have very little."

John Neibergall, executive director of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation, said he was excited by the idea as soon as Bloom contacted him about it.

"It's a tremendous project," he said. "First of all, it helps us preserve the heritage and history of Iowa newspapers, and second, it will mean that a number of influential newspeople will have the opportunity not only to come to campus and be interviewed, but also to give classroom presentations to future journalists."

Bloom, a former reporter for newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and Sacramento Bee before joining the Iowa faculty in 1993, said he is still amazed at the remarkable stories told by veteran newsmen and newswomen about journalism as it used to be practiced in the state. Such stories, though, were always tinged with sadness for him.

"Unless someone chronicles such important history, their stories are just talk," Bloom said. "Most of the lore of the newspaper business is lost when the story tellers die."

Much of that history has already disappeared simply because no one has bothered to collect the stories of the men and women who practiced - and continue to practice - journalism at the 41 daily and 298 weekly newspapers in Iowa's 99 counties, Bloom said. Iowa is a prime target for the collection of such history since it has more newspapers per capita than any other state, according to the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Neibergall said he is grateful to Bloom and Hardt for creating the Oral History Project to preserve Iowa's journalism history for the future generations of reporters. "Any organization that's forward thinking ought not forget about its past," he said.

Histories of working journalists are extremely rare, Hardt said, adding that most of the work of journalism historians has focused on the organizational or institutional histories of the media. "Our project is a people-oriented approach that realizes and confirms the importance of work, as well as the contributions individuals have made and continue to make to the profession," he said.

Hardt's interest in the history of newswork and the making of an oral history of working journalists has resulted in a recent book, Newsworkers: Towards a History of the Rank and File, edited with Bonnie Brennen. An essay by Hardt on public journalism appears in the current issue of the Journal of Communication.

Under the aegis of the Oral History Project, up to ten Iowa senior Iowa journalists will travel to Iowa City for a round of interviews and tapings this spring. The journalists will also speak to journalism classes.

Bloom and Hardt have begun developing a roster of names of veteran Iowa newsmen and newswomen. The professors are interested in finding retired journalists from as many of Iowa's newspapers as possible -- from the smallest weekly with a circulation of 250 to the largest daily with a circulation of 170,000. Those on the list include: George "Lefty" Mills, 91, who covered the Iowa State House for the Des Moines Register from 1931-1972 and covered politics for WHO-TV from 1976-1983; John Robertson, 71, a UI graduate who worked at the Gazette from 1950-1991; Jim Flansburg, 67, a UI graduate who worked at the Register from 1957-1997 and in 1971 started "The Old Reporter," a thrice-weekly column he wrote for 25 years; Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret, 68, a former Gazette photographer and the first photojournalist elected to Iowa Woman's Hall of Fame; and Bob Beck, 82, former publisher and editor of the Centerville Iowegian and Citizen.

Anyone with suggestions of Iowa journalists to be interviewed for the Project should contact Bloom at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 610 Seashore Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. His phone number is (319) 335-3368. Bloom also can be reached via e-mail at