Journalism Professor to Receive Highest Honor from American Journalism Historians Association

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Journalism professor questions whether he’s old enough to receive lifetime achievement award

Mike Sweeney is perplexed – honored – but perplexed. In October he’ll receive the American Journalism Historians Association’s Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History. Lifetime achievement — that’s the part that confuses him.

“I sort of feel like I’m an imposter because this is a lifetime achievement award and I had only been doing journalism history for 22, 23 years, something like that,” he said. Sweeney is 56 years old.

“I think this would be more appropriate if I was a little older, maybe retired, but I am just so gratified that people find value in what I’ve added to journalism history over my career.”

What he might lack in longevity Sweeney makes up for through those who surround him. These are the people he intends to thank when he accepts the award.

“I know I want to say something about the people who have helped me become who I am and the people who I hope I am shaping,” he said. “Every student has mentors or teachers who helped prepare that student for a career.”

In addition to those who have shaped his life as a journalism historian, Sweeney said he’ll also be thinking about how he’ll influence his students.

“In this sort of sense I think of myself as the pinch-point in an hourglass taking all this knowledge and it goes through me and I get to influence so many other people,” he said.

Sweeney’s research and teaching help his students better understand the blurred lines of entertainment, opinion and objective journalism prevalent even in presidential politics.

“If you go back to the early days of the mass media in the United States, let’s talk about the Colonial era in the early 1800s, and the norm was exactly what we have today,” he said. “If you subscribed to a newspaper you knew exactly what its politics were because they told you in every story.”

Objectivity in reporting, Sweeney said, is a relatively new thing.

“It wasn’t until perhaps the 1920s that we started to think that the norm should be just getting people the facts and maybe on a separate page telling them what the editors thought about those facts,” he said.

Change, Sweeney said, is the lesson journalism history teaches us.

“So what journalism history gives me is perspective that this idea that the way that journalism is today does not have to be the only way that journalism has been or will be presented in this country. That change is a constant,” he said.

Sweeney said the award he’ll be receiving is more than an honor.

“I’m just so glad that I’ll be able to accept this award at the American Journalism Historians Association which is a group that I belonged to for two decades now and which I consider not only to be scholars, but also colleagues and almost family,” he said.

Sweeney will receive the American Journalism Historians Association’s highest honor Oct. 8 in Oklahoma City.