Back in the summer of 2012, when I first took the handoff from Bob Adams as director of WKU Student Publications, I put together a small group of people in the industry to help us chart our path ahead under new leadership.
I called it the Way Forward Committee – because I was hoping they would help us define our way forward.
The group included working journalists from throughout the region, both alumni and those who were just friends of the program.
The group did terrific work helping focus our professional staff, and especially me, on how to move our operation forward as a 21st century college media organization. At the time, we were the College Heights Herald newspaper, WKUHerald.com and the Talisman yearbook.
From the outset, the group pushed us to make sure we were getting students ready for what the world was really like – and how rapidly it was changing. Not only did we need to ensure our students had an excellent solid foundation in the fundamentals of journalism – accuracy, fairness, independence – and that their technical skills were strong, but the group also wanted to make sure we were growing young professionals who could readily adapt to a world that was changing rapidly – and would continue to change faster than any of us anticipated.
To that end, one of the early things the Way Forward group did was help craft a mission statement for Student Publications that still holds up well today:
“WKU Student Publications seeks to grow exceptional journalist and innovative leaders through real-world experiences and a strong educational foundation. By building on our legacy of excellence, we connect students with successful alumni and equip them with the skills and flexibility needed to thrive in a rapidly changing news industry.”
From the very first, sustainability was something that this group focused on: Were we moving rapidly enough into the digital space with news? How solid was our financial foundation? How realistic was it to continue producing a yearbook?
After its first year, when the committee completed what it had agreed to and helped us focus on the way forward, I gave the group the opportunity to disband or to continue on as an advisory board that would take an ongoing interest in how Student Publications operated. Just about every person in this very busy group agreed to stay on board.
Since that time, the advisory board has had a hand in just about every major development at Student Publications:
- It was the board that, in late 2015, raised the question about whether Talisman should continue as a yearbook, which at the time was draining resources from the Herald after WKU slashed the yearbook budget by half. The board asked whether Talisman should evolve into something different. Students took up the challenge and developed Talisman into the life and culture magazine and website that debuted in Fall 2016, while crafting the 2015-16 yearbook into a final edition that was widely viewed as one of the best college yearbooks ever published.
- The advisory board was an active partner in the students’ decision in Fall 2017 to move the Herald from twice weekly to once a week for Spring 2018, for the first time since the 1960s, and to ramp up the Herald’s presence on WKUHerald.com so it was more than mostly repurposed newspaper copy.
- The group gave guidance and help when we gave birth to Cherry Creative, our branded content studio that opened the door to sponsored content, special events such as the WKU Housing Fair and other efforts to diversify our revenue streams.
- Members of the group gave advice this year, as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the Herald’s shift from a weekly newspaper to a daily, digital-driven news organization focused on 24/7 coverage and that, in the fall, will transform its print edition to a monthly newsmagazine focused on enterprise.
At its most recent meeting, earlier this month, the advisory board launched into two important efforts – helping Student Pubs figure out how to grow diversity, inclusion and equity in our staffs and our coverage, and how to adapt our revenue model to fit the rapidly changing economics of college media.
This Way Forward group has been an important part of getting us to where we are today, an important part of that sustained excellence we’ve been building for half a century – and an important part of keeping WKU Student Publications on the leading edge of college media, an organization that others continue to seek out as a model, even as our world rapidly changes.
So who is this group? They’re alumni and non-alums. They’re working professionals, some of them recent graduates. They’re those who have retired from exceptional careers and want to continue giving and helping our program as it evolves. To a person, they are people who care deeply about our students, what we do and want the excellence that is our heritage to continue. And they’ve become an indispensable group to ensuring we move ahead successfully.
Here’s a list of current members (an asterisk denotes an original member):
- BOB ADAMS* | Retired director, WKU Student Publications, Bowling Green
- ZIRCONIA ALLEYNE | Small-business owner and former editor, The Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville
- RACHEL ARETAKIS | Breaking news editor, USA Today, Washington, D.C.
- LORI BECKER | Publisher, Nashville Business Journal, Nashville, Tennessee
- BRANDON CARTER | Social media, National Public Radio, Washington
- AMBRIEHL CRUTCHFIELD | Reporter, WPLN-NPR, Nashville, Tennessee
- NEIL BUDDE* | Small-business owner, Franklin, Tennessee
- MICHAEL CASAGRANDE | Sports reporter, AL.com, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- TOM CAUDILL*, Chair | Retired managing editor, Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington
- ASHLEE CLARK* | Vice president-digital, Louisville Public Media, Louisville
- MOUNT DAVIS | Regional sales manager, Evansville Courier & Press/LocalIQ, Evansville, Indiana
- TESSA DUVALL | Investigative reporter, Courier Journal, Louisville
- KRISTINA GOETZ | Lead writer, ALSAC-St. Jude, Louisville (SPAA president)
- LEE W. GRACE* | Attorney and president, Grace Title Group, Louisville (former SPAA president)
- MARGO S. GRACE* | Agent, Allstate Insurance, Louisville (former SPAA president)
- RICK GREEN | Executive editor, The Press-Democrat, Santa Rosa, California
- LISA JESSIE | Controller, C2 Strategic Communications, Louisville
- JOHN MARTIN | Reporter, Evansville Courier & Press, Evansville, Indiana
- DELANO MASSEY | Producer, CNN, New York
- LAROSA SHELTON | Social media specialist, Transamerica, Denver
- JAMIE SIZEMORE | Executive director, Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland; retired publisher, Kentucky Standard
- JOHN STAMPER | Deputy editor, Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington
- TOM YUNT | Retired COO, United Communications Corp., Kenosha, Wisconsin
We meet twice a year, once on Zoom and the other around Homecoming and the Student Publications Breakfast. From time to time, we’ll have a virtual meeting on shorter notice. It’s rare that the entire group can get together, but we always have a great collection of voices, viewpoints and advice any time we meet.
If you’d like to know more about this group, send me an email. I’d love to talk to you about it.