Hall of Fame Inductee Hansen's Impact Felt by Students, Commonwealth

Hansen photo

“Not everyone," said Cassondra Kirby-Mullins, "is fortunate to have an educator that goes above and beyond the call of duty."

For the 2005 Eastern Kentucky University graduate, that extra-mile mentor was Dr. Liz Hansen, Foundation professor of journalism at EKU and chair of the University’s Department of Communication.

And Kirby-Mullins is far from alone in her regard for Hansen's impact, which has been felt throughout the Commonwealth, as evidenced by her recent selection to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Hansen will be formally inducted on Tuesday, April 29.

Passing along her congratulations on Facebook, Kirby-Mullins said Hansen "changed something deep within" her. "She was there to help me understand and learn, and to motivate me to greater achievements. She was there when my mother died."

Hansen's impact was hardly limited to students passing through the EKU journalism program over the past 27 years. Under her leadership as its president, the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists received a national Circle of Excellence Award for its Campus Relations and Scholarship activities and received one of two national chapter awards for promoting diversity among journalists. She also was named the Most Valuable Member of the Kentucky Press Association for her work on a statewide audit.

Her passion for community journalism – her first job was at a community daily in her native Arkansas and her master's thesis was a study of a tiny weekly in rural Iowa – led her to be involved from the beginning with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues based at the University of Kentucky. She also was head of the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Hansen has involved her EKU students in 14 community journalism projects with newspapers throughout central and eastern Kentucky.

"I love the connection a good community newspaper has with its community and its readers," she said. "I saw the importance of a community newspaper in my own family. My family left Marion County, Arkansas, in 1958, and never lived there again. Yet my father subscribed to The Mountain Echo (now the Mountaineer Echo), the weekly that serves Marion County, from 1958 until his death in 2006 at the age of 96. The paper provided him with a connection to and information about his home county he could get nowhere else. That's the power of community papers."

Another of Hansen's passions – ethics in journalism – arose from sticky dilemmas she encountered early in her career and the occasional unethical behavior she witnessed in the media. Her involvement in the SPJ and in three major ethics workshops in the early 1990s further fueled her interest and led to her creating a Media Ethics class for her department in 1993.

As she prepares to retire at the conclusion of this academic year, Hansen reflected on her possible legacy:

"I hope I've helped educate journalists who want to work for community newspapers and who understand the important role community newspapers play in promoting democracy, building community and recording the history of their communities. I hope I've helped educate journalists who perform their jobs ethically and have the tools to make good, justifiable decisions when faced with difficult situations.       

"Also, I hope I have made a difference in some way not only for those who have pursued careers in journalism but also those who have taken different paths and found their niche in public relations, law, education, government, law enforcement and other fields."

The Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame was established in 1980 by the University of Kentucky Journalism Alumni Association in order to recognize Kentuckians who have made significant contributions to the journalism profession. Interestingly, one of Hansen's fellow inductees this year is Hunter S. Thompson, creator of Gonzo journalism.

Hansen recalled the time in the early 1990s when EKU students Jeff Newton and Philip Todd, both huge Thompson fans, set out for Colorado to meet their hero. They hung out in a bar Thompson was known to frequent until he showed up. They struck up a conversation, eventually drawing an invitation to Thompson's home. At the end of the visit, Thompson gave the awestruck pair gas money for their return trip to Richmond.

When she learned Thompson was in her induction class, Hansen contacted Newton, now a producer for 60 Minutes and a member of EKU's Hall of Distinguished Alumni, and Todd, now a college professor in Oklahoma.

"First," Todd replied, "congratulations on your well-deserved recognition. Second, seeing that Jeff and Hunter Thompson attended the same school (in Louisville), it makes complete sense that Karma would put you and the late Dr. Gonzo in the same cohort."

Published on April 04, 2014