This story was republished with permission of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
Associate Professor Debora Wenger faces the dynamic environment of journalism with an enthusiastic energy. She not only embraces this new world, she spearheads it with her design of curriculum and educational writing.
“My husband calls me a change junkie,” Wenger said. “He says that if there isn’t change going on, I manufacture it.”
Part of her excitement for change comes from her love of learning. Wenger said the best thing about being in higher education is that she constantly learns new things.
“I worked in television, and now I get to think about television,” Wenger said. “When you’re working, you’re getting the job done — you rely on instinct and reflex. Now I get to think about ‘what made this story powerful?’”
While getting an English degree with a minor in mass communications at Minnesota State University, Wenger was involved in newswriting and broadcast reporting. She planned to go to law school after she graduated, but instead she got her first job in broadcast television. Wenger later went on to obtain a Master of Arts in English language and literature/letters from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 1995. She continued her career as an executive producer for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, and her last job in the industry was assistant news director for WFLA-TV in the Tampa, Florida, area.
Now Wenger is a broadcast and multimedia educator and the head of the undergraduate journalism department at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She began teaching as an assistant professor of new media at Virginia Commonwealth University, and then made her way to Mississippi after her husband was hired in the School of Accountancy.
At the University of Mississippi, she teaches a broad range of classes from freshman Journalism 101 to the capstone course. Wenger said she enjoys having a range of courses and that it keeps her grounded in understanding what the students of her department need.
Wenger, a veteran of the media industry, brings first-hand knowledge into her classrooms. Kelly Savage, a senior student of the Meek School who took Wenger’s Media Management course and sees Wenger for advising, said she is thankful to have a mentor and professor who is helpful and patient.
“She is extremely knowledgeable about new approaches within media and has demonstrated her ability to possess years of experience and knowledge that is still relevant to broadcast and print media today,” Savage said.
The Media Management course is technology-based, with many of the assignments being mock Facebook posts and things pertaining to social media, as well as required interviews with media managers who are directly involved in today’s market challenges. She appreciates that Wenger structures her course that way because it prepares students for a career in the field.
Not only does Wenger educate those students who take her classes, she has input into classrooms throughout the nation. To help her in teaching, Wenger co-authored a textbook, “Advancing the Story: Broadcast Journalism in a Multimedia World.” It is now in its third edition and has been adopted in about 150 universities.
“‘Advancing the Story’ is a direct result of the teaching that I was doing,” Wenger said. “At least on the broadcast side, there wasn’t a book at the time that truly looked at the multi-platform role that broadcast was playing.”
As head of the journalism department, Wenger encourages faculty members to infuse the latest practices of the media industry into their classes. Today, almost all of the courses offered at the Meek School incorporate social media, she said, and faculty now include mobile devices in the curriculum.
Most recently, Wenger has added audience analytics to her curriculum. This new way of knowing the audience, powered by data gathered from systems such as Google Analytics, is the framework for her newest co-authored publication, “Managing Today’s News Media: Audience First.”
“The amount of instant feedback that we get from our audience has never been greater,” Wenger said. “You get into kind of a controversy in the world of journalism when you say that you are going to let audience data drive your decisions. My view is I think we can use what we learn about our audience to tell important stories better.”
Even though this approach may be controversial, it is just another way Wenger stays on top of current practices in media.
Scott Fiene, head of the Meek School’s integrated marketing communications program, said that Wenger is not afraid to share her opinions. He described her as resilient.
“She always pushes forward and makes things happen even if they hit snags,” Fiene said.
Wenger, who expects to have her Ph.D. in journalism completed in the next year, continues the conversation on mass media’s new approaches and techniques on her blog, advancingthestory.com. She hopes that above all, her students maintain an enthusiasm for learning what’s next and new, and that they use their knowledge and understanding as a tool to tell better stories.
By Hayley Ramagos, an IMC graduate (’16) of the Meek School from Winona, Mississippi
The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).
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