Eileen Wirth Authors Book on Nebraska Women Journalists
BY JILL BRUCKNER
By design, Eileen Wirth, Ph.D., is a bit of an anomaly: a university professor, parent and book author who is also a longtime media specialist and seasoned journalist.
“I’ve always been in media — media has allowed me to explore things I am fascinated with,” says Wirth, a journalism, media and computing department chair at Creighton University.
Over the course of her career, Wirth has weathered the sometimes fascinating, sometimes challenging transformation of mediated communication from primarily paper-based to mostly screen-centered. What hasn’t changed, she notes, is the need for solid writing skills.
“The number of good writers is going down. We went through a period where schools were not teaching grammar,” she says, referring to the whole-language-learning strategies of the ’90s — strategies where elementary and middle school students were “immersed” in language rather than receiving grammar-and-phonics instruction.
“I teach from a very solid traditional base of grammar and structure. Students with these skills will always be in demand,” she says, adding her students are prepared for “a world of constant change. If you can write, and you have some graphic skills, you are going to get jobs.”
A former Omaha World-Herald reporter and corporate public relations executive, Wirth, who not only holds an M.A. from the University of Minnesota, but also has a B.A., M.A, and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, uses her love of media and language to affirm college students’ ambitions with what colleagues call a tireless energy born of passion, promise and perseverance.
Clearly, Wirth loves her work.
Just the same, she says life is about balance, and that she considers herself fortunate to be paid to pursue interests about which she is passionate — including post-secondary education. “I am optimistic. The need for critically thinking, ethical people remains high. I’m preparing people for society,” she says of her work as an educator.
Wirth is also a frequent Creighton University blogger, reflecting on scripture and offering students advice online. “I love advising students,” she says. “I am really thinking that parents are often very baffled about what is going on in kids’ lives. I’m taking some of the mystery out of college for their kids writing this weekly blog, which parents follow closely.”
Add to this Wirth’s recent book, From Society Page to Front Page, Nebraska Women in Journalism, and the picture of a prolific writer — and passionate professor — emerges.
Writing the book, she says, was “very revealing. I learned so much about daily life and social history.” For example, “women had to sign contracts agreeing to be fired at the end of the war.”
Wirth also characterizes writing her book as one of the most rewarding things she has ever done. “My real hope for the book is people who read it will enjoy it and that women of a certain age will realize their own lives have been very important.”
Heralded by Defense Secretary (and former U.S. Senator) Chuck Hagel as “an inventory of inspiring and real-life stories of remarkable groundbreaking women journalists,” Wirth’s account of Nebraska journalists includes a nod to teens who launched weeklies in the state’s early years, as well as women whose deft writing made an early journalistic foot print on Capitol Hill.
In her research for the volume, published by the University of Nebraska Press, Wirth also discovered such gems as the oldest working journalist in the state — she was age 101 when Wirth interviewed her via phone.
While Wirth’s most recent book project offered perspective, she says a continued curiosity, as well as her commitment to career, family and friends, are what keep her grounded.
“I have two wonderful grown children and three grandkids,” she says, “When I was teaching full-time and getting my Ph.D., I’d say ‘I am doing the best I can.’ This meant some things, sometimes, were left half done.”
Over time, Wirth discovered successful, like-minded women in journalism measured accomplishments with a similar yardstick. In other words, they took care of themselves (Wirth has exercised daily since 1980), valued their work and realized their worth.
“We are not the first to do this,” she points out. “You can be just as accomplished running a weekly as covering the White House. It has to do with your choices.”
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