Fondren Receives 2022 Sweeney Award

Elisabeth Fondren, an assistant professor of journalism in the Division of Mass Communication at St. John’s University, has won the 2022 Michael S. Sweeney Award for her article, “The Mirror with a Memory”: The Great War through the Lens of Percy Brown, British Correspondent and Photojournalist (1914-1920).”

Presented by the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the Sweeney Award recognizes the outstanding article published in the previous volume of the scholarly journal Journalism History. In addition to receiving a plaque and cash prize, Fondren will be honored during the History Division’s awards gala at this year’s AEJMC conference in Detroit.

“I am very honored to receive this year’s Michael S. Sweeney Award and to be recognized for my research on Percy Brown, a British working class freelance photojournalist during World War I. Brown’s eyewitness perspective, his gripping pictures from the Western Front and his three years in enemy war prison illustrate the sacrifices journalists make during war. His story also sheds new light on how military and propaganda units blocked access to information, censored truths, and jailed reporters,” Fondren said.

Fondren’s article, published in Volume 47 Issue 1 of Journalism History, examines the “path of crazy paving” of Percy A. Brown, a British working-class carpenter, figure skater, photo correspondent, and magazine journalist, who covered the 20th century’s first mass media war. Brown — who is not yet a household name in terms of British war correspondents — would go on to become an international reporter, successful author, and Fleet Street personality. His personal history and biography exemplify at once the demands of war correspondents and photographers, and the professional and personal challenges that mediated these experiences.

The History Division’s Publications Committee selected Fondren’s article from among four finalists provided by Journalism History Editor Pam Parry.

The judges’ comments about Fondren’s winning article included:

“The essay is written with descriptive prose that draws the reader into the time and place to give a unique and challenging account of Brown’s life and work.”

“Fondren made excellent use of this rich archive of materials, particularly the notes and captions Brown included with his photographs. This article meets the journal’s mission by providing ‘a new, significant understanding about a topic in its broader context.’”

“The author offers an international perspective to the journal’s body of work on World War journalism and photojournalism by introducing readers to a unique, but unknown figure, whose story contributes to our understanding of wartime journalism, censorship, and propaganda.”

Fondren’s research program focuses on the history of international journalism, government propaganda, military-media relations, and freedom of speech during wartime. Her professional experiences span from government public relations, print and online journalism, to research communications in Germany, the U.K. and the United States.

The History Division created the Sweeney award in 2018 to honor Michael S. Sweeney, who served as editor of Journalism History from 2012 to 2018 and worked to ensure its future by initiating the transition from an independent publication to the official scholarly publication of the History Division.

“This award means so much to me because the late Dr. Sweeney, who wrote, correctly, that ‘news is a weapon of war,’ was an important mentor and a giant in the field of international propaganda, censorship and military-media tensions during conflicts,” Fondren said. “I am also grateful to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University for granting me permission to re-print Percy Brown’s original negatives and World War I photos in that article.”

The other finalists for the 2022 Sweeney Award were Stephan Bates for “A Free and Responsible University: The Hutchins Commission, the Press, and Academia,” Sheryl Kennedy Haydel for “For Country, Culture, and Respect: The Bennett Banner’s Use of Journalism to Promote Equality from a Black Feminist Perspective,” and Katrina J. Quinn for “Big Brains and the Solid South: The Role of the Press in the Election of 1880.”

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