2017 Ann Devroy Memorial Forum recognizes contributions of past and present journalists

Guest speaker and political reporter Jenna Johnson will tell her story from the campaign trail


Photo by Submitted

UW-Eau Claire invited Jenna Johnson, a political reporter at the Washington Post, to speak at the 20th Ann Devroy Memorial Forum.

For 20 years, the Ann Devroy Memorial Forum has recognized the contributions made by past and present journalists. Following one of the United States’ most polarizing election cycles, the need for reliable journalism became even more apparent.

David Gordon, emeritus professor and former chair of the communication and journalism department, said good journalism is the foundation to a properly functioning government, political process and society.

“If the public is going to be involved in advocating for or against policies and legislation in between elections, we should be far better off if those advocates were informed about the issues,” Gordon said. “And the information that allows citizens to make informed decisions pretty much has to come from the professional news media.”

As an example of good journalism, Gordon said Ann Devroy served as a role model for journalists through her work as a “tireless, no-nonsense political reporter.”

Devroy, a 1970 graduate from UW-Eau Claire, went on to become a White House correspondent for more than 15 years, and she became a legend among her peers and colleagues for her persistence, accuracy and tenacity.

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation established the Devroy Forum and the Devroy Memorial Fund to celebrate her contributions to the field of journalism and provide one Eau Claire journalism student with the Devroy Scholarship every year. The scholarship includes a residency at the Washington Post in January.

Gordon said Eau Claire collaborated with former deputy managing editor of the Washington Post, Milton Coleman, to establish the Devroy endowment after her death in 1997.

At the first Devroy Forum, Coleman arranged for David Broder to visit Eau Claire; at the time, Gordon said Broder was one of the best political reporters of all time. Since then, the series has invited numerous high-profile speakers.

This year, Jenna Johnson, a political reporter from the Washington Post, will speak at the Devroy Forum about her time covering the campaign trail and the White House, with her presentation entitled “The Trump Movement: Telling stories of Americans who made him president.”

For Johnson, Devroy provided an outstanding example for how she approaches her job.

“Her approach to things was, she was not on television all the time, being a pundit on the news of the day,” Johnson said. “She was working.” Johnson added she recalled hearing Devroy once wrote 300 stories in one year, which encouraged her to work even harder.

Johnson said she and her family consider journalism a “public service” because it provides people with information that may not otherwise get adequate attention. While on the campaign trail, Johnson spoke with constituents about their opinions on the administration, which was her favorite part of the job.

Johnson also acknowledged the need for traditional news has become increasingly necessary when reporting due to the amount of individualized platforms. She hopes people will turn back to traditional newspapers to ensure they are getting the full, accurate stories.

“There’s no fact police out there, certifying some news sources over others,” Johnson said, “so I’m hoping that people more and more are realizing that they want to get their information from a news organization that has standards and that have a track record and that they can trust.”

Through her experiences as a political journalist, Johnson said she hopes to inspire students to pursue political reporting at all levels. She said the past election demonstrated the East Coast was out of touch with what was happening in other parts of the country, including the Midwest.

“I think it’s important for students to know that anyone can do these jobs and that journalism needs students from the Midwest, who grew up in smaller communities and who understand that part of the country,” Johnson said.

Kiri Salinas, a senior journalism student, said she will be attending the Devroy Forum. From it, she hopes to gain more insight into how a political reporter operates, especially since people rarely get to hear their side of the story.

Salinas, who will be going into broadcast journalism after graduation, said she feels confident in the future of journalism, especially with role models like Devroy.

“She (Devroy) serves as a role model by how powerful her presence was. People were scared to say no to her,” Salinas said. “By having a woman like her make it so far in this field, it can be truly inspiring for young journalists to go after what they want, just like she did.”

The Devroy Forum will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 27 in Schofield Auditorium. No tickets are required for this event.

The upcoming week will also feature a number of events celebrating Eau Claire’s centennial and the department of communication and journalism, including:

  • Journalism at the Movies Film Series: 6 p.m. April 24, April 26 and May 1 in Hibbard Hall 102. Three films about journalism will be presented — “Good Night, And Good Luck,” “Frost/Nixon” and “All the Presidents Men” — followed by a discussion.
  • “The Talking Points Podcast”: 2:30 p.m. April 25 in Hibbard Hall 102 for a Q&A, followed by the live taping at 4 p.m.
  • Alumni/Faculty Reunion: 7:30 p.m. April 28 in the Hibbard Hall Penthouse