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Brammer, Harris discuss state of journalism at Campbellsville University Media Appreciation Luncheon

Jack Brammer, left, and Julie Nelson Harris participate in a panel discussion during the Media Appreciation Luncheon. (Campbellsville University Photo by Daisy Rodriguez)

By Gerard Flanagan, news writer/photographer/social media, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Jack Brammer knew from a young age writing would be a large part of his life.

As a fifth grader in his hometown of Maysville, Ky., Brammer began keeping a diary—something he has remained faithful to for 60 years.

“I’ve always liked to write,” Brammer, the former Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader, said at the 17th annual Media Appreciation Luncheon April 14 in the BASC Banquet Hall at Campbellsville University.

Brammer participated in a panel discussion with Julie Nelson Harris, City of Somerset communications director.

The luncheon was the first since 2019, with the event in 2020 and 2021 canceled due to COVID-19.

During the luncheon, Stan McKinney, chair of the Department of Mass Communication and associate professor of journalism who is retiring this summer, was presented with a plaque thanking him for his 22 years as a full-time professor and 13 years as an adjunct.

“I look back over my life, and at every point when I needed a change, it happened,” McKinney said. “I’m blessed to have known all of you.”

McKinney moderated the panel discussion.

Stan McKinney, chair of the Department of Mass Communication and associate professor of journalism, speaks after being given an award from Jeannie Clark, general manager of WLCU-TV/FM and assistant professor of broadcasting. (Campbellsville University Photo by Daisy Rodriguez)

The panel discussion was also to include Phillip Murrell, chief photojournalist at WHAS-11, and Andrea Stahlman, news director at WLKY. However, Murrell and Stahlman could not participate, as they were covering the aftermath of a tornado that hit Louisville the night before.

In his time covering state government, Brammer covered the terms of 10 Kentucky governors, beginning with Julian Carroll and ending with Andy Beshear. Brammer also covered 58 sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Brammer, a 2018 inductee into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, retired in December after 43 years covering state government. After a short retirement, Brammer picked up work as a freelance writer for Kentucky Monthly, Northern Kentucky Tribune and other publications.

Brammer’s newspaper career began at The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville. He stayed there for two years before joining the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“Since 1976, I’ve made a living out of asking people questions and then writing their answers, hopefully accurately, and put them in some way in the paper that’s informative and entertaining to the reader,” Brammer said.

“If there’s anything I’m most proud of, it’s, ‘that Brammer guy was fair,’ whether it was a controversial issue or not. I respected the views of each person I talked to. It’s not my job to express an opinion. I worked very hard trying to keep any personal bias out of the paper.”

But, Brammer said everyone has biases.

“I had a professor at the University of Kentucky tell his journalism students, ‘The only way you can be completely objective is to die,’” Brammer said. “All of us carry with us our prejudices and biases.

“You got to learn to put those biases and prejudices aside and do your job as being a conduit of accurate, correct information.”

Brammer said the number of journalists has shrunk considerably over the years.

“The resources of journalism have changed, as newspapers have cut staff with the advent of the internet, and more people are getting their news online,” Brammer said.

In discussing the phrase “fake news,” Brammer said every profession has its bad actors, and journalism is no exception.

“Fake news, usually, I think people use that and they don’t understand how many good journalists are out there who are very concerned about the world and don’t really have an agenda other than the idealistic agenda of making the world a better place for all of us,” Brammer said.

“Fake news, it irks me a little bit, but I understand where that person is coming from.”

Getting people’s names correct in stories is a crucial part of maintaining credibility, according to Brammer.

“If a reader sees someone’s name is wrong, they’re not going to believe anything in that story, and your credibility has already gone down,” Brammer said.

“Names are so important. Be sure you got their name spelled correctly. Even let them look at it and say, ‘Is this how you spell your name?’”

Brammer’s advice on remembering names is to say the person’s name when you first meet them. Brammer also said to repeat their name during the conversation.

“When you leave, if you think you’re going to run into them, get your notebook out, write their name and write down some qualifying distinction,” he said. “Next time you see them, you’ll know their name, and they won’t know yours.

“They’ll be slightly embarrassed, and they’ll learn your name slightly faster.”

Harris worked for 10 years at community newspapers across Kentucky. She is a 2005 recipient of the Max Heath Gold Star Award for Everyday Excellence in Community Journalism. The award honors the legacy of Heath, a 1969 graduate of Campbellsville College who served in the media and who would praise good work with a gold star sticker and encouraging notes in purple ink.

Her father, John Nelson, was an editor and publisher in Landmark Community Newspapers as was Heath. Nelson was also editorial director for Landmark from 2017 until Landmark sold to Paxton Media Group last year.

“I spent a lot of my free time hanging out with him [my father] as a kid,” Harris said, “learning everything I could get my hands on about journalism, even though I didn’t know I was learning.”

Harris introduced her father, who attended the media luncheon. Each panelist had a photo behind them on the stage, and Harris chose a photo of her and her father from her childhood.

“I chose this photograph, because every time I look at it, I think about the great lessons I’ve learned,” she said. “I learned to believe in something bigger than myself with this guy.”

Harris said she originally went to college to study engineering.

“I had a professor tell me writing wouldn’t apply in my job, and that didn’t sound very fulfilling to me,” she said.

Harris said social media presents many benefits, such as being an easier way to communicate.

“In a communications role for a city government and economic development authority, we use social media as a way of being a news source to our residents and our businesses,” she said. “It is incredibly valuable in that way.”

But, Harris said social media can be “devastating” at times.

“I think we have to be very careful with this tool we have,” she said. “Journalists especially can use it for good and use it as a way to show what news is really about, what the truth is, what accurate information is and being fair and kind.

“I’d like to see more of that on social media. We don’t see enough of it.”

As for finding credible information, Harris has a rule of thumb she learned from her father.

“If you read about the same story in three different publications, and you get the same facts, you can feel pretty confident you’re getting the right story,” she said.

“I think you have a responsibility to make sure you are seeking multiple sources for great information about something you’re interested in.”

Harris said a free press is “absolutely essential” to democracy.

“It is just crucial that we be able to seek our own information and ask questions so we know what’s happening in our own government and that we are free to express our disapproval of it and challenge those people in power at every opportunity,” she said.

Brammer echoed Harris’ comments.

“The better informed you are, the better decisions you can make,” he said. “You can know who to vote for in the city council, who to vote for in the U.S. Senate or for governor and be informed about them from your own study, your own readings instead of what a party person has told you.

“You are an informed citizen, and you’re going to make the best decision regardless of that person. It’s not just for Julie and me, it’s for all of us.”

Dr. Joseph Hopkins, president of Campbellsville University, thanked members of the media for the work they do.

“We’re grateful for the place where you stand to make sure our community is wise, informed and healthy,” he said. “It’s difficult to overestimate the important work the media does, and we’re so thankful for you.”

In his university update, Hopkins discussed how Campbellsville emphasizes commitment to faith and excellence in academics as part of its mission.

“The way Campbellsville University marries together its commitment to excellence in faith and its commitment to excellence in academics puts it in a very narrow region of schools that would make that same commitment,” Hopkins said, “not pursuing academics and allowing faith to fall off to the side or pursuing faith and allowing academics to fall off to the side, but truly believing one helps the other as we seek to give our very best to Christ.”

Hopkins recognized Dr. Indra Sahu, assistant professor of physics, and his students for being recipients of a National Science Foundation grant.

“What’s happening here in these classrooms is not just of significance in this community or this state, it’s of significance in this nation,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins also recognized Lee Miracle, head women’s wrestling coach, and wrestlers Jackie Ghent and Kenya Sloan, NAIA national champion of the 150-pound weight class. The women’s wrestling team recently won the national championship.

“Campbellsville University is a place of champions,” Hopkins said. “We have athletic teams that are bringing significant attention to this campus and to this state. We’re proud of this team and their success.”

Lastly, he recognized Dr. Twyla Hernandez, professor of Christian missions, who led students on a mission trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Obviously, what’s going on at the border is a very complex situation but a place of need and service-learning opportunities,” Hopkins said.

Scarlett Birge, a junior from Park City, Ky., was named the Mass Communication Student Writer of the Year. Chosalin Morales, a junior from Erlanger, Ky., was named the Mass Communication Student Photographer of the Year. Birge and Morales were student co-chairs of the luncheon.

Otto Tennant, senior vice president for operations and administration, gave the invocation. During the invocation, a moment of silence was held for Tom McClendon, a radio personality in Russell and Taylor counties who died in a vehicle accident April 11.

The Bluegrass Ensemble provided special luncheon music. Hopkins sang a rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” with the Ensemble serving as accompanists.

Brayden Thomas, student office assistant in the Office of University Communications, gave the closing prayer.

Pioneer College Caterers Inc. provided the meal.

All media outlets were recognized for their exemplary service in covering the COVID-19 pandemic and given an award.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that has enrolled up to 12,000 students yearly. The university offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, masters, bachelors, associate and certification programs. The website for complete information is