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Faculty member earns lifetime award from historians association

Ford Risley headshot

A Penn State faculty member has earned a lifetime award from the American Journalism Historians Association.

Distinguished Professor Ford Risley of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications was selected as the 2020 recipient of the Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History.

Risley, a longtime associate dean for undergraduate and graduate education in the Bellisario College, was heralded by colleagues who announced the award.

“Ford uplifts us all. He is the scholar’s gold standard,” said Tom Mascaro of Bowling Green State University, chair of the association’s awards committee.

Risley served as editor of the group’s journal, American Journalism, from 2014 to 2020. He is a renowned Civil War-era journalism scholar, the author of six book chapters and more than two dozen academic papers that have appeared in American Journalism, Journalism History, Civil War History, and Georgia Historical Quarterly. He has produced four books on Civil War-era journalism.

Fellow historians cited the importance of Risley’s efforts. “His work paved the way for others looking at how the press reported on the war, something you will discover when you talk to others who do research on that time period,” said David Copeland of Elon University.

They also praised Risley’s contributions as editor of American Journalism, as well as his leadership of the association in general.

“It requires skill to parse the value of manuscripts and find the right reviewers for them; it takes even more, plus a dash of tact, to negotiate the hazards of revision and resubmission with authors who don't always see eye to eye with reviewers. Ford was the ideal editor,” said Michael Sweeney of Ohio University. “As president of AJHA, (Ford) set in motion the process that led to the creation of an award for excellence in teaching. This relates to the scholarship foundation of the Kobre, because our research as historians vanishes like smoke on a windy day if we do not find ways to share it with audiences.”

Risley started his journalism career as a reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Times-Union, and Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He was editor of the Deerwood/Southpoint Messenger and freelance writer for the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times, among others.

He has previously been recognized with numerous top honors in the field. As a teacher, Risley has served on more than a dozen doctoral committees, a dozen master’s theses and multiple undergraduate honors committees.

Founded in 1981, the American Journalism Historians Association seeks to advance education and research in mass communication history. Members work to raise historical standards and ensure that all scholars and students recognize the vast importance of media history and apply this knowledge to the advancement of society.