MSU author’s ‘Birddogs and Tough Old Broads’ highlights women journalists in Mississippi

Published 10:33 am Friday, January 5, 2024

Book includes Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal’s Norma Fields’ importance in journalism

By Sarah Nicholas

Mississippi State faculty member Pete Smith showcases the experiences of women journalists throughout the course of a century in his new book “Birddogs and Tough Old Broads: Women Journalists of Mississippi and a Century of State Politics, 1880s-1980s.”

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Released this past fall, the book documents the professional experiences and observations of more than a dozen women journalists covering Mississippi state politics from the 1880s, after the end of Reconstruction when newspapers were the primary source of information, to the 1980s, a time marked by steady declines in both news revenue and circulation, and the emergence of corporate journalism. Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield, published the work.

Smith, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Communication, said the book is a continuation of his research examining 20th century journalism history and the role women journalists, like the late Norma Fields, played in covering issues of importance, political or otherwise.

“Fields, the first woman in Mississippi to cover the state capitol as a full-time correspondent—for the Tupelo-based Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal—was part of another research project that I completed a few years ago. Her papers are located here in Mitchell Memorial Library’s Special Collections, and as I sifted through her material, I wondered if there were others like her—women who covered the Mississippi political landscape and whose work in political journalism had been overlooked,” Smith said.

“As I mention in my book, there is no more important time for journalism than right now,” Smith said. “Journalists work to hold our elected officials accountable and are essential to a working democracy and the ideals of the First Amendment. I hope that my book reinforces the importance of journalism to the democratic process, and the role that women journalists have played, and continue to play, in that relationship.”

Smith was named MSU’s 2023 Mississippi Humanities Council Teacher of the Year and was a 2021 recipient of MSU’s inaugural Humanities Fellowship Award from the Institute for the Humanities.

In addition to Fields, his work has examined the journalism career of Carolyn Bennett Patterson, a native Mississippian and distinguished editor at National Geographic magazine. He also has studied how local and state media framed the political campaigns of Evelyn Gandy, the first woman to win election to multiple statewide offices, including lieutenant governor.

Smith additionally authored the book “Something on My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956” (Syracuse University Press) in 2007. He is a former president of the American Journalism Historians Association and is a contributing editor to Journalism Historythe official academic journal of the History Division of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is on the advisory board of the Mississippi Free Press.

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