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Communication Professor Sammye Johnson Walks in Both Worlds of Online Publishing and Print Magazines

By Susie P. Gonzalez

October 2009

Despite evolving technology and business models that are giving rise to new journalistic trends, Trinity University communication professor Sammye Johnson says magazines still matter. But the digital world of publishing has caught her interest, and she is a founding co-editor of The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture Journal (The IJPC Journal), an online academic journal with the highest standards of peer review.

The first volume of The IJPC Journal was published this fall as an outgrowth of a project started in 2000 by Joe Saltzman at the University of Southern California. “The project’s mission is to investigate and analyze the conflicting images of the journalist in film, television, radio, fiction, commercials, cartoons, comic books, video games, music, art, and other aspects of popular culture,” said Professor Johnson, the Carlos Augustus de Lozano Chair in Journalism in Trinity’s communication department.

In less than a decade, the IJPC Collection has grown into the largest collection of novels and short stories ever assembled about journalists, she said. It includes more than 11,300 DVD discs and videotapes, more than 5,000 hours of audiotapes and MP3 files, more than 8,500 novels, short stories, plays and poems, scripts, research materials, articles, art works and other artifacts. 

For a future article in The IJPC Journal, Professor Johnson plans to look critically at more than 40 novels published from 1990 to 2009 featuring a female war correspondent or journalist as a central character. Tentatively titled “The Female War Correspondent in Fiction: Covering Cold Wars, Hot Battles, and Covert Operations Around the World,” the analysis will examine the depiction of reporters like Paxton Andrews in Danielle Steel’s Message from Nam. “Paxton exemplifies glamour, grit, and guts,” said Professor Johnson, characteristics that she believes will be found in most of the fictional female war correspondents, “along with – of course – romance.”

An award-winning editor and writer, Professor Johnson said her fascination with how journalists are depicted in movies and books led to the development of a course for Trinity students. “Movies and novels have been influential in determining the public’s attitude toward journalists. I wanted to explore whether the popular culture portrayals of women journalists were accurate and realistic – in the newsroom, on the street covering stories, and at home with friends and family. Certainly, one of the key issues is whether a woman journalist can have a successful career and a successful marriage.”

Professor Johnson, the author of three books about the magazine industry, is currently updating the second edition of The Magazine from Cover to Cover, which is widely used in the magazine industry and has been praised by both professionals and educators. While newspapers are experiencing phenomenal circulation and advertising declines, many magazines, especially niche magazines, are thriving, Professor Johnson said, adding, “You are what you read.”

At Trinity, Professor Johnson has received the Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship, the University’s highest honor for excellence in teaching, as well as the University’s Distinguished Advising Award. She was named Magazine Educator of the Year in 1997 by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and was the first educator selected to participate in the Magazine Publishers of America Educator Exchange program at Fortune magazine. She holds a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Courses taught by Professor Johnson:

  • Magazine Writing
  • Magazines in America
  • Women Journalists in Films and Novels
  • Arts Criticism
  • First Year Seminar on Censorship and the Arts
  • Communication Capstone Seminar

Selected Publications of Professor Johnson:

Sammye Johnson, “The Relationship of Academic Scholarship to the Magazine Industry,” pp. 1-7 in Mapping the Magazine: Comparative Studies in Magazine Journalism, edited by Tim Holmes (New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2008).

Sammye Johnson and Patricia Prijatel, The Magazine from Cover to Cover, 2nd edition (New York. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Sammye Johnson, “Promoting Easy Sex Without Genuine Intimacy: Maxim and Cosmopolitan Cover Lines and Cover Images,” pp. 55-74 in Critical Thinking about Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Media Literacy Applications, edited by Mary-Lou Galician and Debra L. Merskin (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007).

Professor Johnson’s favorite movies with female magazine editors:

  • “The Women” (2008 version) with Annette Bening
  • “The Devil Wears Prada” (also a best-selling book) with Meryl Streep
  • “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” with Bebe Neuwirth

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