Written by Catherine Cromer.
Wanda Garner Cash, a community newspaper veteran with more than 25 years’ experience and former Associate Director of the University of Texas School of Journalism, is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Honoree.
During her 10 years at UT, Wanda served as a clinical professor, the first Fellow to the S. Griffin Singer Professorship, and chairman of the executive committee of Texas Student Media. Retired as of 2016, Wanda has led a career devoted to mentoring young journalists and advocating for open government and public access. In fact, in a galaxy far, far away and long ago, she was a high school journalism teacher.
We were pleased to have a chance to speak with Wanda this weekend!
WCA: What led you to pursue a career in communications?
I was always nosy as a child. While attending an all-girl’s Catholic school, I had to know what the nuns were wearing under their habits. The rest is history.
WCA: Tell us about your communications experience. What are some of the highlights for you?
I worked in advertising, newspaper reporting, editing, and publishing. My husband and I owned a weekly newspaper for a while. I also taught high school journalism, worked as a college journalism professor, and more recently served as the Associate Director at UT Austin’s School of Journalism.
Some of the highlights of my career are doing investigative reporting and exposing stories – making a difference in people’s lives. While working at Ingram News, a weekly newspaper, I reported on the financial misuse at a local co-op where money should have been going to the members. Similarly, while working for The Facts, a Brazoria County paper, I wrote a story that uncovered brutality against prisoners in private prisons.
WCA: What is one the greatest risks you took in your career? How did it work out?
In communications, there is always a risk of angering people. People get angry at what you write. They want to be heard, but there are always those who are going to take offense to what you have written.
I was fired from my job at the Kerrville Daily Times when I reported on a near-drowning death in which the victim was taken off life support by the hospital without consulting the family. (The hospital was a major employer and advertiser.)
Although I was fired, that moment propelled me forward into a 16-year career in newspapers before joining the University of Texas, Austin.
You take a bad incident, and in hindsight realize it was the best thing that could have happened. It certainly paid off.
WCA: How have you seen communications evolve during your career, and what predictions do you have for its future?
I see more women in leadership roles in the newsrooms. As we know, women are empathetic and better managers, and bring a lot of humanity to reporting.
One major change has been the Internet. It has made reporting easier and a lot faster. The industry is less limited by silos and singular roles. Today, you can do everything, whether broadcast, print, digital, different types of reporting beats, coding, data searching…
Reporting has been reinvigorated by the current political climate and that is very encouraging to see. Newspapers are competing against each other for the big scoops. There is a lot of more passion in the young journalists. They really are inspired to dig and do good investigative reporting and that makes for great journalism.
WCA: Congrats again on your retirement! What are some of your favorite things to do now that you have retired?
I still do a lot of reading and that includes staying on top of the news.
I love to travel and be outdoors. I particularly enjoy the hill country and the wildlife. Just relaxing. Its liberating not to have a schedule.
WCA: What advice would you give to a new professional communicator who is building his or her career?
Be a generalist. Be well and widely read. Know a little bit about everything and specialize in something about which you are passionate. The more you know about what’s going on in the world, the better communicator you will be.
I emphasized to my students they needed to read every day to bring context to what they do and how things fit into the big picture, and I still hold to that.
WCA: What does the Banner 2017 theme “Opportunity Blooms” mean to you?
In today’s world, no matter what field of communications in there is opportunity. They are all portable skills to any job that’s out there. If you can read and write coherently and express yourself you can name your job. We are no longer limited.
Such great advice! Join us on April 8, 2017 and celebrate Wanda Cash’s lifetime achievements with us at Banner Brunch. Get your tickets today online.