Dr. Kathleen McElroy’s first memory of news was the day John F. Kennedy’s funeral was broadcast in November of 1963.
“It was the first day of my life in which cartoons were not on TV,” McElroy said. She was 3 at the time.
Now 56, McElroy sees that memory as an example of the way media shaped her world.
She teaches at Oklahoma State University as an assistant professor of multimedia, journalism and sports media.
McElroy said she considers herself a “dinosaur” because the way she accesses media is completely different from younger generations. She grew up in a family who read newspapers and talked about current events.
She spoke to that younger generation Oct. 1 in Professor Sue Hinton’s journalism class.
McElroy’s resume sparkles with success. She worked as an editor at the New York Times, a task she said was sometimes “like cleaning up behind elephants.”
As Page 1 editor at the Times, she said, she helped decide which Abu Ghraib photos to put on the cover. Abu Ghraib was a military prison in Iraq where some U.S. soldiers took hundreds of photos showing the mistreatment of prisoners.
McElroy came to the class to talk about her journey through the media landscape to OCCC students preparing for their own explorations in the scene.
She inspired the students by telling her history.
“Forget the whole idea of a perfect career trajectory,” McElroy said. “You don’t have to have it.”
She spoke of her own decisions, made from real life predicaments, after she graduated from Texas A&M University.
She decided to move from the Bryan-College Station Eagle, a Texas newspaper with a circulation of 20,000 people at the time, to a mere 6,000 circulation paper, the Huntsville Item.
“What is Huntsville famous for?” she asked the class.
Punching a fist in the air, she answered, “Yes! Executing people.”
She said her journalism colleagues told her she would “die there” at the Huntsville Item, and pleaded with her not to take the job.
But McElroy said it was the right decision. Her husband had found a job in Huntsville, and could not find work in Bryan-College Station.
“If you must take a job because it pays bills, or [you] need to be close to [your] family, then you do it.” McElroy said. “If it’s the right thing to do, you do it.”
The decision led her to other better jobs, including the New York Times, only six years after working at the Huntsville Item.
In New York, she was sent to the Olympics, the World Series, and served as sports editor before becoming Page 1 editor.
She encouraged students to have a concept of what their perfect world would be, choose what they like to do, and surround themselves with people and things that make them happy.
Quickly finishing her doctoral degree, she had plans to travel when someone told her to apply at OSU. She got the job, and accepted it because she wanted something new.
“I’ve never had a backyard before,” McElroy said. She says she enjoys living in Stillwater.
McElroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.