COLLEGE PARK, Md. (March 27) – The Philip Merrill College of Journalism has awarded the first annual Ray Hiebert History of Journalism Endowed Award to Dr. Rob Wells for his 2016 Ph.D. dissertation, “A Reporter’s Paper: The National Thrift News, Journalistic Autonomy and the Savings and Loan Crisis.”

“I really owe a big debt of gratitude to Sarah Oates, David Sicilia, Kalyani Chadha, Ira Chinoy and Mark Feldstein, who were a very tough but supportive dissertation committee,” said Wells. “This is a great honor, considering the significant tradition of research and writing on journalism history at Maryland. I’m glad to see scholarship in business journalism is getting recognized. Merrill College has done a lot to back business journalism research and coursework.”

The Best Work in Journalism History

The Hiebert Award, which includes a $1,000 honorarium in its inaugural year, is for the best work in journalism history by any graduate student or faculty member at Merrill College.  The award may be given for a doctoral dissertation, master’s thesis, article published in peer-reviewed research journal, or a book published by a reputable publisher.

In his research, Dr. Wells asked how a small trade newspaper, the National Thrift News, was able to succeed in revelatory reporting on the 1980s savings and loan crisis at times when larger news organizations fell short in fulfilling a watchdog role.  “The National Thrift News,” he found, “created a newsroom environment that celebrated reporter autonomy and independence. In some cases, it used its insider knowledge and consistent beat reporting to serve both its core readers and the broader society by uncovering savings and loan corruption.”

The award committee hopes that this research will benefit journalists and news consumers by encouraging both the trade press and general-circulation news outlets to cover complicated financial issues effectively and to monitor corporate behavior and government regulation. The dissertation is available online.

Wells’ dissertation adviser was Merrill College Professor Sarah Oates.

The award committee was chaired by Merrill College Associate Professor Ira Chinoy and included Merrill Professors Linda Steiner and Carl Sessions Stepp and University of Maryland Department of History Associate Professor David Sicilia.

About Dr. Rob Wells

Since graduating in 2016, Dr. Wells has been an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. While at Merrill College, he taught basic and intermediate news reporting and writing, and he created and taught a course on business reporting. He earlier helped create a business journalism program as Reynolds Visiting Professor in the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.  Before his academic career, Wells was a journalist for more than two decades. He was deputy bureau chief in Washington, D.C., for The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires, covered business for Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, and reported for newspapers in California.

About Dr. Ray Hiebert

This award reflects the interest of Dr. Ray Hiebert – founding dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and himself a journalism historian – in the historic role of journalism in American life, politics, government and culture.  His intent in establishing this award has been to promote the teaching of journalism history in journalism education and to encourage research that sheds light on that history. Dr. Hiebert believes that the University of Maryland is ideally located for research in journalism history, especially because of the university’s proximity to the U.S. government’s most important history archives as well as access to the world’s news media and their historic records.