Thomas C. Sorensen Seminar: Policymakers and the Fourth Estate: Working with the Media


The mass media, often referred to as the “Fourth Estate” of American society, fulfills an important role in American Society as a guardian to democracy and defender of public interest. Although the press has been blamed for a decline in participation and much of the cynicism leveled at the election process in recent years, it is still a fundamental element of American politics. A good, working relationship with the media is essential for policymakers to effectively convey their issues to the public.

The focus of this seminar was to address media issues for policymakers and others working in the policy arena who deal with the press. Participants learned about communicating effectively through the media, whether it be print, television, or radio. The seminar consisted of a presentation by experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and panels of journalists and policymakers who discussed how to effectively work with the media in such areas as getting a message to the public, strategic dissemination of information, and so on.

Seminar leaders:
Charlyne Berens is an associate professor of news-editorial in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from UNL. She teaches courses in news reporting and editing, the First Amendment, and media and society. She has written an autobiography of State Senator Jerome Warner, Leaving Your Mark, and is completing a book about the Nebraska Legislature, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press. Before joining academia, Berens was co-publisher and editor of the Seward County Independent, a community newspaper, for 14 years.

Kevin Smith is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He received an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and he has published widely as an academic policy analyst on a variety of issues including crime, reproductive health, drug policy, and education. His book, The Case Against School Choice: Politics, Markets, and Fools, is widely used by education policymakers. Prior to becoming an academic, Dr. Smith was an award-winning investigative journalist and newspaper columnist for several publications, including Newsweek and the Kansas City Star. He is currently the associate editor of State Politics and Policy Quarterly, a scholarly journal of state-level policy analysis and politics.

Policymaking panelists:
Jeanne Atkinson has worked in public relations since 1985 and is currently a public information officer with the Communications and Legislative Services Division of Nebraska’s Health and Human Services System. She has worked in state government since 1968, holding various positions in the Departments of Roads, Aging, Public Institutions, and the Health and Human Services System. Jeanne interacts daily with members of the media, HHSS programs, and the Governor’s Office, and is very familiar with government policies and the legislative process. She received a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism in 1989.

Dara Troutman is currently assistant general manager for Communications and Government Relations for Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, representing the Nebraska ETV Network and Nebraska Public Radio Network. She served as deputy press secretary for former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey and as press secretary and deputy director of public affairs for former Governor Ben Nelson. She also served as assistant vice president for External Affairs and director of Communications for the University of Nebraska. Ms. Troutman has undergraduate and graduate degrees in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is active in local and state politics and serves on the boards of several community organizations.

Phil Young was a senior editorial assistant in the White House Press Office under President Ronald Reagan. He worked as a legislative assistant and press secretary for three members of Congress and US Senator Dave Karnes, as well as for two state senators in the Nebraska Unicameral, and was deputy campaign manager for then-Representative Hal Daub’s 1984 congressional campaign. Mr. Young has also served as the executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party. Mr. Young currently heads his own firm, The Philip M. Young Company, and performs public relations, crisis management, government affairs, and political consulting services for local, state, and national clients. He was born and raised in Lincoln, attended Lincoln public schools, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1982 with a degree in political science.

Media panelists:
Nancy Hicks has reported on local and state issues for the Lincoln Star and the Omaha World Herald for the past 30 years and currently reports for the Lincoln Journal Star. She was the opinion page editor for the Lincoln Star and later the Lincoln Journal Star for nine years. Ms. Hicks has covered county government, the Lincoln public school system, the university and state college systems, and state government. She has followed state government during the administrations, or portions of administrations, of every Nebraska executive since Gov. Charles Thone. She has a BS degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

Fred Knapp is a reporter/producer for Nebraska Public Radio who also occasionally reports for Nebraska Public Television, covering the Legislature, state government, and other topics. A graduate of Yale and Columbia, he has worked in a variety of media and government positions. His government experience includes working in public and cultural affairs for the US Information Agency in Pakistan, as well as drafting and analyzing legislation for the Ohio General Assembly. Before joining Nebraska Public Radio in 2002, he reported for the Lincoln Journal Star and Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper in Japan, as well as newspapers in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Brad Penner began his broadcasting career on a high school radio show in his hometown of Beatrice. He wanted to be a radio play-by-play guy for the Huskers but settled for a career in television. He started at KOLN/KGIN while he was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He worked there as a reporter and sports anchor until 1993 when he joined the Nebraska ETV Network. Brad produced NETV’s legislative coverage for two years, before joining STATEWIDE full time. He’s currently the series producer for STATEWIDE. Brad and his wife Angela live in Lincoln with their three children. He claims being a dad is the toughest job he has, but also the most important. Brad coaches youth sports and is a volunteer mentor in the TeamMates program. He’s also involved in youth activities at St. Mark’s Church. Despite his advancing age, Brad enjoys playing basketball, softball, and golf.

Leslie Reed has covered the Legislature for the Omaha World-Herald since 1994 and has been bureau chief since 1999. She has covered the courts, prisons, and death penalty cases for the World-Herald, and previously worked for the Lincoln Journal, handling a variety of assignments from lifestyle and weather to the Nebraska Supreme Court and US District Court in Lincoln. Ms. Reed is a 1983 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Journalism and grew up on a farm in southeast Nebraska.

Seminar sponsored by the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Arts and Sciences, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.