‘Special Edition for Ms. Thrasher’: Arkansas State Herald Honors Longtime Adviser

“The loss of an adviser is something indescribable to a college newspaper staff. It was impossible to fully understand and appreciate the extent of Ms. Thrasher’s work and dedication to this publication and staff until she was gone. That woman was truly amazing. She was the soul of our newspaper and the heart of our staff.”

The Herald at Arkansas State University has put together a special edition honoring the life, work and legacy of longtime adviser and journalism instructor Bonnie Thrasher.

Thrasher, who passed away in her sleep early last week, served as Herald adviser since 1993 and was a respected leader within the college media community — she was College Media Association (CMA) vice president at the time of her death.

The Herald’s tribute — identified on Issuu as a “Special Edition for Ms. Thrasher” — is a colorful, candid eight-page memorial. Published yesterday, it contains photos of Thrasher at work and at play; reflections from current and former Herald staffers, professional colleagues and friends; and an announcement about the formation of the Bonnie Thrasher Memorial Scholarship.

In the exclusive Q&A below, Herald editor-in-chief Emily Alexander kindly discusses the creation, significance and personal impact of the special edition and the woman it strives to honor.

When considering how best to report on her passing and honor her legacy, what compelled you and the staff to produce this special edition? And what went into creating it?

When trying to figure out a way to honor the legacy of our beloved adviser, Bonnie Thrasher, my staff quickly came up with several ideas. Scholarships were brought up, as well as renaming our newsroom after her. We knew we wanted to do something more immediate. Originally, we were going to dedicate one page to serve as a memorial ad for her. However, after the overwhelming amount of people who reached out sending us tributes and brainstorming on more appropriate and deserving ways to honor her, we came to the decision to create the special edition entirely in memory of Thrasher. The amount of support we have received and the positive response we have gotten since printing has shown us that we made the right decision.

Creating the paper was hectic. It was a very stressful week, but never have I been more impressed with my staff. To transition from the plans of our regular newspaper to a memorial special edition midweek was difficult to say the least. Immediately, people began sharing ideas and volunteering to take on stories and collect photos. I posted on Thrasher’s Facebook page asking for people to send in submissions of their favorite memories of Thrasher, and got an overwhelming amount of content. We quickly had too much content for the paper.

Possibly the most difficult part of the process, because everyone was so eager to contribute to the newspaper, was organization. There was an intense amount of pressure on how we would organize this edition and what content we would choose. Thrasher was a tough and professional adviser, but was very loved by many, so we knew our paper needed to meet her journalistic standards and be a respectful tribute to her memory and legacy. Everyone who knew her was counting on us. I’m proud of the work we did.

“Personally, I am most proud of the effort my staff put into making this edition a beautiful tribute to a woman who meant so very much to us all. Every single person who contributed content to this edition of The Herald or who worked on the production of it loved Bonnie Thrasher, and I truly think that love has shown through in this issue.” – Alexander

What part of the edition are you most proud of journalistically or is the most meaningful to you on a personal level as someone who knew and worked with Bonnie?

I am proud of the special edition honoring Ms. Thrasher both on a journalistic and personal level. Journalistically, I think this is the most AP-accurate issue, with the least amount of mistakes we’ve had all year. Not to say we make a ton of mistakes, but we were extra careful this time for her. We asked our interim adviser to come in as well, as an extra set of eyes to edit every page multiple times.

We strived for perfection for Ms. Thrasher because she always gave us her best. I was also very impressed with the overall design of the pages. My associate editors worked hard and put a lot of effort into this paper. They took criticism like champs and did all they could to ensure we had a quality newspaper. I think there was still some fear in us all that Thrasher would bring us this newspaper the next day marked up with her infamous red ink pen. In all seriousness, I’m so proud of the job we did. I think we included what was important and managed to put our personal feelings aside to produce a great special edition.

Personally, I am most proud of the effort my staff put into making this edition a beautiful tribute to a woman who meant so very much to us all. Every single person who contributed content to this edition of the Herald or who worked on the production of it loved Bonnie Thrasher, and I truly think that love has shown through in this issue.

What is your response to those who might question whether an adviser’s death is newsworthy or significant enough to warrant a full special issue?

Losing an adviser is something I would not wish upon any newspaper staff. It has been the hardest part of my college career. As editor-in-chief, the relationship built between Ms. Thrasher and myself quickly escalated into a friendship. However, it didn’t take long to realize that Ms. Thrasher had that kind of relationship with everyone she knew. She genuinely cared. She was a major part of not only our staff members’ lives, but the lives of several members of the community, students, faculty and alumni. These groups of people serve as the core of our readership. She also had a huge presence in the journalism world, including serving as vice president for the College Media Association, the national organizational board for college media advisers and as secretary-treasurer for the Southeast Journalism Conference. To say she made an impact on many lives is an understatement.

I have no regrets and completely stand behind our decision to dedicate an entire issue to a woman who has selflessly dedicated 20+ years of her life to the field of journalism and so many people in it. It did not just serve as an indulgence and healing process for our staff, but as a tribute to someone who has had such a large effect on our profession. Bonnie Thrasher deserved much more than an eight-page special edition of the Herald. And judging by the requests and positive reactions we have received from our readers, it is evident to me that we delivered what our viewers wanted and needed at this time. I am very pleased with our decision to dedicate an entire issue to her.

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