Drake University has welcomed the next Peggy Fisher and Larry Stelter Chair of Magazine and Brand Media, Professor Jennifer Wilson, to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication family.
She will be teaching magazine/brand media and multimedia journalism classes as well as administering the E. T. Meredith Center for Magazine, Brand Media and Multimedia Education.
“I started to meet the people in SJMC and thought, ‘These are my people,’” Wilson said. “I felt the same way when I walked into my first newsroom. I kind of looked around and thought, ‘Well, this is lucky.’”
Wilson earned her bachelor’s in journalism from Iowa State University and a master’s in writing from Bennington College. She singled out her work at Iowa State’s campus newspaper as the catalyst for her love of journalism.
“When I went to college, I found the Iowa State Daily. It was just a real life changer for me,” Wilson said. “I started my journalism career in earnest. I mean, we made real money at the beginning. We were all obsessed, working in journalism, we used a wax machine and pica poles and when you had to lose an inch off of your story, it was an actual inch so really, it started as just a place where people were looking for vital information and reporting work. That was something that I’d always liked. Just sort of naturally, the fact that that could be a career seemed way too lucky.”
After graduating, the award-winning Colfax, Iowa native began her career at Des Moines’ CityView magazine as a reporter for a few years before transitioning to senior travel writer for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine. While at CityView, Wilson met fellow Drake journalism professor Jeff Inman, who helped Wilson navigate the fine line of work-life balance
“He actually taught me how to be a stay-at-home parent. When he first came back to Iowa from Utah, he was staying at home with his kids and freelancing. He gave me a call in the morning, he’s like ‘How are you doing?’ I had this little, tiny, screaming body attached to mine and I was like, ‘I’m not doing well at all and I don’t feel like I’m ever going to,’” Wilson said. “He came and picked me up in his Nissan Pathfinder and drove me to get coffee and he was like, ‘Here’s how you run this show: Noon to three is nap time. Anything before noon is an exhausted child. Then if you’re lucky, you get the spouse to come home in this period of time while you go into the office if you need to. Got it?’’
Wilson eventually replaced Inman as managing editor of CityView after Inman moved to Las Vegas.
“When she had her first child, I was a freelance writer and she was freelancing. Every morning we would drive over and pick her up and talk together. Try to stay sane and keep our boys from totally flipping out,” Inman said. “We were those young parents trying to figure out how to raise kids and still do good work, you know? We both figured out how to work during nap time.”
While working as a freelancer for a massive plethora of publications from Esquire to the Star Tribune, Wilson wrote two books: “Water” and “Running Away to Home.”
Over a decade after Wilson began freelancing, she went back to Meredith Corporation to work as a senior and executive editor of some of Meredith’s top titles.
“My relationship with Meredith, and now Dotdash Meredith, is decades long,” Wilson said. “I remember feeling like that was the luckiest work, to be able to sort of help people figure out what they’re going to do and those precious days off and reporting that like an investigative reporter almost. What are you going to do here? What are you going to find here?”
Most recently, Wilson was content director of Principal Financial Group’s Global Brand and Experience where she led a team that helped to build Principal’s content strategy from the ground up. Despite working at some of Des Moines’ top employers, Wilson’s next chapter at Drake is what excites her most.
“I take this work really seriously. I don’t think there’s a more important job than being the storyteller for some entity or for society,” Wilson said. “Now, there are ethics behind what we do. They are fairly immovable no matter how things change. I’m not an overly serious person in a lot of ways, but it’s a real responsibility for me as a teacher.”