Remembering A Pioneer in Digital Journalism
Banner Photo Provided by Family of Mandy Jenkins
It wasn’t just Mandy Jenkins’s innovative career in digital news that made her an exceptional alumna of Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism. The way she continued to touch students and graduates who came after her — connecting them to internships, mentoring them through their emerging journalism careers, returning to campus to share her wisdom — cemented a legacy that will have a lasting influence on generations of media students.
Jenkins died after four years of cancer treatments at age 42 on Feb. 26, 2023. At Kent State, she earned her bachelor’s degree in news in 2002 and immediately went on to earn her master’s degree in media management in 2004. Here, she also met her husband of 14 years, Ben Fischer, a journalist.
Jenkins began her robust career during a time where the news industry was changing quickly, and faculty who taught her say she was particularly well-suited for this challenge.
“I could see that she thought on a trajectory that was light-years ahead of other people when it came to holding people close and saying, ‘What is it you really want to do? What should this thing really look like?’" said Emerita Associate Professor Barbara Hipsman Springer. That was important in the mid-2000s when newsrooms were adapting to the emerging digital landscape; they needed people like Jenkins who were fast learners and didn’t feel bound by rules.
Read Jenkins’ obituary in the Zanesville Times Recorder
At the Forefront of Digital Journalism
Early in her career, Jenkins worked on online news for metropolitan newsrooms. Professor Emeritus Carl Schierhorn, who recalls teaching Jenkins in one of her first journalism classes, says she was essentially teaching these newsrooms “what online journalism was” — and at quite a young age.
“The things she was doing when she was 23 were remarkable,” Schierhorn said. “She got in on the ground floor of online journalism. Newspapers barely had websites at that point, and Mandy was teaching them how to do it.”
She later helped build and lead digital news startups, including Youngstown’s Mahoning Matters. She managed a team of 50+ journalists on four continents for Storyful, a social media contextualization and verification company. Most recently, she was head of product at Factal, a breaking news and risk intelligence technology platform that serves global companies and NGOs.
Jenkins was somebody “who anything she did, she did with enthusiasm, and she did it well,” Schierhorn said, and somebody “I was really glad I knew and had something to do with getting her to where she was.”
Along the way, she mentored up-and-coming news professionals, making room for Kent State students to intern under her guidance and mentoring them closely so they were prepared for what was next.
“In the two decades she was in journalism, she changed people’s lives because she gave them confidence to try things,” Hipsman Springer said. “… She epitomized what I thought young journalists could do.”
Read an Ideastream story about Jenkins and her legacy
A GOFUNDME IN MANDY'S HONOR HAS RAISED MORE THAN $60,000 TO BENEFIT THE BREAST CANCER RESEARCH FOUNDATION.
Kent State Remained Close to Her Heart
Hipsman Springer says that Kent State students were always at the top of Jenkins’s priority list when it came to mentorship, and that’s something Amy Reynolds, Dean of the College of Communication and Information (CCI), has also found to be true. In fact, Jenkins was the first Kent State alumnus Reynolds talked to after being appointed Dean of CCI; a mutual friend connected them.
“She was funny and kind, and she cared about Kent State and the broader community,” Reynolds said. “She went out of her way to share her expertise with our students and offer them opportunities. And she was visionary and brave, in that she was always willing to take a personal or professional risk to move journalism forward.”
Retired Professor Jeff Fruit, who served in several positions during Jenkins’s years at Kent State, including school director, says that she was clearly on the cutting edge — always asking “why,” and diving into coding and data before her peers. When she graduated, she continued to contribute feedback about how Kent State students could best be prepared for productive news careers.
“Mandy is exceptional in that she is confident and clear,” Fruit said. “When she feels our classes or curriculum need some fine-tuning, the message is clear and detailed. She has been extremely generous with her time over the years, giving faculty and students the benefit of her expertise.”
Jenkins leaves the additional legacy of co-founding Fusion Magazine, Kent State’s student-run LGBTQ+ magazine, in 2003. Twenty years ago, giving voice to members of the LGBTQ+ community was not high on many people’s priority lists, Hipsman Springer said, but, “(Jenkins) … made sure people who needed to have a voice were treated with respect. And she’s always done that.”
“When you think of the significance of her career in journalism, I’m very proud that she went to Kent State,” Hipsman Springer said.
Schierhorn added, “Her legacy is one of the best students we’ve ever had, one of the best alums we’ve ever had, one of the most loyal alums we’ve ever had. And somebody that I really enjoyed being around.”