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Olmsted Set To Receive Sperber Prize Award

The award seeks to promote and recognize biographies and memoirs relating to the journalism field
UC Davis Professor Kathryn Olmsted will receive the 2023 Sperber Award for her work on “The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler.”

Kathryn Olmsted, a professor at University of California (UC) Davis, will be awarded the 25th annual Ann M. Sperber Prize from the university’s communications and media studies (CMS) department on Nov. 6. The Sperber Prize was inaugurated in 1999 with the purpose of honoring the biographies and memoirs of media figures.

The Sperber Prize — named for Ann M. Sperber, author of “Murrow: His Life and Times,” the critically acclaimed biography of prolific journalist Edward Murrow published by Fordham University Press in 1986 — recognizes Olmsted for her publication “The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler.” The annual $1,000 award was donated by Sperber’s mother, Lisette Sperber, with the mission “to promote and encourage biographies and memoirs that focus on a professional in journalism.” 

“The Sperber Prize is well known among journalists and historians of journalism,” Olmsted noted. “It’s a huge honor, and I’m thrilled that I received it.”

“The Newspaper Axis” uncovers the history of six media titans who colluded to influence public opinion in a fascist direction in pre-World War II Germany. The subjects — Robert McCormick, Joseph and Eleanor Patterson, William Randolph Hearst, Harold Harmsworth, and Max Aitken — each used their power and influence to sway public opinion in a right-wing populist direction across the U.S. and Britain, hindering the countries from entering World War II. Olmsted’s work highlights the ways in which these moguls echoed fascist and antisemitic rhetoric and influenced foreign and domestic policy.

Beth Knobel, associate professor of CMS and the director of the Sperber Prize selection jury since the 2021-22 academic year, praised Olmsted’s work on “The Newspaper Axis.”

“Professor Olmsted’s book is clear, concise and compelling.  In fact, it was hard to put down,” Knobel explained. “One of the reasons that The Newspaper Axis won this year’s Sperber Prize is that even members of our jury who knew a lot about some of the American newspaper owners covered by the book … did not really grasp fully just how much these highly influential media figures were doing to strengthen Hilter’s image.”

The Sperber Prize will officially be awarded to Olmsted on Nov. 6 in a public ceremony on campus at Fordham Lincoln Center.

Olmsted, who studies U.S. cultural and political history since World War I, has taught history at UC Davis since 1993 and has published five books including “The Newspaper Axis,” each of which focuses on different aspects of government corruption, espionage and conspiracy. 

“My 2015 book, Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism, focused on anti-labor politics (in) California in the 1930s,” Olmsted said. “As I did my research, I became aware of the transatlantic ties among the American and British newspaper publishers of that era, and specifically how they fought for an isolationist foreign policy.”

Previous biographies and memoirs that were awarded the Sperber Prize included Dennis McDougal, the 2002 winner who covered the rise of The L.A. Times in “Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty” and Charles M. Blow, author of the 2014 memoir “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” which was adapted into an opera of the same name which played at the Metropolitan Opera in 2021 and is set to return to the Met in 2024.

In 2022, the prize was jointly awarded to “Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War” by Marvin Kalb and “You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War” by Elizabeth Becker, books written about the Cold War and Vietnam War, respectively. 

In addition to “The Newspaper Axis,” the other finalists for the 2023 Sperber Prize were Deborah Cohen’s “Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War,” Mary Llewellyn McNeil’s “Century’s Witness: The Extraordinary Life of Journalist Wallace Carroll” and Maria Ressa’s “How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for our Future.” These four books were selected from a pool of over 50 submitted works with 2022 copyrights.

The Sperber Prize will officially be awarded to Olmsted on Nov. 6 in a public ceremony on campus at Fordham Lincoln Center. The location for the ceremony is yet to be determined.

UPDATE: A location for the Sperber Prize ceremony has been determined. It will take place in the 12th floor lounge of the Leon Lowenstein Center. Additionally, the Sperber Prize page on the university’s website categorized Marvin Kalb as a winner of the prize in 2022. The website, and this article, have been updated to reflect that Kalb was given a certificate of career achievement in 2022 and not awarded the Sperber Prize.

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ANA KEVORKIAN, Former Managing Editor
Ana Kevorkian (she/her), FCLC ’24, is the former managing editor at The Fordham Observer. This is her third year with The Observer, having previously served as head copy editor, and she is so excited to serve the organization which has given her so much in this capacity. When she’s not doing Observer-related tasks, you can find her watching movies (see: “Fordham Cinephiles Can Finally Know Peace”), listening to Taylor Swift, reading and wandering the city aimlessly.

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