Agriculturist Editors: Where are they now?

Jennifer Blackburn holds up her magazines Jennifer Blackburn, the External Affairs Director at the National Sorghum Producers, holds the Spring 2010 issue of The Agriculturist and her current magazine, Sorghum Grower. Blackburn acted as the Editor-in-Chief for the Spring 2010 issue.

Jennifer Blackburn sits in her office in Lubbock, Texas and prepares to take a call from a U.S. Grains Council Representative in Japan for an article for Sorghum Growers magazine. Working on magazines isn’t new to her because she was the editor of The Agriculturist magazine during her time as a student at Texas Tech.

Blackburn is one of few former students who has held the top editorial position since The Agriculturist’s first issue in 1973.

David Doerfert, professor of agricultural communications and associate dean of the Texas Tech University Graduate School, taught the course that publishes The Agriculturist for several years throughout the publication’s history. Doerfert’s extensive background with the National FFA’s New Horizons magazine allowed him to share his knowledge with students in the agricultural publications course.

Doerfert chose a select group of students, like Blackburn, in the course to act as the editorial team for the publication. Students interested in an editorial position would submit a résumé, cover letter, and form to apply. After that, Doerfert confided in other agricultural communications faculty about the students he considered.

“I would ask them how that student was as a worker, how were they as far as working independently, (and) how were they at working with their peers,” Doerfert said.

Three former editors credit their successes in communications because of the skills they acquired from working on The Agriculturist.

Jennifer Blackburn, Spring 2010

Jennifer Blackburn was a typical farm kid. She grew up on a farm and ranch in eastern New Mexico. She did everything a girl from a small town did. When she came to Texas Tech, she decided to pursue communications and photography with the help of Dr. Cindy Akers, now Associate Dean of Academic and Student Programs of the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources.

“I really didn’t honestly know that agricultural communications was a degree,” Blackburn said. “(Dr. Akers) was telling me about the Junction photography class and all of these different opportunities, and I got really excited.”

Blackburn believes she was chosen as editor because of her internship experience at the National Sorghum Producers, where she works today. She said the position felt natural to her because it was a way to enhance her skills.

“I was excited for that opportunity,” Blackburn said. “But to be chosen to do that is certainly an honor that I was highly appreciative of.”

Seven years later, Blackburn serves as the external affairs director for the National Sorghum Producers, which is headquartered in Lubbock, Texas. She advises current and future editors to treat The Agriculturist as a valuable opportunity.

“Take your roles and responsibilities seriously,” Blackburn said. “You’re putting the different pieces of the puzzle together that might make a publication that (represents) the department and the students that are putting the work into the publication.”

Tracee Murph, Spring 2010

Tracee Murph is no stranger to Lubbock and the South Plains. Originally from New Deal, Texas, she was actively involved in her school’s FFA chapter and was the editor of the community’s newspaper, The New Deal Communicator. Initially, taking her journalism class as an elective credit, Murph did not know she would fall in love with communications.

Where are The Agriculturalist Editors Now
Tracee Murph, the Coordinator of Alumni Relations at Texas Tech, sits in front of Landmark Magazine, the publication she currently works on.

“I’ve always enjoyed English, and it was my English teacher (in high school) that ran the journalism class,” Murph said. “It was a natural fit for me to take the class and I just happened to be good at it.”

Aside from growing up in a rural community, Murph was surrounded by a family of artists, which inspired her to pick up photography. According to Murph, she could not draw or paint as well as her family members but was able to work a camera efficiently. She took the hobby she enjoyed and worked to perfect her talent. Before taking the agricultural publications course, Murph worked in the CASNR Development and Alumni Relations office as a student assistant, where she currently works today, while also focusing on her studies.

Murph said she believes she was chosen as graphics editor for The Agriculturist because of her work experience.

“I really am thankful for the experience I got in that class,” Murph said. “I was able to learn a bit more than just the news writing side of things, which is all I had in my background. This took my writing to the next level.”

After Murph graduated in December 2009, she stayed on with the Development and Alumni Relations Office and became the coordinator of alumni relations in 2011. Besides keeping up with alumni of the CASNR, she writes, edits and takes photographs for The Landmarks Magazine, the college’s alumni news magazine, and uses the know-how of the agricultural publications course to produce that magazine.

“I do write the entire magazine and run this production,” Murph said. “It’s kind of a one-man show, and that’s all me.”

Murph said for future editors to utilize the skills learned in news writing. Not only was it her favorite class to take as an undergraduate, but she also said it’s the one class where students learn the most information and can put it to use in the magazine.

“It teaches you how to ask questions clearly and how to write in an active, concise manner, and emphasizes using the correct verbiage and proper grammar,” Murph said. “I still use tricks and lessons I learned in that class daily on a daily basis in my job, even when I’m not working on the magazine.”

“But to be chosen to do that is certainly an honor that I was highly appreciative of.”

Kaitlin Paonessa, Spring 2013

Kaitlin Paonessa grew up in Anson, Texas, a town about 20 miles north of Abilene, on a family farm that raised cattle. Originally, Paonessa thought she would graduate as an animal science major and become a doctor. But one night, her friends in the CASNR learning community were studying for one of their classes, which piqued Paonessa’s interest.

Three years later, Paonessa’s interest would blossom into a life-changing opportunity when Doerfert named her as editor of the Spring 2013 issue of The Agriculturist.

“I was surprised by it,” Paonessa said. “but I put a lot of thought into submitting my application and was honored to be given the opportunity.”

Paonessa felt working on The Agriculturist culminated the skills she learned in her previous classes, such as InDesign and news writing. While she was editing stories, she said she thought back to the lessons taught by Robert Wernsman, who taught news writing at Texas Tech until his passing in 2015, and Courtney Meyers, an associate professor of agricultural communications.

After Paonessa graduated in May 2013, she worked in digital marketing in the music industry until she changed directions because she missed the variety of working in communications. She currently works a communications specialist for Leander Independent School District, where she helps assemble the school district’s community magazine, The Compass.

“It was such a valuable experience overall,” Paonessa said. “I have used it as an example of work I am proud of in every job interview since.”

All three women credit their success to their time as editors with The Agriculturist. Like their predecessors before them, Blackburn, Murph and Paonessa’s legacy will inspire future generations of agricultural communications students