A Life of Words Earns Hoffman Induction into 2nd Journalism Hall of Fame

In News, Professional/Networking by David Waymire

The Ball State University Department of Journalism has inducted Kathy Barks Hoffman – a byline on thousands of articles throughout her illustrious journalism career – into the Ball State Journalism Hall of Fame.

The move comes a year after Kathy was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, and just a few weeks after Roger Martin was selected as a distinguished alumnus of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences.

The entire Martin Waymire team is so proud to have these two senior leaders as part of our amazing team. We wouldn’t be here making Michigan a better place by working on behalf of our extraordinary clients without their incredible contributions to advancing those clients’ interests and their outstanding role in growing and grooming our staff.

And for me, it’s been a real privilege to work, learn – and party! – alongside two people I highly admired during their journalism careers.

Kathy’s long and distinguished journalism career was built on approaching her job with integrity and a lack of bias. “Just the facts, ma’am,” might be her motto, and the people of the communities she touched were far the better off for that style.

Her readers have stretched from Indiana to Washington, D.C., and beyond, but it has been in Michigan where she has made her biggest mark. As her longtime friend Carolyn Washburn, who has been editor at the Idaho Stateman in Boise, the Des Moines Register and the Cincinnati Enquirer puts it, “She’s been a major player at the most significant news organization in the state. She’s getting the recognition now.”

But those who have the opportunity to know her also value her friendship. Whether helping young reporters and PR executives think through their futures or bringing an incisive question to someone dealing with a mid-life career move, she’s been a go-to person for many of us wrestling with life – myself included. David Eggert, who followed her in running the Associated Press Lansing Bureau, says that “I have long considered Kathy as a mentor. Even though we have not worked together in 11 years, she has always kept in contact and has helped me in so many ways in my career.”

Kathy took her first journalism class as an eighth grader in Santa Monica, California. After moving to Goshen, Indiana, she became editor of her high school newspaper, The Tomahawk. She also wrote for the South Bend Tribune where she won her first award, a “Most Valuable Staffer” recognition for outstanding contributions during the school year from the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

At the Ball State Daily News, she worked as a reporter, copy editor and eventually managing editor. While with the Daily News, she took the opportunity to spend a term in Indianapolis covering the Indiana Legislature, which launched her interest in covering politics and public policy. Kathy took a job at The Vidette-Messenger in Valparaiso after graduating, and then in 1980 headed to the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item, showing great taste in finding papers with interesting names.

While in Richmond, she married Brent Hoffman, a fellow Ball State alum who took a huge step toward winning her heart the first night they met when he said he couldn’t start his day without a newspaper. She was a reporter and then editorial page writer and editor for four years in Richmond, helping the paper become recognized as the best in Indiana by the Hoosier State Press Association in 1981 and 1983.

The Hoffman duo came to Michigan in 1984, Kathy joining the Lansing State Journal and Brent taking a position as a teacher at Leslie Public Schools. She quickly moved up, covering politics and special projects, becoming an early adaptor of computer-based journalism, and winning Associated Press and Gannett awards for investigative and public service reporting. She also taught journalism at Michigan State and computer-assisted reporting skills to Gannett reporters nationally.

Kathy was part of a vital trio of young women reporters at a Lansing State Journal in transition. She was covering state government. Jennifer Harsha Carroll handled Michigan State University. Carolyn Washburn took on Oldsmobile and General Motors.

“It’s pretty amazing to think about now,” says Carolyn. “The paper was very male dominated at the time, and we had the three largest beats covered by young women. We all started close in time and became fast friends immediately – young women in the old boys network.”

“It was super fun,” Carolyn adds. “I did not understand until later how lucky it was for me, as someone right out of college, to start with and become friends with Kathy Hoffman. She was such a pro, right from the start. … It was never just a job, or just a technique. She really deeply cared about the issues she was writing about, she was genuinely interested in the people she was talking about, she really wanted to know — and she’s always been a policy wonk.”

They worked hard. They played hard – Carolyn recalled Kathy introducing her to a proper Long Island Iced Tea at the old Boom Boom Room in Frandor. And they started building their reputations, and their families.

As a young reporter at the Booth Newspaper Lansing Bureau, I became both close friends and competitors with Kathy. When my daughter was born, Kathy connected us to her day care provider, and we often saw each other picking up or dropping off. Our children, barely toddlers, became close companions.

In 1994, she moved over to The Detroit News Lansing Bureau, covering politics and using her database expertise. When reporters went on strike against the News and the Detroit Free Press in 1995, she walked the picket line until she got the opportunity to run The Associated Press Statehouse Bureau in Lansing.

For 17 years, she was the AP Lansing Correspondent, overseeing a cadre of reporters as she covered events at the state Capitol and elsewhere, writing news stories and news analyses that gave perspective to the breaking events of the day. She was named Michigan AP Staffer of the Year in 2001.

During her AP career, she covered presidents and police, lawmakers and lawsuits, bills and bozos — and the administrations of four governors. She wrote about civil right icon Rosa Parks’ funeral as well as those of President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. She covered Jack Kevorkian’s release from prison and Mark Dantonio’s arrival as Michigan State football coach.

She was one of the few women in the Capitol press corps at the time and mentored AP staffers such as Jennifer Loven and Nedra Pickler, who went on to become AP White House correspondents. All the while, Kathy was doing that difficult balancing act as she and Brent raised two amazing young men, Clark (an Albion College grad now working in cybersecurity near Washington, D.C.) and Alex (a University of Michigan grad who has a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver). And she earned a master’s degree in American Studies from Michigan State University while working full-time – that’s one busy person.

Kathy covered six national political conventions, was a panelist on WKAR’s “Off the Record” show for 26 years, and spoke regularly about the role of media to incoming lawmakers, university students and others. A founding member of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, Kathy also is a long-time board member of the Society of Professional Journalists Mid-Michigan Chapter and served four years on the board of The State News, Michigan State University’s independent student newspaper.

David Eggert joined Kathy at the AP Lansing operations in 2004. “I recall being in some scrums and sit-down interviews with her and she just really knew how to ask tough and fair questions. From watching her work, I learned to be skeptical but also to treat people fairly. I learned the importance of accuracy, of writing authoritatively, of getting to the point. It can be a stressful job. Kathy showed how to be serious about it but also to really enjoy it,” he says.

“The Associated Press was respected in Lansing because of her, because of her professionalism, her credible reporting all those years.”

Kathy left AP as she saw journalism changing and wanted a different way to tell stories. David, who had left the AP for other endeavors, returned to try to fill what he called “huge shoes.”

“I had the benefit of having worked with her for more than five years and because she had so much credibility and respect, it helped me when I rejoined the bureau. Still, it was a huge loss for the AP and political coverage overall – she had vast knowledge of government, sourcing, how the system works and it came through in her stories. I recall she seemed to always know how to analyze a development and what it meant next. To this day, I really miss talking to her about the news, what it means, what’s really going on,” David says.

She had worked a couple years at a competing public relations firm in Lansing when Roger and I started looking for a strong new player to take our company to a higher level. I could not have been happier when Kathy told me she would enjoy the opportunity to work with Roger, me and the young team that was jelling at Martin Waymire.

As part of our management team, she mentored young staff and took on staff hiring and day-to-day oversight of our client teams. She has been a major reason our company has won a string of national Silver Anvils – the Pulitzer of public relations – and a strong set of clients, including some she manages such as Hemlock Semiconductor Operations and the University Research Corridor.

When the Flint water crisis erupted, Kathy spent a year commuting to Flint, helping Mayor Karen Weaver and the staff of that overstretched city tell the city’s story and keep the community and the media informed about efforts to replace the city’s lead-tainted water pipes.

Along with her many journalism recognitions, Kathy has won numerous awards in the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America Chapter’s annual PACE Awards and has twice won first place in the PRSA East Central District’s regional Diamond Awards.

But more importantly, in her six years at Martin Waymire she has won – earned really – the trust, support, hearts and minds of her teammates. Everyone at the firm wants to work with Kathy on a major project. They know she will provide the combination of strategy and connections, organization and support, writing and editing that they can learn from and carry forward as they seek to become as successful in their careers as Kathy has been in hers.

“Kathy has a lot of great perspective,” says Andie Poole, vice president at Martin Waymire. “And she’s always so patient. I could go into her office and say, ‘Give me the history of road funding in Michigan’ and she would give it to you. It was like having a Wikipedia on what you needed to know.”

But more important, she has filled a place that Roger and I just could not fill despite our efforts, and that was being a female leader in a male-owned operation. “We have a lot of women on our staff. And you often see her as the only woman on a panel or in a discussion,” Andie says. “She has a lot of experience and perspective as we’ve gone on that journey for ourselves.”

It’s been a long journey, full of balance, for Kathy. Carolyn Washburn recognizes that Kathy could have easily ended up in Washington or New York as a nationally recognized reporter or editor. She chose to stay in Michigan largely for her family, and has touched so many of us here, first in journalism, and now in communications at Martin Waymire.

“She made a choice for her family that put a fence around what her career options would be,” says Carolyn. “We have all had conversations about our different decisions. What are the possibilities and upsides, and the potential downsides to these choices?

“One of the things I’m really happy about for her is (her induction into) the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, and now this one (at Ball State),” Carolyn says. “She’s been deeply respected in the state, and now … she’s really getting to see how people feel about her.”

You can watch Kathy’s acceptance speech below at the 50:13 minute mark.