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Seven to be inducted into Virginia Communications Hall of Fame

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Top row, left to right: Dwayne Yancey, Pamela K. El, Gene Herrick and Jesse Vaughan. Bottom row, left to right: Joseph Cortina, Jane Gardner and Bernie Niemeier.

The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University will induct seven distinguished communications professionals into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony on March 29 at the Altria Theater.

The Virginia Communications Hall of Fame recognizes communications professionals with exceptional careers in advertising, journalism, public relations, new media and other media fields, and who have made outstanding long-term contributions in the field of communications and who were either born in Virginia or became distinctively identified with Virginia.

“For 30 years, the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame has brought together the leading lights of the Virginia communications industry to honor the lasting contributions of their peers,” said Montse Fuentes, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “The seven new laureates being inducted this year have all made tremendous contributions to the field of communications, and it will be a privilege to honor them at our Hall of Fame event.”

This year’s inductees are:

Joseph Cortina is founding partner and creative director of Cortina Productions, which has become one of the world’s leading media design and production firms creating award-winning interactive multimedia for museums. Clients include the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Newseum, the College Football Hall of Fame, the Muhammad Ali Center and the presidential libraries of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Following graduation from VCU with a degree in painting and printmaking, Cortina began working at WTVR-TV in Richmond, directing news and public service shows. He went on to join NBC, where he directed “Meet the Press,” “Today” and “Nightly News.” He worked extensively with the NBA and NBC to design and direct the NBA’s long-running TV show “Inside Stuff,” and directed Turner Original Productions Emmy award winning documentary “NBA at 50.” He was named coordinating director for NBC Sports’ coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. His work was recognized with five Emmy Awards.

In 1999, he launched Cortina Productions, and using his broadcast and design expertise, he revolutionized the use of films and interactive media in museums to include special-effects theaters, augmented reality, virtual reality and multi-user interactives. The company’s work has received over 50 industry awards.

Pamela K. El, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the National Basketball Association, is responsible for the NBA’s global marketing operation, directing brand development, overall marketing and advertising for the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League.

El, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from VCU, has long been recognized as an industry leader for her expertise in brand management, marketing strategy, creative development, media and sponsorships. Prior to joining the NBA in August 2014, El served as senior vice president of Financial Brand Marketing for Nationwide Insurance, where she spearheaded brand marketing for financial services and directed the creative, media and research initiatives for its first direct-to-consumer campaign.

Prior to joining Nationwide Insurance, El spent more than a decade with State Farm Insurance in the role of marketing vice president, where she led sales and marketing strategy for the U.S. and Canada, including brand management, national and local media and advertising, sponsorships, and digital marketing. Earlier in her career, she held positions with Terabeam Corp. in Seattle, U.S. West Communications in Denver, and The Martin Agency in Phoenix and Richmond. She began her marketing career in 1983 with Siddall, Matus & Coughter, also located in Richmond.

Jane Gardner, a retired award-winning health reporter and local news anchor, got her start in 1974 as a weather forecaster and later reporter at WSLS-TV in Roanoke. She worked at WSLS for two years before going to WTVR-TV in her hometown of Richmond. In 1978, she joined WVEC-TV’s Norfolk newsroom and became anchor/producer of “Focus,” a weekly newsmagazine, which earned her a reputation for beautifully written, well-produced stories. One story, about a boy who received ground-breaking facial plastic surgery, won a prestigious award from the National Association of Television Program Executives.

After “Focus,” Gardner returned to Richmond to cover the Virginia General Assembly session for WVEC and then became the first woman co-anchor of WVEC’s “13 Newshour” weeknight newscasts. She traveled the world and nation, covering major stories, including the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and Republican National Convention in New Orleans. WTKR-TV, also in Norfolk, hired her as co-anchor for the station’s 6 and 11 pm newscasts in 1990. Gardner also served as producer and anchor for the station’s “Insights” medical program and as a reporter for its “Eye on Health” show. During her television career, Gardner won seven national and eight state broadcast journalism awards and numerous other honors for community service.

Gardner left broadcast journalism in 1998 to become the public affairs director at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. She retired in 2003, after having beaten breast cancer. She was additionally diagnosed with melanoma in 2009, ovarian cancer in 2015 and lung cancer in 2016, and has beaten the disease every time. She now shares her inspirational cancer survival story with the public through media stories and speeches.

Gene Herrick, a retired photographer for The Associated Press, a role in which he documented major news stories of the 20th century, including the civil rights movement and the Korean War, as well as photographing Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Elvis Presley and Satchel Paige. He joined the AP as an office assistant in Columbus, Ohio, at age 16, and the AP offered him a photographer position in 1946. During his career, Herrick worked out of 14 different AP bureaus covering news and sports.

He is perhaps best known for his images from the civil rights movement. He photographed Rosa Parks when she was being handcuffed for refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1956 – an image that appeared this year in a USA Today photo essay on “10 Images that Highlight Women’s History” – and a Buzzfeed photo gallery on “29 Disturbing Photos of American Life Under Jim Crow.” Herrick also covered the 1955 murder trial of African-American teenager Emmett Till, who was killed in Mississippi after being accused of flirting with a white woman. Two white men admitted to killing Till but were set free, prompting riots nationwide. Despite the focus on Herrick’s coverage of the civil rights movement, he has described covering the Korean War as the highlight of his career, and has said he frequently found himself dodging bullets.

Herrick retired from the AP in 1970 and began a second career working with people with developmental disabilities in Columbus and later in Rocky Mount, Va., where he lives today. Herrick also has served on many nonprofit agency boards and was executive director for a nonprofit agency for the blind in Roanoke.  Herrick, 91, frequently contributes to an AP retiree newsletter, grants interviews and speaks on his experiences as an AP news photographer. He is working on a book about his experiences as an AP photographer.

Bernie Niemeier, publisher and owner of Virginia Business magazine, has more than 40 years of experience in the publishing business, including 17 on the corporate staff of now-defunct Richmond-based Media General Inc.  In September 2009, Niemeier led a private-equity-funded purchase of Virginia Business magazine from Media General. In 2017, he acquired full ownership of the magazine and is now its sole owner.

Virginia Business is the only publication dedicated to covering economic activity in every sector and every region of the state. Since its creation, Virginia Business has won awards, attracted loyal readers and established a reputation as a “must read” for anybody who wants to stay abreast of commercial events in the commonwealth.

Niemeier is a cum laude graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., from which he holds a bachelor’s degree. At Macalester, he majored in English and psychology. He also received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Richmond.

In addition to his business acumen, Niemeier’s editorial writing has won numerous awards from the Virginia Press Association and national awards from the Alliance of Area Business Publications.

Jesse Vaughan, an Emmy Award winning director and producer, Richmond native and VCU alumnus, is best known for directing the 2002 feature film “Juwanna Mann” for Warner Bros./Morgan Creek. Vaughan started his career as a director for WTVR-TV in Richmond, where he directed local news and produced his first television show at age 19. He later moved on to produce nine nationally syndicated educational documentaries about student rights that were distributed to PBS stations across the United States. NBC hired him at age 22. While there for more than 10 years he directed “The Jesse Jackson Show” for Quincy Jones Entertainment and “America's Black Forum” with Julian Bond. In addition to work on “Meet the Press,” President Reagan's inauguration, Reagan's State of the Union addresses and major White House press conferences, Vaughan also worked at “NBC Nightly News,” “Today,” the “Charlie Rose” show, "The McLaughlin Group” and “Headlines on Trial.”

Following his career at NBC, Vaughan directed the sketch comedy series "In Living Color," starring Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson and David Alan Grier. Vaughan then moved on to directing numerous music documentaries for MTV Networks, including specials on Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Paula Abdul, Melissa Etheridge and Steve Winwood. Also, Vaughan has directed music videos for NSYNC, Eric Benet, Master P, Mya, Raphael Saadiq, and SWV (Sisters With Voices).

Vaughan, who is creative director of the Advance Creative Service Group at Virginia State University, has been nominated for 49 Emmy Awards and has won 29. His most recent feature film, “The Last Punch,” chronicles Muhammad Ali’s last fight.

Dwayne Yancey, editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times, has more than 30 years of experience in the news industry as a reporter, editor, Virginia political analyst and, more recently, a journalism entrepreneur, helping to launch hyperlocal news sites and publications for The Roanoke Times.

Coverage of Virginia politics led to his 1988 book, “When Hell Froze Over:  The Untold Story of Doug Wilder: A Black Politician’s Rise to Power in the South,” which chronicled the events and challenges leading up to L. Douglas Wilder being elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1985. In 1989, Yancey was part of a team of Roanoke Times & World-News reporters whose coverage of the Pittston coal miners was a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. His writing and reporting at The Roanoke Times has been recognized with numerous awards from the Virginia Press Association. As an editorial writer, his editorials on the attempted closure of Sweet Briar College were credited with helping keep the school open. He also writes extensively on the economy of rural Virginia.  He grew up on a farm in Rockingham County and graduated from James Madison University.

In his spare time, Yancey is a playwright and has had scripts produced throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain, India, Singapore, South Africa and South Korea. To date, he has had seven full-length scripts produced, all in the United States, with an eighth scheduled for production in Melbourne, Australia, in April. His one-acts, and some full-length scripts, have been published with Eldridge Plays & Musicals, Brooklyn Publishers, Heuer Publishing, Playscripts, Big Dog Plays, and Rebel Belle Publishing.

The Virginia Communications Hall of Fame was established by the Robertson School (formerly the School of Mass Communications) in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 1986.

The Virginia Communications Hall of Fame Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Frazier Armstrong, managing partner of Armstrong Partners, and Jeff Wilson, vice president of Padilla, oversees the inductee selection process and provides strategic guidance on the management and execution of the Hall of Fame event. The committee is comprised of a diverse group of professionals who are dedicated to inspiring excellence in the communications industry.

Tickets will be available online Feb. 5 at: www.support.vcu.edu/HallofFame30.