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UW-Madison journalism school to honor alumni

April 22, 2011

The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication‘s professional and scholarly mission will be on display at its annual awards dinner, as the school honors a diverse group of alumni for their accomplishments in a range of media.

This year’s distinguished service award winners are Rick Fetherston, vice president of public relations for American Family Insurance; Neil Heinen, editorial director for WISC-TV and Madison Magazine; and Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs, program director for gender for the Population Reference Bureau.

“Our award winners this year demonstrate the wide range of possible career paths that can be found in mass communication, both nonprofit and for-profit, from the more traditional areas of journalism and public relations to cutting-edge media research and human-rights activism,” says Greg Downey, director of the school. “We’re proud to have the kind of broad-based faculty and staff who can educate and train communication leaders like these, and we’re delighted to have so many superb alumni to honor.”

Fetherston leads a staff of 50 people in external and internal strategic corporate communications and philanthropy for the Fortune 500 insurance company headquartered in Madison. Before joining American Family, Fetherston was a reporter, anchor and news director in Madison.

Heinen has been editorial director of WISC since 1992, starting there as news assignment manager in 1987. Before that, he worked as reporter, anchor and assistant news director for WIBA in Madison.

Feldman-Jacobs coordinates gender and development work for the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, which informs people around the world on population and health issues. Focusing mainly on gender, reproductive health and gender-based violence, her work has included training female journalists from developing countries to accurately and effectively report on such issues. She has previously been a reporter and editor for several print publications and worked on Capitol Hill for more than 10 years.

Colin Benedict, news director at WISC-TV in Madison, will receive the school’s Ralph Nafziger Award, which honors outstanding achievement within 10 years of graduation. Benedict started at WISC as an intern and was the station’s political reporter, weekend anchor, convergence producer and managing editor before becoming news director.

The school’s Harold L. Nelson award for achievement in mass communication research will go to Esther Thorson, associate dean for graduate study at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of research at the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute. She is the only female fellow of the American Academy of Advertising. She has written extensively about the news industry, advertising, news effects, newspaper economics and health communication, and she applies her research — along with that of her colleagues — in newsrooms and advertising agencies.

The winners will be honored at a Friday, April 29, banquet at the University Club, 803 State St. The reception begins at 6 p.m., with dinner following at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30; to register, visit