Stacey Woelfel wins 2024 Bliss Award, capping 35-year career at Missouri School of Journalism

Stacy Woelfel

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (May 15, 2024) — Stacey Woelfel, a professor emeritus and former news director at KOMU-TV — the Missouri News Network’s NBC affiliated TV station — has received the highly prestigious Edward L. Bliss Award for Distinguished Broadcast Journalism Education. The award is presented by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in honor of CBS News journalist and educator Edward L. Bliss.

“Stacey devoted 35 years of his career as an educator and journalist to helping teach, lead and mentor more than 3,000 students seeking to become broadcast journalists and documentary filmmakers,” said David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. “His impact on the television news industry is so widespread and significant that there is hardly a television market in the country in which he cannot sit down, turn on the television and see one of his students reporting or producing the news.”

An accomplished television photojournalist, Woelfel served as news director of KOMU for more than 24 years, becoming the longest-tenured news director in the history of the station. He left that role in 2014 to become the founding director of the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism, where students are increasingly gaining recognition in the documentary film industry.

At both KOMU and the Murray Center, from which he stepped down with his retirement in 2021, he relished the opportunity to practice the Missouri Method of hands-on instruction.

“Having one-on-one interactions with students working on stories and films, you could see the lights go on in a way that didn’t come across in a lecture setting,” Woelfel said. “I was lucky in my time at KOMU and Murray that we were very focused on individual students, and that was particularly rewarding.”

Countless former students are now working in television and film all over the country. Tisha Thompson, MA ’01, is now an investigative reporter for ESPN, where she recently broke a blockbuster story about alleged thefts perpetrated by the interpreter for star Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Shohei Ohtani.

Thompson recalled working as KOMU’s state bureau chief at a time when Woelfel found himself at the center of controversy as, in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, he told on-air reporters to avoid the appearance of bias by refraining from wearing American flag lapel pins.

“He was under incredible pressure,” Thompson said, noting that at the time, Woelfel was also working on a doctoral degree and raising young children. “I found myself in the unique situation of covering my own news director.”

[Woelfel’s] impact on the television news industry is so widespread and significant that there is hardly a television market in the country in which he cannot sit down, turn on the television and see one of his students reporting or producing the news.

David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism

The situation ended up playing a key role in Woelfel’s doctoral dissertation, which analyzed how symbols — like lapel pins — influence how audiences perceive bias in news organizations.

Beyond leading by example, Thompson said Woelfel was also full of handy advice.

“He told me I had to learn how to put makeup on in less than 10 minutes, which has saved me so many times,” Thompson said. “He taught me how to safely work inside a live truck. How to develop a creative and productive relationship with your photographer. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t draw upon the skills and advice he gave me.”

Of course, Thompson is not the only model of success for a former Woelfel student. He has also found delight in the students who have taken up residence closer to home.

“One thing I’m really struck by is the number of my former students on the J-School faculty right now — nine in all,” Woelfel said. “It’s great to know that people you were able to teach and help get a start in journalism are back helping other students.”

One such former student is Jeimmie Nevalga, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism in 2000. The mantle of KOMU news director is now hers.

“Stacey has dedicated his life to journalism and journalism education,” Nevalga wrote in a recommendation letter. “I would not be in the position I am today without his guidance and encouragement. I work every day to continue his legacy.”

Woelfel earned his bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism in 1981 and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of Missouri. He is the fifth School of Journalism faculty member to receive the Bliss Award, following Kent Collins (2019), Elmer Lower (1999), Vernon Stone (1998) and Rod Gelatt (1987). The honor will be added to an already sizeable pile of awards, including Mizzou’s William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, the Mizzou Alumni Association’s Faculty-Alumni Award, the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism, multiple Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards and numerous regional and local honors.

“It’s nice company to be in,” Woelfel said. “We five Mizzou recipients of the Bliss honor are humble to represent the school, and we’re proud to show the profession that we at Mizzou are still trying to do it the best that we can every day.”


AEJMC is a nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication faculty, administrators, students and media professionals. Dedicated to promoting the highest standards for education, the Association provides an abundance of resources for news, research and career opportunities, including a multicultural network of practitioners from every discipline of journalism and strategic communication.

Updated: May 15, 2024