Wirth Siblings

Journalism takes Wirth siblings on varied paths to success

By Tari Miller
J Alumni News staff

Some things are genetic.

In the Wirth family, journalism seems to be one of those genetic things. Three out of six children in the family have attended NU’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. All three have gone different directions and utilize their journalism in different ways, but they have one thing in common: success in what they’ve chosen to do.

For Eileen Wirth, journalism wasn’t always the plan. She wanted to major in political science or history, but her father told her women who majored in history were likely to end up typing or teaching high school. She said she was always considered a good writer, and NU had a strong journalism program, so it seemed the most logical way to avoid the typing pool.

“[I] was almost ordered to take the intro journalism class. I obeyed, but I hated it. Meanwhile, a friend’s brother decided I should work on the Daily Nebraskan. I felt I was being shoved into journalism, like it or not. Fortunately I adored the Daily Nebraskan,” she said.

From that point on, Eileen Wirth was committed to journalism. She went on to get an M.A. in journalism from NU, an M.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in political science from NU. She was a World-Herald reporter in Omaha from 1969-1980; a public relations writer and manager at Union Pacific Railroad from1980-1988; and a partner in a small Omaha PR/advertising firm for two years before taking a teaching job at Creighton. She has also done freelance writing and is the author of two books.

“Eileen had a mind of her own and wasn’t afraid to use it,” said Jack Botts, retired NU journalism professor and Eileen Wirth’s editing professor.

Mike Wirth said both his sisters had an influence on him, so he knew he was probably headed toward journalism. But growing up on a farm also affected him, and he knew he wanted to do something with agriculture. Ag journalism was the answer. By the time he had earned the Ph.D. in mass media from Michigan State University, Wirth realized he wanted to go into mass communication rather than ag journalism. He accepted a teaching position at DU, where he has been for 23 years.

In those 23 years, Wirth’s research has made him an expert in broadcast and telecommunication economics. The International Radio and Television Society Foundation named him the 2000 Frank Stanton Fellow for outstanding contribution to electronic media education.

The three Wirth siblings have taken their common interest in journalism in different directions, but they continue to share some fundamental traits of journalists everywhere.

“We are all insatiably curious, and we all have a strong sense of service. We hate to be bored and tend to be high energy with good people skills,” Eileen Wirth said.

Janet Wirth Poley, president of the American Distance Education Consortium on NU’s East Campus, graduated in 1966 with a double major in broadcasting and home economics. Eileen Wirth, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Creighton University, Omaha, graduated in 1968 with a major in news-editorial. Their brother, Mike Wirth, graduated in 1973 with a double major in agriculture journalism and agriculture. He currently is director of the School of Communication and professor and chair of the Department of Mass Communications and Journalism at the University of Denver.

Growing up in a large family and on a farm at Nebraska City made a big difference to her life, Poley said. There wasn’t a lot of money, so the only way to get to college was to work hard, and the children all developed a strong work ethic, Poley said.

“Our dad was a self-directed learner, and our mother had a university degree, so education was always encouraged,” she said.

But why journalism?

Hard work played a part, according to Poley, who at age 20 was a hired instructor at NU. She served as a senior producer at the Nebraska Educational Television Network. Poley’s career went international soon after. She served as assistant deputy director for international training for the Foreign Development Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She began work in Tanzania with the design and development for in-country training programs, for which she received a USAID award.

She also received an Excalibur Award from the U.S. Congress for the Tanzania project, through which Tanzanians were sent to the U.S. for long- and short-term training. While in Washington, D.C., Poley worked closely with the White House in creating the first U.S. government Internet service. She has since earned many more awards and became the president of ADEC, situated on NU’s East Campus, where she continues to develop long distance education.

“I’m usually on the cutting edge. I like technology. I’m not afraid of it,” Poley