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2018 Most Influential Women: Erin Hayes-Dennis

College of the Ozarks

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From the field to the classroom, Erin Hayes-Dennis uses her knowledge and experience to inspire the next generation of journalists.

“As a broadcast news journalist for 34 years, I tried to lead with integrity,” Hayes-Dennis says. “As a college journalism professor today, teaching a new generation of journalists, I continue to try to lead with integrity. A good leader leads by example, and the best way to set a good example is to do one’s best work with integrity – and with vigor and discernment and compassion and wisdom.”

Starting her journalism career at KYTV in Springfield, Hayes-Dennis made a name for herself on the national stage as a news correspondent for CBS News followed by “ABC World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings.

While corresponding for ABC, Hayes-Dennis covered monumental events, including the nation’s response to 9/11, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and the Oklahoma City bombing, along with being the lead reporter during the network’s 36-day coverage of the 2000 presidential election.

One of the defining moments of her career was interviewing Mother Teresa in Little Rock, Arkansas, while the nun led a missionary project. During the interview, a statement from the canonized saint resonated with Hayes-Dennis.

“I have never forgotten that while my vocation as a journalist can be a help to people, it can also be a burden to the people I am interviewing,” she says. “I try my best, and I teach my students to do their best, to treat every person as they would a brother or sister and child of God.”

Hayes-Dennis is grateful for the ability to investigate stories that resulted in change for the better.

“My reporting on the discovery of unsafe dioxin levels in the Ozarks and at Times Beach helped lead to changes at the national level and cleanup at those sites,” she says. “My reporting on the cause of two airplane crashes revealed dangerous problems in those aircraft and other aircraft like them, and led to safety changes at the federal level.”

After leaving the field, Hayes-Dennis returned to College of the Ozarks, her alma mater, in 2010 as an adjunct professor of journalism and media. In 2015, she was named an associate professor of journalism and media studies.

“I learned that compassion is an essential component in good journalism, and that wisdom is something to pray for constantly,” she says.

That reflection and personal responsibility held by Hayes-Dennis is a trait she passes down to her pupils.

“I teach that to my students now: Your work as a journalist affects people,” she says. “It affects their lives, their well-being, their families, their businesses, their communities. Journalists have influence, and that influence comes with a tremendous responsibility to seek the truth diligently, carefully and compassionately.”

Those students let Hayes-Dennis know of her influence on their careers.

“My graduates who are now working professionally in newsrooms call me for advice, and I’m happy to remain connected with them and to offer guidance when they ask,” she says. “A good, strong, fair-minded and truth-seeking news media is essential to the functioning of communities and, indeed, to our democracy.”

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