by Leah Jackson

Northwestern State University’s Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts will honor several individuals as Distinguished Communications Professionals. An awards luncheon will take place Friday, March 17 in the Sylvan Friedman Student Union Ballroom.  Check-in for the buffet lunch will begin at 11 a.m. with the program beginning at 11:30 a.m.  

This year’s honorees are Gary Fields, Robert Gentry, Doug Ireland, the late Carley McCord, Dan McDonald, Jim Mustian, Denise Lewis Patrick, the late Jerry Pierce and Tom Whitehead.  

Tickets to the luncheon are $20 with a discount price for students of $10.  Guests should RSVP at   

Created in 2021, the Distinguished Communications Professional award recognizes individuals with successful careers in and/or significant contributions to the fields of journalism, photojournalism, communications, news editorial, public relations, political strategy, media production, web content production and new media as it emerges, as well as individuals who have made significant contributions to the Department. The awards are presented by the NSU Foundation and the NSU Alumni Association.  

Fields is a veteran journalist with more than four decades of experience ranging from sports reporting to investigative projects. He’s a former board member for the Fund for Investigative Journalism. In 2000, he joined the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau to cover the Justice Department where he was involved in coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath. He has extensive experience reporting on criminal justice, mental health and tribal issues. Most recently, Fields was the senior manager of content for Lutheran World Relief/IMA World Health. He joined the Associated Press as the deputy editor of the Religion Team and now serves as the editor of the law and legal team.  

His awards range from being the National Association of Black Journalists Journalist of the Year in 1997 to winning a Thurgood Marshall Award for the coverage of death penalty issues and a New York Press Club Award for covering criminal justice. He was among the reporters at the Wall Street Journal who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 in Breaking News for the paper’s coverage of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Fields is a 1982 and 1984 graduate of Northwestern. He is a member of the Long Purple Line, NSU’s alumni hall of distinction, and was the Spring 2015 graduation commencement speaker at Northwestern. 

Gentry, a longtime journalist, is a native of Marthaville.  While attending Northwestern, he earned his tuition by working in the NSU Audio Visual Department, the Natchitoches Enterprise, the Natchitoches Times and for KNOC radio. He also worked as a stringer for The Shreveport Journal and Alexandria Daily Town Talk. In 1964, Natchitoches Times owner, the late Charles Cunningham, bought the Sabine Index in Many and sent Gentry over to run it for him.  Gentry later purchased the paper and operated it until he sold the newspaper in 2011. 

Gentry retired as an active journalist but continues to write his popular weekly Observations, now in its 65th year.  While he was publisher of the Index, the newspaper won virtually every award given by the Louisiana Press Association and other organizations over the years.  Gentry has been interested and active in governmental affairs for many years. He is founder of Rebel Historic Site and over the years founded Many Pawn Shop, operated a book publishing company organized the Robert Gentry Museum and enjoyed several other endeavors.  In 2020, Gentry was inducted as a member of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and in 2013 he became the 16th person voted into the Sabine Parish Hall of Fame. 

Ireland has been chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame since 1990, just over a year after he left the Alexandria Town Talk sports staff and launched a 30-year run as the sports information director at Northwestern State, retiring in 2019.  Ireland spearheaded efforts leading to construction and the 2013 opening of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches.  

During his career, Ireland earned numerous awards from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association as well as honors from dozens of professional, athletic and civic organizations. Last year, he was enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a winner of the LSWA’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism. He was also honored by the Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame with a Distinguished Service Award, and in 2022 was named one of the 100 most impactful members of the Greek community at Northwestern for his service from 2007-22 as advisor for the Beta Omicron Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.  Since January 2021, Ireland has been sports content director for Online Journals, LLC, which has 11 parish journals across northwest Louisiana.  

A native of Baton Rouge, McCord was a well-known sports journalist and digital media reporter. She landed her first broadcast job in Cleveland as an in-house reporter for the Cleveland Browns and was later hired by CBS Radio Cleveland as a morning show cast member on WQAL-FM.  After returning to Louisiana, she worked as a freelance broadcaster for Cox Sports Television, ESPN3 and WDSU.  She was a digital media reporter for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the in-game host for the New Orleans Pelicans and the New Orleans Saints.   

McCord earned a degree in journalism at NSU in 2011.  As an undergraduate, she worked in NSU’s Recruiting Office for four years where she was a Student Ambassador and gave tours to prospective students. She was a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and was crowned Miss Northwestern-Lady of the Bracelet in 2010 when her fellow contestants voted her Miss Congeniality.  As an alumna, McCord was a frequent visitor to Northwestern State and supported the university in many ways.   

McCord, 30, was one of five people killed in a plane crash in Lafayette Dec. 28, 2019.  Following her death, her family and Tri Sigma sisters created the Carley McCord Memorial Scholarship that is awarded to a female NSU student pursuing a career in sports journalism.  

McDonald’s career is described as distinguished and multifaceted. The Jackson Parish native began reporting in high school and is regarded as one of the most accomplished professional sports media figures in Louisiana, having worked in print news, public relations, university communications, radio and television.   He is credited as being an industry leader and mentor while serving a combined 24 years as Sports Information Director at NSU and at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  He has been recognized with many awards from the College Sports Information Directors of America and was a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee media relations staff for two Olympic Games and six U.S. Olympic Festivals.  He has served in leadership roles for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.  He was senior sportswriter for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser where he earned numerous writing honors, including a Best of Gannett national award.   

McDonald has extensive in broadcast and television work, including anchoring Sun Belt Conference webcasts.  He and his wife operate the Lafayette-based McD Media marketing/public relations firm with an emphasis on sports public relations.  He is a 2017 inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and recipient of that year’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.  

Mustian is an investigative reporter for the Associated Press in New York. Before joining the AP, he worked for six years as an investigative reporter for The Advocate of Baton Rouge. There he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for reporting on the racial impacts of Louisiana’s unique laws allowing juries to convict defendants without a unanimous verdict. The coverage led to the state’s voters deciding to amend the state’s constitution to require unanimous verdicts in criminal trials. 

A native of St. John the Baptist Parish, Mustian graduated from NSU in 2008 and now works as an adjunct professor at the university teaching feature writing and beat reporting. Early is his career he was a reporter for the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer, The Odessa (Texas) American, the Daily Iberian in New Iberia and L’Observateur in LaPlace.  

Mustian uses the word “dogged” to describe his career and approach to reporting.  

“As I tell my students, you’re going to have doors slammed in your face in this profession. What sets great reporters apart is the willingness to keep digging until you find the answer. Rachel Maddow used this word to describe me the night AP published graphic body camera footage of Ronald Greene’s death in Louisiana State Police custody, a video authorities had kept secret more than two years,” he said.  

Patrick is a Louisiana native born and raised in Natchitoches, now transplanted to New Jersey. She graduated from Northwestern State in 1977 with a degree in Journalism, and immediately relocated to New York City. In 2015, she received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans. In 2014, she received the Creole People’s Award from the Northwestern State Creole Heritage Center, and was inducted into the Long Purple Line that same year. She was one of the five Louisiana Legends chosen in 2019 by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.  

Her most recent published books are middle grade biographies Lewis Latimer, “Engineering Wizard,” and Mahalia Jackson, “Freedom’s Voice.” Other works include the Y/A short story collection, “A Matter of Souls;” a middle grade novel about Hurricane Katrina, “Finding Someplace,” and “See Me, Hear Me, Know Me” and “No Ordinary Sound” for American Girl. Her adult short story, “Mr. Bird,” was published in The University of New Orleans anthology, “Monday Night Lights,” and her short story “Face Down” was published in the Y/A online magazine YARN. She is a contributor to the anthology “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices.” 

Pierce arrived at NSU in 1957 where he was sports editor of the university newspaper, graduating in 1961. He joined the staff of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and became executive sports editor at age 24. Pierce returned to Northwestern in 1965 as Sports Information Director, later serving as News Bureau Director and assistant to the president and was vice president of External Affairs for more than 30 years.  He was co-chair of Northwestern’s Centennial celebration and 125th anniversary activities and has served as institutional representative to the NCAA and Southland Conference.  He was a former president of the conference and was Northwestern’s liaison for the filming of “Steel Magnolias.” 

Pierce brought the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to Natchitoches in 1972 and directed the program for nearly 20 years.  During that time, he was named one of the 20 “Most Influential People in Sports in Louisiana” by The Times-Picayune.  Author of thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and a book of columns and co-editor of two other books, Pierce received numerous journalism awards and honors for other civic, social and professional activities.  He was inducted into the Long Purple Line, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and NSU’s graduate N Club Hall of Fame.  Pierce and his wife Regina established endowed scholarships in athletics and education at NSU.  Pierce passed away this past November.  

Whitehead was a member of Northwestern State’s faculty for 30 years, serving as an associate professor of journalism and director of International Programs. He served as an advisor for various student media and oversaw the university’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which brought numerous leading figures to campus.  A strong advocate for preserving Northwestern State’s history, Whitehead co-authored the book “Northwestern State University at 125” which was published in 2009. He led efforts to make the university’s past more accessible through its Traditions website and was inducted into the Long Purple Line in 2020.  

Whitehead worked as a production location consultant for the film “Steel Magnolias,” served as a local contact and executive assistant to the film’s producer Ray Stark and co-authored the “Steel Magnolias Scrapbook.”  One of the leading experts on Natchitoches Parish artist Clementine Hunter, Whitehead worked on documentaries and co-authored and edited books about Hunter.  He is active in local historic preservation organizations and served on the Louisiana Film and Video Commission, the board of directors of Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the national advisory council of Kappa Alpha Order social fraternity. He is a member of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the Honor Society of Phi Eta Sigma.  Since retiring from NSU, he was worked as a governmental affairs and special events consultant. Last year, he was honored by Louisiana Public Broadcasting as a Louisiana Legend. Banner Ad
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