Former journalism professor remembered for work with students

Emily DeLetter

Former WKU journalism professor James Ausenbaugh died Monday at the age of 90.

He began his career as a professor in 1976 after working at several newspapers including the Evansville Courier and Press and the Louisville Courier-Journal. Ausenbaugh taught a number of editing classes at WKU and was closely associated with the College Heights Herald. Ausenbaugh taught journalism for over 15 years.

Ausenbaugh, nicknamed ‘Aus’ by his students and colleagues, was instrumental in launching the journalism careers of many of his students. He worked alongside former director of Student Publications Bob Adams, who remembered Ausenbaugh as an incredible editor.

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“He was probably the best editor I’ve ever known,” Adams said. “He inspired so many people to go into editing, which was not nearly as glamourous as reporting but just as important.”

Adams said although Ausenbaugh was not directly affiliated with the Herald, he had a deep and sincere interest in the students and loved the newspaper.

“Students would take a story in to him because he was such a good editor,” Adams said.

Ausenbaugh was named teacher of the year in 1986 and was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 1991.

Current director of Student Publications Chuck Clark said the classes Ausenbaugh taught were some of the hardest he had to take but were instrumental in helping students develop the necessary skills to be a journalist.

“The most important thing Aus taught us was how to think,” Clark said. “Not just the value of what you think you need to know but also figuring out what you don’t know you need to know.”

When Ausenbaugh worked at WKU, the Herald ran out of the basement in the former Downing University Center, now Downing Student Union. The newspaper’s headquarters were in the area where the WKU bookstore currently stands.

“Aus would be in the Herald newsroom constantly, helping people figure out stories and pushing them to do better,” Clark said. “He had no problem telling you if you were straying from the straight and narrow.”

Cynthia Mitchell, a former WKU student and current professor of journalism at Central Washington University, said Ausenbaugh had a profound impact on her college trajectory. Mitchell worked as the Herald Editor-in-Chief during the fall 1982 semester.

In her sophomore year of college, Mitchell said she was having a difficult time balancing her school and social life, and said Ausenbaugh was personally responsible for a big life-changing moment.

“I had a story turned in for the paper, and he famously told me that I had more errors than inches,” Mitchell said.

He called her into his office and told Mitchell she could do better.

“I’m so grateful that he cared enough,” Mitchell said. “Once he got behind you, you could count on him for the rest of your life.”

As a current professor and adviser at Central Washington University, Mitchell said she looks back on her relationship with Ausenbaugh to help her make decisions.

“I’ve asked myself so many times, ‘What would Aus do?’” Mitchell said.

The funeral service for Ausenbaugh will be held Thursday at Harwood & Strode Funeral Home in Scottsville, Kentucky.

Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.