How Communicators Serve in Fractious Times

Conversation with Susan Phalen, Communications Director of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Stephanie Danes Smith, Former Senior Intelligence Service Executive of the CIA

Kent State's School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted a conversation about how communicators – journalists, public officials, public relations professionals and more – can best serve during divided and fractious times in the country.

Watch the discussion:

Susan Phalen, communications director for the House Committee on Homeland Security, joined Assistant Professor Stephanie Smith, a former senior intelligence service executive in the CIA, for the conversation, for "Navigating the Noise: How Communicators Serve in Fractious Times. Thor Wasbotten, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, moderated the discussion.

“Navigating the Noise: A JMC Conversation” took place at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2017, in FirstEnergy Auditorium (Franklin Hall, Room 340) at Kent State University (550 Hilltop Drive, Kent, OH).

Phalen and Smith discussed the following questions and more:

  • What is it like to represent our government to the American people?
  • How can college students become more discerning about the information they may see online?
  • What are your perspectives on public service – living through the controversies, challenges and (at times) chaos of government in this age of radical transparency?
  • How is America’s story changing across the globe?


STEPHANIE DANES SMITH retired in 2011 from the U.S. Federal Government, after 27 years of service, 25 of them with the CIA. As a Senior Intelligence Service executive in the CIA, Smith led thousands of employees; designed and managed programs worth several billion dollars; interacted regularly with Congress; and traveled extensively, including throughout two war zones (Afghanistan and Iraq). She was selected as a member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service in 2000 and achieved its highest rank. Smith led the Directorate of Support; in this role, she reported directly to the Director of the CIA and was accountable to Congress, the media and the American public. Smith’s work has been recognized with several distinctions. She is the recipient of the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and a U.S. Navy Special Act Award. In 2011, Smith was honored with the William D. Taylor Distinguished Alumni Award from the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Kent State and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the
Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

SUSAN PHALEN has served as the Communications Director and spokesperson for the House Homeland Security Committee in the United States Congress since March 2015, and holds a Top Secret security clearance. From 2011 to 2015, she was Communications Director and spokesperson for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In that role, Phalen tackled the daily challenge of protecting classified national security information while at the same time effectively communicating with national and international journalists the Committee’s work and responsibilities overseeing our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies and apparatus. Phalen has headed communications efforts related to Afghanistan reconstruction; the U.S. Embassies in Baghdad and Kabul and their relationships with the U.S. military, Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies and departments; the U.S. communications strategy for three national elections in Iraq; and more. For her service in Iraq, Phalen was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service and a Department of State Award for Public Service. Phalen got her start as a radio talk show producer and reporter at a radio station on the island of Guam. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

The Conversation Continues

The Feb. 23 conversation is a follow-up to the panel “Journalism’s Way Forward: Looking Back at Election 2016 and Envisioning the Future,” which JMC hosted Jan. 26, on the heels of inauguration. Moderated by WKYC Channel 3’s Russ Mitchell, local professionals, educators, students and the community came together to discuss how journalists and media professionals can best continue to do their jobs as the relationship between the media and the White House evolves.

As the role of media in America’s democracy remains forefront in the national dialogue, JMC will host another follow-up conversation on the topic of “Media Representations” on March 16, 2017. The conversation, co-sponsored by PRSSA-Kent and the JMC Student Voice Team will center on how various populations and issues are represented in the media.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University regularly hosts “JMC Conversations” on topics that permeate society.

“In doing so, we can prepare future journalists to report accurately and ethically on topics of local, national and global concern, and we can equip future public relations and advertising professionals to advocate for solutions,” Wasbotten said.

In October 2016, JMC hosted a conversation about the opiate epidemic; previous conversations have taken place on the topics of diversity, social media, terrorism and the 2016 primary elections.

POSTED: Monday, February 13, 2017 - 3:03pm
UPDATED: Friday, February 24, 2017 - 5:15pm