Former O'Colly adviser elected into Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame
• Dru Norton, News Editor
• Feb 10, 2022 Updated Feb 13, 2022
Barbara Allen began her journalistic career as a writer for The O’Colly. On April 28, she will be inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.
When Allen walked through the doors of the Paul Miller Journalism Building in 1993, she knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to become a journalist. Allen started as a staff reporter, going on to become a photographer and photo editor. In 1996, she became editor-in-chief at The O’Colly. “A lot of my passion has been tied around to those four years working at The O’Colly,” Allen said. “It was just magic, honestly. It was the best four years of my life.”
On April 15, 1996, Allen and The O’Colly editorial board reported on the Oklahoma City bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. “Covering the bombing was a very formative experience,” Allen said. “I remember sitting on the front row at a press conference after the bombing, and the journalist to my left was from The Washington Post and the journalist to my right was from The New York Times. And I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
During that time, Allen said the adviser of The O’Colly, Jack Lancaster, heavily impacted her experience as a student journalist. “Most of the people who worked at the O’Colly at that time, who were lucky enough to work under Jack at that time, will tell you he was the secret sauce,” Allen said. “He was a phenomenal adviser and mentor. I think he taught us more than anything we learned in a class.”
After graduating with a degree in news editorial journalism in 1997, Allen worked as a reporter at her hometown paper, The Tulsa World, starting a weekly teen section called Satellite. This section featured works written by, for and about Tulsa high school students, providing an outlet for students who are interested in journalism as a career.
“That’s when I was really like, maybe I have a future being involved with student journalism,” Allen said. “And those students, to this day, are some of the most outstanding career professionals.”
After 12 years of working at The Tulsa World, Allen decided she wanted to return to her alma mater after hearing of Lancaster’s retirement as O’Colly adviser. In 2009, Allen earned her master’s in mass communications and journalism at the University of Missouri. The next year, she applied for the open position of O’Colly adviser and began her journey mentoring young journalists.
“The beauty of advising students at Oklahoma State was empowering them to understand that they can pretty much do anything,” Allen said. “They just had to give it a shot.”
Allen said the proudest accomplishment of her career was the success of her students at Satellite and The O’Colly. During her time as adviser, students went from not entering The Hearst Journalism Awards, a scholarship award program for student journalists, to winning two first place awards in sports and news writing.
“This is why this whole thing is a little weird to me,” Allen said. “I get much more satisfaction out of a student byline or award, than I ever have gotten from my own work. I’m happy to live vicariously through the students that I’m lucky enough to come in contact with.”
For six years, Allen was adviser of The O’Colly, and worked three years after as adviser and director of student media. After her daughter graduated from Stillwater High School, Allen decided to apply for a job as an editor at Poynter Institute in 2018. After 43 years of living in Oklahoma, Allen accepted the job and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.
For the last two years, Allen has served as director of college programming at Poynter. In this role, she provides college journalists, professors and advisers with resources to enhance their educational and journalistic careers.
To be eligible for induction into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, a selection committee of Hall of Fame members chose nominated inductees. This year, the committee selected Allen and 11 others for the award.
When Allen received the call that she was going to be inducted, she was shocked.
“When you look at the people in Oklahoma journalism, these are a bunch of hard-working, humble people who are working to further the cause of democracy and make lives better for citizens,” Allen said. “For me, I can’t draw a line back to myself for that. It’s not my byline that makes a difference for people, it’s the advice I give to people whose byline ends up published.”
In May, Allen left Florida to travel around the country, working remotely for Poynter. In the future, Allen said she hopes to return to advising student journalists.
“My best job was always being an adviser, whether it’s for the high school students in Tulsa or the college students at Oklahoma State,” Allen said. “I think I would like to go back to it, eventually. I think that’s the purest form of journalism in America.”