Jeter’s home run: First outreach communications at NC State

By the time North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s first agricultural editor Frank Jeter died in 1955, his name was a household word, reflecting his success over four decades in helping people convert new knowledge into more productive farming and happier rural living. The NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’s communications team celebrated Frank Jeter’s legacy this week, marking 100 years since his hiring in November 1914.

Jeter was hired Nov. 15, just six months after President Woodrow Wilson signed the federal Smith-Lever Act, which officially created the national Cooperative Extension system and specified that up to 5 percent of annual appropriations could be used to create and share knowledge-imparting publications. Cooperative Extension is a partnership of land-grant universities such as NC State, county governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Having grown up on a 3,000-acre South Carolina plantation and graduated from Clemson University, Jeter came to the attention of NC State officials for his work with an Atlanta company that produced fertilizer. Jeter was hired to put in demonstration plots on farmers’ fields to show them fertilizer’s merits, but he went a step beyond that, writing newspaper articles on farmers who produced good yields.

Over the years at NC State, Jeter proved to be a dedicated, versatile communicator. He not only wrote articles for newspapers and farm magazines around the country, he also edited Extension publications, took photographs, hosted a radio show and taught mass communications techniques to communicators and Extension agents statewide.

From 1932 through 1950, he also served as chairman of NC State’s Board of Student Publications, making him a key figure through the developing years of student publications on the campus. In appreciation, editors of The Agromeck, the student yearbook, dedicated the 1950 edition to him.

Jeter’s efforts led to recognition and honors well beyond NC State, including several national awards. In 1948, Clemson conferred upon him the honorary Doctor of Science, making him the first agricultural college editor to receive an honorary degree.

At one point, he was even considered a candidate for that university’s presidency, according to a history* of the NC State department Jeter started and led until his death. One of Jeter’s contemporaries, Lester A. Schlup, who served as director of information programs for USDA’s extension efforts, called Jeter “a hardy and creative pioneer builder of agricultural communications in the land-grant colleges.”

“There was vitality, excitement, alertness and warmth in Dr. Jeter’s approach to his profession. Agricultural science ever fascinated him, but only to the extent that he could wed it to the production and homemaking practices of farm people,” Schlup said. “He was always a welcome friend at the farmer’s hearth, equally at home in the city dwelling, and his deep-rooted wisdom was eagerly sought in the agricultural councils of the state and federal governments,” he added.

“There was very little of the full sweep of rural-life development over two generations in North Carolina that he did not record in mass media for all people to learn. Nor very little farm progress was achieved to which he did not make a robust contribution.”

At NC State, Jeter’s early work ultimately spawned a department, briefly called the Department of Publications. Then, successively, it became known as the department of Information, Agricultural Information, Agricultural Communications and CALS Communication Services.

In 2010, most department members were made part of NC State’s University Communications unit, while five news editors and communications specialists remained with the college. That team expanded earlier this year to 10 members, including news editors and communications specialists as well as a publications editor, graphic designer, video producer and administrative assistant.

Currently, a national search is under way for the position of CALS chief communications officer to help carry forward the work started by Jeter 100 years ago. –Dee Shore

*Source: Let the People Know, written by William L. Carpenter and published by the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service and the N.C. Agricultural Experiment State in 1978.

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