DAA 2017: Sandra Eisert, BA’73

Immediately after graduating from Indiana University, Sandra Eisert began making history.

Eisert earned her degree in journalism in 1973 and took a job at the nationally ranked Courier-Journal and Louisville Times, becoming the first woman newspaper picture editor.

In 1974 she became the first-ever White House picture editor during the Gerald Ford administration. As Ford’s picture editor, Eisert sought to create a strong visual documentation and to restore a sense of trust in the presidency lost during the Richard Nixon administration. She helped facilitate unprecedented press access to Ford, making possible a fully balanced view of the unelected president. Eisert would later return to the White House and is the only editor to have served on staff as picture editor for three U.S. presidents: Ford, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  

After the Ford presidency, Eisert became the first female picture editor of The Washington Post, where she pushed the paper to send photographers to cover national stories for the first time. Her team covered stories like a devastating drought in the Midwest, the Jonestown massacre and the rise of the U.S. Hispanic population.

She moved West to work at the San Jose Mercury News as the newspaper’s first senior graphics editor. After a few years, she became its first design editor and established the paper’s first design desk. She helped build a strong picture editing team, which won the National Press Photographers Association Angus McDougall Overall Excellence in Editing Award for photography. She also contributed to six Mercury News NPPA Overall Best Use of Pictures team awards.

Eisert played a key role in the Mercury News’ 1990 staff Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake and its aftermath, designing and directing on deadline a special section about the earthquake. The section also won six other international design and editing awards.

She also served as art director of the newspaper’s award-winning Sunday magazine, WEST. While in Silicon Valley, she became interested in finding new ways to serve the reader using digital opportunities.

She left WEST to work for Microsoft as the first journalist and one of the original four senior editors who created MSNBC.com, the first real site for news on the Internet. As senior editor and director of graphics for the mainstream news site, she also created the site’s revolutionary design. The design made possible use of a content management system, allowing editors to respond to news instantly and create diverse special projects on the fly.

Eisert served on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for 20 years, visiting universities to evaluate quality in education. She was the first woman on the accreditation council and co-authored its diversity standard, which has become one of the critical components of accreditation.

Eisert is a recipient of the Joseph Costa Award, an award named for the NPPA founder that goes to a person who exhibits outstanding initiative, leadership and service in advancing the goals of the NPPA. She was the first woman to win the award, 39 years after its inception.

Now, as an entrepreneur, Eisert serves as a startup CEO. She has taught at three universities, and she has served as a media consultant in roles including establishing the Department of Defense’s Public Web Program and contributing to the editing, design or strategy of 90 books, with more than 9 million copies in circulation.