Meek School of Journalism and New Media
1 Grove Loop
University of Mississippi
University, MS 38677
Ole Miss journalism and integrated marketing communications students and their families packed the Ford Center on Saturday, May 11. Doing the honors as the keynote speaker was Sharyn Alfonsi, a 1994 journalism graduate from Ole Miss. Alfonsi is now a correspondent for CBS’ “60 Minutes Sports,” which airs on Showtime.
Alfonsi’s speech delighted the crowd and offered advice on how to succeed with both life and making a living.
The following is a transcript of the speech; a video version is also included:
Dean Norton, parents, faculty and friends and graduates. Good afternoon and congratulations. To be clear, I know exactly why I was given the amazing opportunity to speak to you on such an important day.
It is not because of any impressive journalism awards; it’s not because you want to hear stories from war zones; it is not even because of my terrific head of hair on an oppressively humid day. I know the one and only reason I am here is because Shepard Smith was clearly not available.
Still, let me thank you for this tremendous honor. I graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in journalism, roughly 104 years ago today.
There was no journalism school at that time. It wasn’t a popular choice.
It was believed that the smart students went to the School of Pharmacy because clearly it takes a genius to count pills and hand out ointment for angry looking rashes. Those who were especially talented pursued fine arts degrees because you need to spend tens of thousands on college before you can pursue your dream to make pottery. And then there were the kids from the School of Engineering. I actually didn’t ever hang out with anyone from that school, but neither did anyone else; you get the idea.
Still, it was believed that journalism students were the misfits — the odd ones. Looking at you all today, and at this gorgeous new journalism school, I am delighted to see, nothing has changed.
It looks a little like Scooby Doo’s Mystery Van got lost and you all popped out the back.
I see the Velmas, sporting glasses or comfortable shoes, with dreams of working at NPR or the Economist.
The Freds, who hope their good looks and smart ascots might lead to a seat at the anchor desk at the local TV station.
And of course the Shaggys, those who spent a little too much time in the smoke-filled booth at “Rebel Radio,” emerging only for “Scooby Snacks.”
Parents, if you fear your child is a Shaggy — and a tip off is they may be wearing flip flops or TEVAs today with their caps and gowns — don’t worry. The good news is you will be seeing a lot of them. They’ll be living in your basement for the next 10 years, emerging every time they have a problem with the Wi-Fi.
But I am here to deliver good news to you all today. As you all know the economy is pumping, high paying journalism jobs are everywhere and as a person who has lived in New York City for the last decade, I am delighted to report that the “Media Elite” have absolutely no preconceived notions about people from Mississippi.
And that story about the Elvis impersonator, who may or may not have been set up by a karate instructor, who may or may not have tried to poison the president, really helped things.
I am here to tell you everything I know. So this should take roughly 23 seconds.
When I was applying for jobs my senior year, I sent my resume tape to two dozen television stations. Most of them did not call or write back, but one news director did write back. Here’s what he wrote — this is an excerpt from the actual letter:
Dear Ms. Alfonsi,
Thank you for your application for the news reporter position. Unfortunately, we have hired a qualified applicant. (The word qualified was underlined).
I know you are beginning your career, so please allow me to give you a bit of feedback.
Your reporting skills show some promise however, you need a lot of work. Your hair is too big, your accent too thick and overall, you look a little equine on camera.
Now for those of you who didn’t catch that, he just called me equine. He said I looked like a horse. A horse.
He went on.
Best of luck with your career in television; I look forward to seeing more of your work.
And then he signed his name, which side note: looks like the writing of a serial killer.
Now, a normal person would have finished a bottle of Maker’s Mark and started filling out applications at the racetrack, but I was actually encouraged by this letter. He said he wanted to see more of my work.
This leads me to my first piece of advice: Do not take NO for an answer.
Not when you’re applying for jobs; not when you actually get a job.
People will tell you, “No, were not hiring.” “No, I don’t want to do an interview with you.” “No, you may not sleep on my porch and use my cat as a pillow until I change my mind.”
Keep pressing. You are applying for work in journalism, not trying to get hired as a social secretary. The people who may hire you respect grit. They respect tenacity, and in my experience, I have found they are generally unlikely to issue a restraining order.
If you, like me, were raised by a beautiful, genteel mother with exceedingly good manners, being pushy will make you wildly uncomfortable, but keep at it. Prove that you want it.
The food court at the mall is littered with journalism students who didn’t fight for it. Fight for it.
And if you somehow get an offer to do any job, no matter how small or insignificant in the field you want to work in, take it. There is no job too small.
Yes, it is true, if you do the math (or since you’re a journalism graduate, if you have your roommate do the math) you would likely make more working at a Cracker Barrel than in your first job in journalism.
And if you worked at Cracker Barrel you get to eat your weight in delicious fried apples and get discounts on sock monkeys, but take the journalism job. It will pay off, eventually.
You will never work harder; you will never have more fun. It will not be easy. You will want to quit. I’ve wanted to quit a dozen times over the last decade.
“Really? I have to come in at 2 am and turn a story for Good Morning America because Lindsay Lohan forgot her underpants…. again?
“Really?! I’m eight months pregnant and there’s no one else at this entire network you can send to cover the hurricane?”
“Seriously, After I spent five hours in the driving rain covering the hurricane, you’re going to complain about my hair?! Really?”
For every one of those crappy days, you’ll have ten great ones.
“Really, I’m going to the White House today?”
“Really, I’m going to spend the day watching the Yale Crew team workout? And I am getting paid for this? Fantastic!”
And while those great days may make you feel great, on top of the world almost, you might even think, “Hey, I’ve made it!” and relax a little and get comfortable. Here’s my next piece of advice.
Don’t get comfortable. Ever.
I recently got a job at “60 Minutes Sports.” The show is entirely produced and presented by the “60 Minutes” team you’re used to seeing every Sunday nigh, but it appears on Showtime so technically we could cuss. I won’t. But we could. It is the job I always dreamed of.
Actually, when I was little I dreamed of being Mrs. George Michael, but it became pretty clear when he married a man that wasn’t a great option. So, I set my sights on CBS, specifically “60 Minutes.”
I wanted to be a great reporter — not an anchor, a reporter. In my mind, Mike Wallace’s blistering interviews were art. No one was cooler than Ed Bradley. But I set my sights on “60 Minutes” after watching a young Meredith Viera go head to head with casino magnate Steve Wynn. I can’t remember what she asked him, but he ripped off his mic and at one point threatened to strangle her. It was delicious. I knew in that moment, i wanted to do that — not get strangled, the other part.
Working my way up the ladder in local news, news directors, displaying bouts of seriously impaired judgment, offered me jobs to anchor the news.
For those of you who don’t know, anchoring in a local market generally means you get more money, have some editorial control and best of all you’d get your face on the side of a bus or a billboard right next to an advertisement for check cashing or a gentleman’s club. In a word, prestige.
It would be a more comfortable life, I was sure. But I had my eye on being a reporter and knew that anchoring would take me off the streets. So, to the bewilderment of my bosses, I passed the jobs up.
If you’re not too comfortable, it’s always easier to leave, to move on and hopefully, move up.
So, now that I have my dream job, you’d think I might relax a little, get comfortable. You’d be wrong. See the thing is when you have your dream job, especially when people like Scott Pelley, Leslie Stahl and Morley Safer work down the hall, you’re pretty sure you’re the admissions’ mistake.
I am fairly confident that I am. This isn’t false modesty; it’s a fact. I am not the smartest person who ever worked in a newsroom. I don’t have an Ivy League pedigree or an exotic accent that makes me sound worldly, but I am scrappy as hell, and in Journalism, scrappy counts.
So dream big, but work hard and believe me when I tell you this…there are no shortcuts.
I used to work for ABC News. Disney owns ABC News, in case you didn’t know. When I arrived there they called me a quote, “cast member,” and told me that I got special perks at the theme parks.
One of my colleagues later informed me that at Disney, you can pay extra money to get a pass that allows you, essentially, to get to the front of the lines for rides.
I found this appalling and then immediately asked, “Where do I get one?”
But it turns out, the thing is, if you cut to the front of line, you just don’t enjoy the ride as much. Really. You need to sweat with the masses. You need to watch the weaker, or perhaps wiser, people who can’t handle it, quit. It’s fun to make friends with people along the way. Not the guy wearing an “I’m with Goofy” t-shirt and bedazzled denim short, but the other people.
Along the way you will meet people you will never forget, characters like no other. I can’t remember half the stories I did, but I remember just about every fantastic photographer or producer along the way.
They acted as my teachers, my psychiatrists and often, my parole officers. They still do.
One of my favorites, Danny Marotta, a veteran photographer from South Boston. He fought in Vietnam and reminded me whenever I got stressed, “It’s just TV, pal; it’s just TV.”
Don’t take yourself too seriously. No one else will. You work in journalism. You’re not performing heart surgery.
On a good day, you will tell somebody something they don’t know. I have taxi drivers who do that regularly and they don’t get awards for it.
On a great day, you’ll dig deeper, tell a story so well it gets attention, changes lives, policy or conversation. Those days, I’m not going to lie, are golden. Strive for them.
And if you don’t know exactly how to do that right now, don’t’ sweat it.
You have made your way through what I believe is honestly the of the best journalism schools in the county. Still, most of the important lessons about journalism you have yet to learn. Your professors are passing you on to a new set of teachers: Newspaper editors with nicotine patches, guys carrying a camera in one hand, and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in the other and office secretaries who know more than you’ll ever forget.
So listen to them, be humble and be nice to everyone. It is great to have an important or interesting job but I am telling you that in the long run, it is more important than almost anything you do to be nice.
Now, since we are in the South, and most people are already nice, I feel I should clarify. Don’t confuse “nice” with what I call “stupid nice.”
“Nice” is carrying a tripod for a photographer whose already loaded down with equipment.
“Stupid nice’ is saying to him, “Don’t worry you don’t need to carry a light kit too, I’m a natural beauty.”
“Nice” is congratulating a colleague when they did a good job.
“Stupid nice” is later saying to that same colleague, “You did such a good job; why don’t you just go ahead and do this interview with the president instead of me?”
Don’t be stupid nice. Be nice. There will be days when this will take everything you’ve got.
I have met some honestly horrific people along the way, awful, wretched individuals and right now I would like to take the opportunity to name each one of them.
(No one’s recording this, right?)
There was one senior producer I worked for who was so nasty she went out of her way to try and make me miserable. Often, she succeeded. She made me want to quit.
Then, I remember something my father used to tell me before every track meet.
Well first, he’d say, “Make sure you tie your laces, Einstein.” Then, he’d say. “Ignore the competition and just run your race.’
Throughout your career people will try to distract you. Some will scream at you, others will say things behind your back, and a few feral animals will literally try to throw their stiletto heel in in your lane and trip you. Keep your eyes straight ahead and just run your race.
Don’t worry what others are doing; they are nothing more than a distraction. Drown out the critics. Don’t engage in office politics or gossip. Don’t worry about the guy next you. Run your race.
Now, I am the first to admit I am a cautionary tale here.
I was running so hard, working so much, I looked up one day and realized, suddenly, “Oh crap, I forgot to have kids!” It was literally like that. I was opening Christmas cards from friend and suddenly their babies were teenagers.
The good news? I was married and had been for 15 years to a man who is a saint, and fortunately, we keep the house stocked with wine, so we quickly remedied the situation. I now have two toddlers.
But I am 40 years old and have two toddlers! I am exhausted.
So, can you have it all? Yes, yes you can. But can you have it all at once? Not so much.
Sometimes it will be all about your career, other times more about your family or your kids. Expect it to shift, expect it to change. And that is okay. That is life.
Your life will have chapters, complete with crazy characters, villains and a plot you can’t even imagine as you sit here today.
It’s a lot like a Scooby Doo episode.
You’re gonna see things you can’t believe. Surround yourself with good friends. Keep your eyes on the road ahead. The haunted mansion is a not a great short cut. Ask questions. Be scrappy. Break up the plots of villains. And don’t worry about Scooby Snacks, you’re an Ole Miss grad, grab a bourbon and enjoy the ride.
Thank you all, kiss your parents, hug your mothers, good luck and congratulations.
Lewis DVorkin, Forbes’ chief product manager, mentioned his recent visit to the Meek School during a PandoMonthly interview with Adam Penenberg in New York. Watch the clip at pandodaily.com.
Lecturer Robin Street found seven former students, now PR professionals, when she attended the Public Relations Association of Mississippi conference in April. The students took her PR and/ or her feature writing classes. Pictured left to right are: Selena Standifer, communications officer, American Red Cross, Northern Miss. District; Ashley Ball, current student; Matt Ginn, corporate communication program development specialist, Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company; Street; Genie Alice Via Causey, staff writer, North Mississippi Medical Center; April Sudduth Lollar, communications specialist, Coast Electric Power Association; Laura Beth Lyons Strickland, marketing and special events manager, Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Ashlee Reid, administrative assistant, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Not pictured is Kenny Foote, public information officer, Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Bill Miles, an early Journalism graduate who went on to a career in reporting, publishing, consulting and two terms in the Mississippi Legislature, has donated his political papers to the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.
The gift was made official in an April 29 ceremony, featuring former House Speaker Billy McCoy of Rienzi and Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville as keynote speakers.
Dr. Ed Meek, for whom the Meek School is named, commented that Miles was ahead of him in classes. “Just watch Bill Miles and do what he does,” Meek quoted early professor and chairman Sam Talbert as saying. “I did, and I have been doing it since,” Meek said.
The event also showcased several vintage campaign commercials produced by the Bill Miles Associates firm for north Mississippi candidates.“We’re also opening the Bill Miles Collection to researchers,” said Leigh McWhite, political papers archivist and associate professor at UM. “Among the current holdings of the Modern Political Archives, the Miles Collection is quite unique.”
Contained within the collection are documents, photographs and recordings on the campaigns of several north Mississippi candidates as well as Miles’s own files from his 12 years in the Legislature. The collection also includes diaries that he kept while it was in session.
“I feel very humbled to be included in an illustrious group of individuals whose accomplishments have impacted Mississippi’s history,” Miles said. “By the luck of the draw, I was fortunate, in most instances, to be an observer and, sometimes, a participant in some unusual events.”
While Miles had considered the possibility of Ole Miss being the custodian of anything worthwhile for future researchers, it was not until he was contacted by key players in the 50th anniversary observance of James Meredith’s enrollment that he made a commitment.
“Dr. Ed Meek and Dr. Andy Mullins pressed me hard by flattering me that my stuff might be worthwhile,” Miles said. “Ole Miss has meant a lot in my own education, and for my children and grandchildren. When I was shown the extent of the archives – where it is housed and its documentation – I was very impressed. And the university is a place where scholars can use ordinary collections, such as mine, for extraordinary benefits for the future.”
After working briefly as a journalist, Miles formed the advertising/public relations firm Bristow-Miles Associates Inc. in 1963 in Tupelo. After later becoming Bill Miles Associates, the firm often represented local political candidates. In 1996, voters of Itawamba and Monroe counties sent Miles to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he remained for 12 years.
“The most meaningful period in my career probably was during my legislative service, where my friendship and relationship with Speaker Billy McCoy resulted in my appointment as chairman of transportation and as a key adviser to him during very turbulent times,” Miles said. “I certainly enjoyed the association I had with the late Congressman Jamie Whitten, as he attained his high rank in the U.S. Congress. As one back home in his First Congressional District on whom he might rely for counsel, I had the unusual perch on which I observed and sometimes helped him get programs and projects which benefited Mississippians.”
For more information about the Bill Miles Collection at the University of Mississippi, visit http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/miles/.
The Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards competition receives more than 4,500 entries each year from hundreds of journalism programs around the country.
This year, broadcast journalism students Margaret Ann Morgan and Stephen Quinn have been awarded first place honors for their breaking news television coverage of Hurricane Isaac. Their stories aired on the student-produced newscast NewsWatch 99 and were part of a multimedia coverage effort surrounding this major storm on the Mississippi coastline.
In addition, The Flood of the Century magazine was one of two national finalists in the best student magazine category, and student Jared Burleson was a national finalist for his feature photography.
SPJ Is the country’s largest and oldest professional journalism organization in the country. The winners will be honored at the national convention in Anaheim, Calif. on August 25.
Five broadcast journalism students put their multimedia skills to the test during Oxford’s 18th Annual Double Decker Festival. Under the direction of professors Nancy Dupont and Deb Wenger, the team went to work for both WTVA-TV in Tupelo and HottyToddy.com in Oxford, covering events that began as early as 7:30 a.m. and working well past the end of the 6 p.m. newscast on WTVA.
The students also felt the pressure of real-time reporting with additional requirements to tweet story updates and photos, as well as to write text pieces for the Hotty Toddy website.
This is the second year in a row that Meek School students have covered the festival for WTVA. C.J. LeMaster, who anchors and produces the WTVA weekend shows, says the station is happy to work with the students and he enjoys helping them get the experience they’ll need to succeed on the job.
“It’s a humbling experience for me. Not that long ago, I was in their shoes, trying to learn as much as I could. No matter how young or ‘green’ you are as a journalist, you have to start somewhere, and someone has to give you that break, that chance to prove yourself,” said LeMaster. “It’s an honor and a privilege to help these students get some real feedback and experience in the industry.”
Graduating senior Stephen Quinn woke up before the sun to cover the Double Decker Spring Run. He found dozens of participants dedicating their miles to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Students Brittani Acuff and Stewart Pirani focused one story on festival food for the HottyToddy website and another on a Tupelo artist for the WTVA Sunday newscast.
Brandon Rook found out why so many people come back to Double Decker year after year for his piece which aired on WTVA’s 10 p.m. show on Saturday night.
But it may have been Bracey Harris who had the most fun covering the Square Fair for Kids where the younger set had a blast with the space-themed amusements.
Harris appreciated the chance to learn about working under deadline pressure.
“Today gave me experience that can only be gained outside of the classroom. I am fortunate to have guidance from Meek School faculty even when the week ends,” said Harris. “I found myself challenged and even frustrated at times, but the lesson was worth it. Field work is organized chaos, but I survived and am better prepared for the future because of it.”
It took four platoons of ROTC cadets, about a dozen Arabic-speaking students and a team of ten Meek School reporters to pull off Operation Rebel Charge on April 25. Ole Miss ROTC took over the Whirlpool Trails on the edge of campus in their final field exercise of the year.
Four students from Prof. Deb Wenger’s advanced TV reporting class embedded with the platoons and learned something about what it’s like to rely on the very people you’re covering, not only for information, but for safety.
“I think the journalism students also got an entirely new perspective on how much preparation it takes to effectively cover stories about war and issues of national security,” said Wenger. “Students got a crash course in how essential research is when it comes to conducting good interviews.”
For their part, the cadets learned how to handle tough questions from the media — getting practice in how to share information without over-stepping their bounds as representatives of the military and without giving away details that would put troops at risk.
The ROTC’s Lt. Col. Nate Minami spearheaded the effort to bring in, not only journalism students, but also student studying Arabic at Ole Miss. The Arabic language students played the role of villagers with whom the cadets had to work to secure an area within the fictional land of Atropia. The cadets learned how to work through an interpreter and the Arabic students got to practice both their speaking and translation skills.
The exercise was made as real as possible, featuring mock explosive devices, enemy combatants and a race against time. Journalism students also got a chance to explore some of the issues facing today’s military, such as the move to allow women to take part in combat someday soon.
Even some of the first-year journalism students got a chance to get involved. Students in Wenger’s multimedia writing course took part in the news conference that wrapped up the exercise.
“It was actually kind of fun,” said Katie Lovett.
For the second year in a row, NewsWatch won first place in Student TV Newscasts at the Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters (MAPB) banquet held Saturday, April 20 in Jackson.
Stephen Quinn won second place in TV News Reporting for his story on the 50th anniversary of integration at Ole Miss. Norman Seawright won third place in Student TV Documentaries for his series on Togo.
NewsWatch also took home third place in Student TV Weathercasting.
For the past year, Nancy Dupont has been serving as the President of MAPB. She will continue to serve as a board member during 2013-14.
Members of the Bullion Family attended the eighth and final Stuart Bullion Memorial Lecture in Journalism. The keynote speaker was James L. Bullion, the brother of Stuart Bullion, who was presented with a plaque. James Bullion works for the Department of Defense as Director of the Task Force for Business Stability Operations. In that role, he is responsible for helping to stimulate the private sector of the Afghan economy by enabling direct foreign investment, supporting business creation and growth, and promoting entrepreneurship. Pictured left to right are: Hanh Bullion (widow), Maralyn Bullion (mom), James Bullion, Tom Bullion (brother), Braxton (son) and Coy (son).
By Lauren Loyless
MediaStorm founder Brian Storm spoke to journalism students and the community of Oxford, Miss. about multimedia and the art of storytelling at the Ole Miss Overby Center April 5.. It was not long before the audience learned that Storm is funny, clever and edgy when discussing journalism.
“You are either in this game for the right reason or you’re a poser and need to get out,” said Storm. “We all know each other, business is small and someone in this room will probably hire you.”
Not only is he the founder of the widely recognized MediaStorm company, but he also has the passion and drive to produce what he calls old school journalism in a technology-driven world. Storm believes in focusing on quality, claiming it’s not about the medium that the story is presented on, but instead the good storytelling that gives a voice to the people.
“An iPad is not going to save journalism,” said Storm. “Great stories will save journalism. If you’re going to be a journalist … it’s not about you. It’s about the people whose stories you’re telling.”
MediaStorm is celebrated worldwide because of its ability to give a voice to the common man and tell the story that is not exactly easy to hear. Storm emphasizes doing a few things really well, and with a staff of nine. the company manages the production of a few multimedia stories a year. The stories range in coverage of the Tutsis’ genocide in “Intended Consequences,” to telling the story of a young man who loses his father in “A Shadow Remains.” What makes these stories so relatable to others is that they are raw with emotion and real. After Storm showed the trailers during his presentation, journalism students were left inspired to produce the same type of top-notch multimedia.
“Heartbreaking but eye-opening, you should watch “Intended Consequences” and see the results of this genocide in Rwanda,” said Ole Miss student Alessandra Richards. “Also watch the preview to “A Shadow Remains.” It’s so captivating and you will want to watch more!”
“Multimedia in the classroom is not talked about in depth the way he talked about it here tonight. It really opened my eyes,” said Ole Miss student Jessica Day.
Bloggers like the Director of National Geographic and popular news websites such as MSNBC and Reuters have promoted MediaStorm’s productions. Storm also works for some NGO and nonprofit clients that he says desperately need storytellers and journalists. However, his company cannot tell every story and typically turn down 70 percent of clients.
“There is no secret about what we are doing, we want everyone to know so they can form companies like us. Start your own company and tell your own stories,” said Storm.
University of Mississippi students won 19 awards in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 12 annual Mark of Excellence contest.
The awards included 11 first places, 6 second places, and 2 third places. Region 12 includes all colleges in Mississipppi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.
All first-place winners will now compete against first-place winners in the other 11 regions for the national SPJ Mark of Excellence Awards.
The staff of “The Flood of the Century” won first place for Best Student Magazine. The Daily Mississippian won second place for Best All-Around Daily Newspaper, NewsWatch won second place for Best All-Around Television Newscast, and theDMonline.com won second place for Best Affiliated Website.
In the individual categories, the following students won first-place awards:
Students who won second-place awards were:
Third-place awards were given to Austin Miller for Sports Writing for “Nkemdiche Making a Name for Himself,” and to Tim Abram for General Column Writing for a series of columns on the DM opinion pages.
Eighteen universities in the four states won awards in this year’s Region 12 contest.
Meek School professors Deb Wenger and Nancy Dupont shared ideas with journalism colleagues and students April 8-10 at the Broadcast Education Association national convention in Las Vegas.
Professor Wenger led a session on mobile newsgathering and was a panelist in a session on recruiting and retaining students. She outlined the success of Meek’s Summer Producer Program in a session on building TV news internships. The producer program is Wenger’s brainchild and has already resulted in full-time jobs for Meek graduates.
Professor Dupont led a session with TV news directors from around the country on how students can win the job with an effective resume video. The standing room only crowd was testament to the need for and the impact of the session. Dupont also served as the vice-chair for research for BEA’s News Division.
BEA is an organization of over 1,000 professors, media professionals and students dedicated to teaching and research of the multimedia and broadcasting industries. The Meek School is an institutional member of BEA.
Professor Berkeley Hudson teaches magazine journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. The former Los Angles Times writer is also an Ole Miss graduate who recently shared his passion for Mississippi and its stories with students just inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha (KTA).
KTA is a college honor society that recognizes academic excellence and promotes scholarship in journalism and mass communication. Eleven of the newest members received their awards and heard Hudson offer advice on how to have a successful career in telling stories.
Hudson also asked the group, which was meeting in the Overby Center, to reflect on one of the quotes emblazoned on the wall:
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”
By Susan Puckett
Last week, citizens of Clarksdale and blues travelers from all over were saddened to learn of the passing of Frank Ratliff, longtime proprietor of the Riverside Hotel, where many a bluesman had hung his hat. The loss of this beloved local legend — affectionately known as “Rat” — touched several students and faculty members of the Meek School of Journalism & New Media as well. I was one of them.
I found out about Rat’s death from Phillip Waller, a student in the Delta Project depth reporting class I co-teach with Bill Rose. He posted the news over the weekend on our class’s Facebook page, along with several photos of Rat taken on our spring break field trip to the Delta to research the region’s food traditions and habits for a magazine we are producing. That may very well be the last photographs of Rat ever taken.
Rat is not a cook, and the hotel does not serve food. But I made the case that even if a story on the Riverside Hotel didn’t really fit the food focus of this semester’s magazine, someone should at least pay a visit for some authentic Delta context. After all, Rat was one of the last of his kind, a member of that small fraternity of old-timers who remember the way it was and consider it a moral duty to preserve the old memories (and legends) of this distinct region.
I met Rat for the first time four years ago, soon after I set out to gather material for a food-oriented Delta guidebook, “Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South.” My husband, Ralph Ellis, a North Carolinian who had never set foot in Mississippi, joined me for a long weekend that included an overnight stay in Clarksdale. I was a bit taken aback when we spotted this rundown structure in a seedy neighborhood behind a broken Schlitz sign. An elderly black gentleman opened the door and cordially welcomed us in. Immediately he put us at ease.
The Riverside is where famed blues songstress Bessie Smith died, following a car accident while on tour in 1937. At that time, the little brick lodge teetering over the Sunflower River was the G.T. Thomas Hospital, caring for black patients who had nowhere else to go for treatment.
In 1944, when Rat was four years old, his mother, Z.L. “Momma” Hill, took over the building and converted it into a hotel that became a temporary home to a long procession of black musicians. She treated them like her sons, cooking meals for them and sewing their costumes. Rat helped out his whole life, even while employed at the Wonder Bread bakery, and took over the business with his wife Joyce when his mother died. He reserved Room Number 2 as a shrine to Smith, with several portraits of her on the walls and one propped up lovingly on the pillow. Each of the other rooms paid homage to a different musician or other celebrity who had stayed there. Ike Turner. John Lee Hooker. John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Rat gave us the grand tour of each spotless, memorabilia-filled room, as if he were a museum tour guide. We settled on the Pop Staples room, equipped with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Before we left to explore the town, Rat invited us into his apartment to help us plan our itinerary, and assured us he would make sure our stay was safe and comfortable. And it was.
Like others who have stayed there, by the time we left we felt like old friends. Ralph snapped my photo with Rat, posed in front of that iconic faded blue and white “Riverside Hotel, Home of the Delta Blues” sign, as a thousand other guests before me.
Right around the time of my book’s release, Meek School Dean Will Norton, one of my journalism professors more than 30 years ago, invited me back to my alma mater to help Bill Rose’s depth reporting class produce a special report on the Delta, as it has for the past three years. The hope was that the research I’d poured into my book could inspire students to delve deeper into more serious issues of economy and health.
In the classes leading up to spring break, Bill and I helped students lay the groundwork for stories on the catfish and prawn industry, obesity, the rise of community gardens, culinary entrepreneurs, and much more. Using the apartments above Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale as our home base, we canvassed the region — talking to people, shooting photos, and eating extremely well.
One of the students in the photography class, Katie Williamson, was intrigued by Rat’s story and tried to set up a photo shoot with help from photography instructor Mikki Harris. They spoke with his daughter, Zelina (“Zee”) Ratliff, whom he had been grooming to take over the business. She said she would ask him, but made no promises. He had been ailing, and was reluctant to give tours to travelers who weren’t staying at the hotel to respect the privacy of the guests. Still, I held out hope.
On the last day of our trip, they finally got word that he would agree to meet them late that afternoon.
When we arrived, Rat was sitting in his usual spot, in a plastic chair on the front porch. He did not stand up to greet us. He seemed exhausted. I wondered if perhaps he wasn’t up to our visit after all and Zee, who was inside, might ask us to leave.
Then Katie took the chair next to him, and deftly switched hats — from photographer to reporter. Phillip Waller pulled out his camera as Katie began chatting with Rat, eventually pulling out her pad and taking some notes of her own.
Slowly Rat began to perk up. In a voice so soft we had to lean in at times to hear him, he began telling us one story after another — some of which I recalled from my earlier visit — while Phillip photographed him. Zee joined into the conversation, as well, and gave us a quick tour of the storied rooms.
As we prepared to leave, I showed him my book, and the passage in which he was quoted. A weak smile appeared on his thin, drawn face. I signed it to him and his daughter. He asked me where my husband was, and said he hoped we’d both come back to stay sometime.
Frank “Rat” Ratliff died at the Riverside on the evening of March 28, 2013, less than two weeks after our visit. For now, the hotel appears in good hands. Like her dad, Zee seems to genuinely relish sharing her family history and Clarksdale heritage with those who care enough to inquire.
Which is a good thing; Rat told the students that there’s so much family history within the hotel he’d rather have it torn down than let anyone other than a blood relative take over.
Whatever the Riverside’s ultimate fate, the stories within it will live on — thanks to journalists who have come to listen — and lean in close, if necessary, to hear the answers.
The University of Mississippi Chancellor, faculty and staff extend our warmest welcome to the students, parents, grandparents, families and friends who plan to attend the 160th Commencement to be held at Ole Miss on May 11, 2013.
Commencement is a time-honored tradition that recognizes the outstanding work and achievements of our students and faculty. We invite you to join us on this special day as we congratulate our graduating students on their academic success and urge them to use that knowledge to positively impact our state, nation and world.
Dr. Samir Husni and the Meek School Magazine Innovation Center are spotlighted in the March issue of Delta Business Journal. Read the article.
University of Mississippi students won more awards than any other college in the annual Best of the South contest, including four first places.
The students won a total of 11 Best of the South awards, and an additional five awards – including one first place for public relations – in the onsite competitions held at the conference, Feb. 21-23 at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Best of the South
Margaret Ann Morgan was named Best Multimedia Journalist, Bracey Harris was named Best Magazine Writer, Benjamin Hurston was named Best Magazine Layout Designer and Nick Andrews was named Best Radio Journalist. All four are Meek School students active at the Student Media Center.
The Daily Mississippian won fourth place in the Best College Newspaper category. Twenty-nine campus papers entered that category, and The DM was the top-ranked daily paper.
NewsWatch won third place for Best College Video News Program. TheDMonline.com won second place for Best College Website.
The contests are sponsored by the Southeast Journalism Conference, which has 45 member universities in eight states. This year, there were 430 entries in Best of the South, covering the contest year from mid-November 2011 through mid-November 2012.
Morgan’s Best of the South multimedia entry focused on coverage of Hurricane Isaac, and included an article in the DM written under daily deadline pressure, NewsWatch live reports, and an online photo/audio package. The judge wrote, “Very nicely done. The ability to produce video, still image, text and broadcast quality stand-ups means some news organization ought to hire this student quickly.”
The DM was required to enter publications from two dates for the Best College Newspaper category. The judge in that category praised the staff for “ambitious ideas, creative approaches to sports and strong photography.”
A broadcast judge wrote about the NewsWatch video program entry: “I felt like I got an accurate account of not only what’s happening on campus but across the state.”
Harris and Hurston won for their work in “The Flood of the Century,” a depth report about flood control on the Mississippi River. Judges praised their creativity and imagery.
Other Best of the South awards, all for work published in The DM: Josh Clark, second place for editorial cartoons; Kristen Saltzman, second place for advertising design; Austin Miller, third place for Best Sports Writer; Mary B. Sellers, fourth place for Best Arts & Entertainment Writer.
In the PR: Crisis Communication category, the Ole Miss team of Frances Allison, Jane Lloyd Brown and Alyssa Randolph took first place.
Austin Miller won second place for copy editing. Emily Roland won third place for page design; Adam Ganucheau won third place for news writing; and Phillip McCausland won third place for editorial writing. All are DM editors and writers.
The onsite competitions included 11 categories. About 300 students from 24 colleges attended the SEJC conference, and many of them participated in the onsite contests.
Less than five months after launching HottyToddy.com, the locally-owned and operated website is getting thousands of daily hits and already partnering with Meek School classes for daily stories and special event coverage.
On National Signing Day, students in Prof. Cynthia Joyce’s Journalism Innovation class used Twitter to cover the day’s event and created a Storify presentation of the best social media content published around the topic.
In the advanced TV reporting class, a team of 11 broadcast journalists, supervised by Prof. Deb Wenger, took their cameras and their smartphones out to the Oxford Conference Center to cover the Ole Miss Quarterback Club event. Students involved in the class had good things to say about the real-world experience.
“Knowing that the event was receiving national attention; it’s really cool covering something you know is going to also be covered by ESPN,” said Bracey Harris, a student in the class.
The result was thousands of hits to the website and hundreds more followers and fans on social media.
Now, HottyToddy.com invites students throughout the school to get involved in the all-digital news source, which is designed to connect the global family of those who love Ole Miss and Oxford.
According to HottyToddy.com founder’s Ed Meek, regardless of your media specialty, opportunities to build your skill levels and add to your portfolio of work are possible.
“You can be part of an exciting new digital environment which integrates social media with the Web,” Meek said. ‘This is a great way to get experience and prepare for the job market.”
The site is looking for social media interns, general assignment or feature reporters, photojournalists, graphic design interns and advertising sales interns. Students can register for academic credit by filling out the appropriate forms.
HottyToddy,com is advertiser-supported but all profits benefit the scholarship program at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
To learn more, contact Michael Harrelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Prince, president of the Mississippi Press Association, led a morning session at the association’s Mid-Winter Conference in Jackson, Miss. Prince, a UM journalism graduate, is president of Prince Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which publishes the Madison County Journal, the Kemper County Messenger, and The Neshoba Democrat.
Dr. Samir Husni, Meek school professor and director of the Magazine Innovation Center, gave a presentation on “Why We Need Print in the Digital Age.”
This year more than 150 Ole Miss students were added to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, including 14 from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. They are Tara Brando, Emily Cegielski, Kevin Cozart, Kimbrely Dandridge, Ashleigh Davis, Jontarius Haywood, Kim Hobgood, Gerard Manogin, Austin Miller, Margaret Ann Morgan, Emily Roland, Sealy Smith, Miriam Taylor and Katherine Williamson. From that talented group, three were selected by the university to be among the 10 students inducted into the 2012-2013 University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.
Margaret Ann Morgan is a broadcast journalism major who is this year’s Miss Ole Miss. She has anchored NewsWatch and been actively involved in student government. Morgan is from McComb, Miss. Emily Roland is the editor of the Daily Mississippian and is from Bakersfield, Calif. Kimbrely Dandridge is the current student body president and has also anchored NewsWatch. She is from Como, Miss.
Selection of a total of 153 students for the Who’s Who honor, one percent of the student body on the Oxford campus, was announced in a ceremony at the Gertrude S. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
When the legendary John Seigenthaler, Sr. visited the Ole Miss campus a couple years ago, a student asked him what was the one thing he wished he had learned more about while in school. Without hesitation, Seigenthaler said, “Marketing.”
In a world where branding is a buzz word, Meek School graduate Joe Doolittle has put his journalism degree to use as a promotions producer for WJTV-TV in Jackson.
“It’s nice to have a steady job with steady pay, but most importantly, it’s nice to have a job I genuinely enjoy and one that challenges me, keeps me on my toes and is fulfilling. I’ve learned a lot since beginning in October and I don’t expect that to slow down anytime soon,” said Doolittle.
Doolittle knew he didn’t want a traditional TV news job when he left school in May 2011, but he also knew he loved working with video. News promotions, which combines creativity, writing, shooting and editing, seemed ideally suited for Doolittle’s interests and talents.
Doolittle says his job involves promoting the station’s brand and its newscasts, 10-to-30 seconds at a time.
Doolittle is also getting a chance to promote individual news stories, enjoying the opportunity to work with WJTV’s corporate graphics team to create animation, too.
“I came up with the idea, wrote out something of a script for them to follow, they did so, returned the animation to me, I put some music with it and then we threw it on the air. It was fun.”
This year’s International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA) Awards will be administered by the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
Dan Patrell, president of IRMA and publisher of Maryland Life, said the role of the University of Mississippi center, under the leadership of Dr. Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, will amplify the annual awards program.
“Everyone involved with IRMA is very excited to take our awards program to the next level through Dr. Husni’s Magazine Innovation Center,” Patrell said. “Working with ‘Mr. Magazine,’ we’re looking forward to a robust partnership that will celebrate editorial excellence and strengthen the organization as a whole.”
The Magazine Innovation Center’s mission is to channel creativity and intellect to provide blueprints for productive change within the magazine industry. Ole Miss started a service journalism emphasis almost 30 years ago, and the Meek School holds annual international magazine conferences each fall.
Will Norton Jr., dean of the Meek School, said IRMA’s decision, “Is an indication of how much the magazine program and the Magazine Innovation Center have become an integral part of the magazine industry both in the United States and abroad.”
Dr. Husni, MIC director since the program’s inception, added, “It’s a great honor for the Magazine Innovation Center to host and administer these eminent awards which honor excellence and creativity in writing, photography, design and publishing.”RMA is a gathering place and information source for regional magazines. Free and open communication among members is the heart and soul of the organization, which holds an annual conference every fall. The IRMA awards began in 1981 and recognize excellence in all areas of regional magazine publishing. The call for entries for this year’s awards will go out in March. More information is available at regionalmagazines.org.
For more information on the International Regional Magazine Awards or to become a member of the International Regional Magazine Association, visit regionalmagazines.org.
For more information on the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit www.meek.olemiss.edu.
Students often feel inundated with advice about the hundreds of skills journalists “must have” in order to be successful. But the journalists at WMC Action News 5 in Memphis have narrowed the list to five essential skills.
Photojournalist Bo Bradley says a real journalist has to be a dedicated one. He says you have to be willing to work the longer shifts and do the grunt work, really roll with the punches, to be successful in this business.
Reporter Justin Hanson says there are going to be times when you have to be persistent to get the interview that will make your story come to life. Stick with it and you will be surprised what you can do.
Associate Producer Denisha Thomas says creativity drives the newsroom. You have to really use the right side of your brain and figure out what matters to your public and deliver it in a creative way.
Anchor/ Reporter Lindsey Brown, a graduate of Ole Miss, says you have to have the desire to make a difference through what you write and what you report. You have push through the long hours and realize that your hard work will pay off.
5. News Consumption
Assistant News Director Regina Thomas says keep writing and read a lot! Consume news from different outlets, both local and national, to compare and learn why and how they report the way they do.
It isn’t the most obvious skills and attributes — editing, writing, interviewing — that each of these successful journalists listed as most important. Instead, they say, their list includes the things that matter most when you are pushed for deadline, hunting down the interview or covering breaking news.
Anna Ellingburg is a senior with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. She recently completed an internship at WMC.
Jermaine Jackson, a 2008 Ole Miss journalism graduate, died Friday. He was a native of Charleston, Miss. While working on his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Jermaine was an honors student, a member of the Associated Student Body and a fixture at the Student Media Center. His death has stunned and saddened many of his fellow alumni and the journalism professors who knew him well.
In his time at Ole Miss, Jackson helped with the creation of the DMonline.com and participated in NewsWatch, The Daily Mississippian, the Ole Miss yearbook, the Associated Student Body, Student Leadership Council, Ole Miss Mock Trial, Honors College and many other university activities.
Amanda Pannel, a former station manager for NewsWatch, says the Jackson family is seeking funds to help cover funeral expenses, and any donations would be greatly appreciated. Friends and family can donate via an account set up by former University of Mississippi professor Ralph Braseth.
Funeral arrangements are as follows:
Friday, Jan. 25
WAKE — 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. — at Robinson Funeral Home, 588 Highway 51 South, Batesville, Miss. 38606.
Flowers can be sent to Robinson Funeral Home after 2 p.m. on Friday.
Saturday, Jan. 26
FUNERAL — – 11 a.m. — at Abundant Harvest Church of God in Christ, 623 Martin Luther King Drive, Charleston, Miss. 38921
Please also feel free to contribute comments on a tribute site, which already features memories from Ole Miss alumni, professors and members of the Oxford community who had the pleasure to work with and befriend Jermaine.
A 60-year friendship between attorney James P. “Butch” Cothren of Jackson and journalist and author Curtis Wilkie of Oxford has impacted both men’s lives in immeasurable ways. Now the legacy of that friendship will expand through the lives of University of Mississippi students who will benefit from a scholarship endowment created in Wilkie’s name.
Cothren and his wife, Peggy T. “Pat” Cothren – major supporters of their alma mater – have presented a new gift of $125,000 to pay tribute to Wilkie through scholarships in UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
“We’ve been great friends all our lives and we think of our friendship as being authentic,” said Butch Cothren, a McComb, Miss., native who earned undergraduate and Juris Doctor degrees from Ole Miss before going on to build a successful law practice. “Pat and I wanted to do something more to support the university, and we decided to make a gift to honor Curtis, who has done so much for Ole Miss from teaching to hosting visitors on the campus and in his home.”
The Cothrens are credited with reconnecting Wilkie to Ole Miss and Oxford, which ultimately brought the acclaimed journalist back to teach and mentor journalism students.
“Butch is my oldest, closest friend. We’ve been pals since he was shortstop and I third baseman for the mighty McComb Manufacturing Tigers in Little League. Although we attended different high schools, joined different fraternities at Ole Miss, and have always lived in different cities, Butch and I stayed in touch. It was Butch and Pat who introduced me to the Grove in 1993 after I had been away from Oxford for more than 25 years, and their friendship played a role in my decision to move back to the South.”
Butch Cothren – an American Board of Trial Advocates and American College of Trial Lawyers member who has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America publication every year since 1991 as a testament of his professional achievements – said the impetus behind the scholarship gift was the loss of another close friend and UM alumnus, Franklin Holmes of Raleigh, N.C.
“Pat and I decided one of us in our circle of friends needed to have a legacy at Ole Miss and there is no better way to impact a university than through scholarships. Ole Miss offers a great atmosphere and opportunities to learn, and we have been impressed with the growth of the journalism school,” he said.
Wilkie recalled the evening he learned of the scholarship. “My wife Nancy and I were at dinner at Butch and Pat’s Oxford home when he somberly said he had an announcement. I braced for bad news. When Butch said he wanted to establish a scholarship in my name, I was flabbergasted. ‘Touched’ may be a corny word, but I was very touched.
“I’m delighted to think that this will help our students and the Ole Miss journalism program, where I’ve been teaching for eleven years. It’s a grand gesture by Butch. He was motivated, in part, by the death a year and a half ago of our great friend, Franklin Holmes. We three ran around together a lot at Ole Miss and Butch wanted to do something for our alma mater before the two of us pass on, too.”
Since 2004, Wilkie has held the Kelly G. Cook Chair of Journalism at Ole Miss, where he was also named the first Overby Fellow in the university’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. The journalist enjoyed a 25-year career with the Boston Globe as a national and foreign correspondent until the end of the 2000 presidential campaign. He covered eight president campaigns and served as chief of the Globe’s Washington bureau. Among his work covering wars and conflicts overseas, Wilkie established the Globe’s Middle East bureau and lived in Jerusalem in the mid-1980s.
Wilkie is also the author of many national magazine articles and the author or co-author of several books, including the Fall of the House of Zeus and Dixie: A Personal Odyssey through Events that Shaped the Modern South.
UM Chancellor Dan Jones applauded the Cothrens’ thoughtful generosity.
“A hallmark of the Ole Miss experience is the close friendships our students develop and nurture throughout their lives. Pat and Butch Cothren have taken this a step further by recognizing their talented friend, Curtis Wilkie, through the establishment of a scholarship endowment that will help many promising students achieve rewarding journalism careers. We are deeply grateful for the support of the Cothrens, who obviously gave a great deal of thought to identifying a meaningful way to celebrate a friendship and their relationship with Ole Miss. Their generosity and vision are inspiring,” the chancellor said.
Pat Cothren – a native of Dublin, Miss., who earned a degree in education and with her husband is a benefactor of the School of Law and Ole Miss Athletics – has been a part of the Cothren-Wilkie friendship for 45 years.
“There is nothing in life more important than friendship, and Butch and Curtis are blessed to have one of those friendships which time and distance have never affected,” she said.
When asked about favorite memories, Cothren and Wilkie laugh and the stories begin to flow. Cothren described his friend as “kind of a rascal” as a youngster who got into trouble for harassing the Little League umpire in a season when their team only won one game. “Curtis is the only Little Leaguer I have ever known or heard of who almost got ejected from a game for razzing the umpire.”
“We were involved in a lot of mischief when we were younger,” Wilkie said. “Butch may recall the night – we were back from college during Thanksgiving break – that I dropped him off at home after a night of carousing, then drove my parents’ car back and forth through a big pile of leaves, scattering what he had spent all afternoon raking up in his yard. I guess he’s forgiven me by now.”
The majority of the funds provided by the Cothrens will be held in a permanent endowment with the annual income providing academic scholarships awarded to full-time students who are journalism majors. The other part of the gift will be used to award the scholarship beginning fall 2013. Selection of scholarship recipients will be directed by a committee of the Meek School faculty.
The Curtis C. Wilkie Scholarship Endowment is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations. Checks with the scholarship name noted in the memo line can be mailed to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, Miss. 38677. Gifts can also be made by contacting John Festervand, development officer for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at 662-915-1757 or email@example.com; or visiting online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.
The Society of News Design Foundation has added Darren Sanefski to its board, tasking him with the role of education director.
Sanefski is an assistant professor of multiple platform journalism at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at The University of Mississippi. He has an extensive news design and marketing background.
He received his master of arts (interactive design) from the State University of New York at Oswego and a bachelor of fine arts (visual communication) from Syracuse University. He was on the faculty at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University from 2005 until 2012. Sanefski worked for The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, NY. Most recently, he was the paper’s sports design editor and designed interactive sports graphics for its sister website, Syracuse.com.
Other officers include: president, Rob Schneider of the Dallas Morning News; vice president, David Kordalski of The Cleveland Plain Dealer; and secretary-treasurer, Lee Steele of Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
At Ole Miss, Sanefski teaches design and principles of design courses and frequently works with students individually in the Student Media Center.