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Meek School student writes about flag controversy for NBC

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by cjoyce

Ann-Marie Herod writes about flag removal for NBC BLK The recent decision to remove the MS state flag from campus thrust Ole Miss once more into the national media spotlight — but this time it was students leading efforts for change, as well as leading media coverage of the events.

In a powerful essay written for NBC News, “Your Heritage is Hate: Take Down the State Flag at Ole Miss,” Meek School student Ann-Marie Herod lamented what the flag has meant for her personally as an ambassador for the university:

“There was a time where we were not wanted at this University. To some that may have been fifty years ago, to others that may have been just a few years ago, and for me it was just last week…every week I face the challenge of convincing students why they should come to Ole Miss. It makes my job ten times harder when I have to convince minority students to see beyond the confederate flags that are literally in every tent during home games.”

Read the full essay here.


Alumni Update: Josh Ellis

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by ewrobins

Josh EllisJosh Ellis, a 2008 graduate of the Meek School of Journalism originally from Longview, Texas, has been promoted to editor-in-chief of SUCCESS. A legacy publication founded in 1897, SUCCESS is a national service magazine covering entrepreneurship along with personal and career development. It boasts a print and digital subscription base of over 500,000 and a combined social following of 4 million. Ellis joined the magazine in 2012 as its features editor.

Alumni Update: Rob Waters

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by ewrobins

Rob Waters & Elephants“One Mississippi, two Mississippi!” My boss is counting off the actual elapsed time – two seconds – which a professional guide would have to raise and aim an already-loaded heavy-caliber rifle at a lion charging from, say, 20 meters. It’s too tight, and indeed, in this case, the lion killed a respected colleague.

I have worked most of my life in tourism in Africa. If my boss ever thought about my link with Mississippi, he is not thinking about it now. But I am jolted by both his practical illustration of the incident and the use of the name ‘Mississippi.’ It’s a thread that weaves in and out of my history.

Indeed, there are moments in an individual’s life when time stands still, and we are caught in slack-jawed surprise until realization kicks in. There are moments in history when the whole world stands still and watches the course of history change before their eyes. Pearl Harbor for example.

On 9/11 2001, I was with University of Mississippi journalism professor Will Norton in Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa. He could not have been further from his home base in the USA. I was at home, but not comprehending the tapestry of life that had brought us together at this time. Actually, I still do not understand that tapestry, but I am increasingly aware of the weaving of threads, which, on their own without meaning, taken together, create a picture, unique and beautiful to each individual.

I met Will when I travelled to the States to take a postgrad degree in journalism. My first degree was in English from the University of Zimbabwe. Avoiding teaching as a career, I still wanted to use my mother-tongue to hinge my career – and journalism seemed the path to follow. The USA led the world – by far – in the teaching of journalism at any level, so I spent many hours in the local university library and came up with a seemingly exhaustive list of programs stateside, and diligently wrote to each one of them.

I was floored when I received a reply in the mail from Jere Hoar of the graduate program at Ole Miss. Ole Miss valued the benefits of cultural exchange and offered an assistantship as bait. I was hooked. In my undergrad degree, we had studied the American novel – I had discovered Faulkner and focused on him in my classwork. Here was another of those threads in the tapestry of life, linking me as an individual with these two continents.

This was before email – how did we manage? – and there had been the usual delays in the intercontinental post. Within a short time I was on my way, and only just made the start of the school year. Looking back now, those first impressions of the nation, the people, the campus, were among the richest of my life, saturated in color and activity, weird accents and an immeasurable resource of Southern culture.

There was one small hitch in my great scheme – actually the elephant in the room that I was studiously ignoring. I had chosen to study journalism, but Zimbabwe, independent since 1980, had a rather limited free press. The new black government had merely inherited control of all the daily newspapers and the only radio and television broadcasting station from the previous white government, which it then wrapped its python-coils around ever more tightly.

I was young and cavalier and, in the meantime, really enjoying Ole Miss and the USA. Career choices could wait. But it was always clear to me that the ability to communicate well would benefit me in whatever path I followed through life. It was this skill that I had come to hone at Ole Miss, and, therefore, was News Reporting 271 the most important course I took? (I had no journalism credits in my first degree, and had to take undergrad courses to fill in the gaps in my progress toward a postgrad degree.)

The truth is that, like bricks in a building, or threads in a tapestry, every lecture, let alone every course, had its role to play in the finished item. I really enjoyed communications law, which left me with a sneaking suspicion that I had missed my vocation as a lawyer. I was privileged to take a writing class with Willie Morris – I remember his warmth and enthusiasm for life and was greatly encouraged by his response to my work. That was a major pillar established in my life, right there.

Will Norton taught me how to edit, and I still cringe when I write to him or for him – this article is a case in point – knowing that the pencil is always at work in his mind. Will also walked me through my thesis with inexhaustible patience, supporting me and shielding me from the internal and external forces that might bring surrender and defeat.

As well as writing and editing, at Ole Miss I learned to organize my thoughts, to be more clear thinking, analytical. I learned to take nothing new at face value, but to test it against already-proven criteria, most of all common sense. Ole Miss also crystallized the core values and principles such as integrity that have sustained me through life – however imperfectly I may have been able to realize those principles at various times.

But, despite having a degree in journalism, I have never worked full time in either print or broadcast journalism, apart from a brief stint as a sub-editor on an evening paper in Wales – useful to pay your way when travelling. I still, however, freelance as a sub-editor for a regional quarterly tabloid focused on tourism and conservation.

I well knew that, if I chose to return, live and work in the nation of my birth, this would be the case. Today, not much has changed from 30 years ago, in terms of a journalism career in Zimbabwe. There’s still only one government-owned broadcast station, providing stodgy propaganda, but, hey, now there are satellite dishes on the smallest of earthen walled, thatched huts, providing different fare. There are a couple of fiercely independent weeklies and a daily that is as hotly biased against the government as the government press is biased against the opposition. There are no ethics on either side in this fight, and it is not one in which I have ever wanted to be involved.

On an island in the Zambezi opposite Zambezi Sands Lodge Victoria Falls

On an island in the Zambezi opposite Zambezi Sands Lodge Victoria Falls

Instead, I’ve spent my time since Ole Miss in tourism. Africa’s wilderness and wildlife is the one resource it has of world-class standard that can be relatively easily accessed. Mineral and agricultural resources also abound, but developing them takes huge investment and the right economic policies. Tourism is somewhat less complicated. A healthy economy is not required – Cuba, anyone?

I’ve pretty much worked my way around Zimbabwe, privileged to live at most of the top tourist destinations at one time or another. Hwange National Park, home to 50,000 elephant; The Save (pronounced ‘Sarvay’) Valley Conservancy, which is an important black rhino sanctuary; Gonarezhou National Park, now part of a three nation transfrontier park project; Great Zimbabwe, the largest ancient ruin in Africa south of the Sahara; Victoria Falls, high on most tourist’s wish list. Now I live in Bulawayo, this nation’s second and most cultural city, packed with colonial and pre-colonial history, retaining much of its early architecture and atmosphere.

Rob Waters & Family

Carey, Rob, Joanna (7), David (16)

In 1978 I married Carey, whose family hails from the eastern highlands of the country. Our first child, David, was born in 1999, and his sister Joanna arrived in 2008. They attend elite private schools, to my chagrin, because I benefitted from a first-class, government education. After some noteworthy success in expanding education for the masses after independence, the education system today leaves much to be desired.

But the skills I learned at Ole Miss have been pivotal in furthering my career. Good communication, obviously, is a major asset in any organization. But I also strengthened the life skills of perseverance, effort, endeavor, which were not taught in any formal class, but which underpin progress at the tertiary education level, and thereafter in life itself. For all of this, I am deeply grateful to Ole Miss.

Lastly, I also thank Ole Miss for friendships that have survived the tests of time and distance: Will Norton; my room-mate Tom Grier from Detroit (long discussions and late nights recalled); the unstinting support from colleagues who prepared me well and finally sent me out into life beyond school.

Alumni Update: Laura Houston Santhanam

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by ewrobins

LSanthanamI’m Laura Houston Santhanam (’05), and I recently celebrated my first anniversary as the data producer for the PBS NewsHour. Every day, I use narrative and numbers to tell stories, but my path to this newsroom wasn’t direct. At one point, I even thought I was done with journalism for good. I should have known better.

I grew up down the road from Oxford in Tupelo, where Niki Peel (’92) helped me get my first newspaper job as a high school sophomore stringing Friday night football coverage for the Lee County Courier and then the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

After editing The Daily Mississippian and graduating a year later, I briefly worked at the Chattanooga Times-Free Press (thanks so much for your letter, Mr. Wilkie) before I returned to The Arizona Republic in Phoenix where I had interned during undergrad. At that time, journalism’s shifting economic reality began to make newspapers everywhere ache. In June 2007, I decided to turn my back on the profession I had chosen as a 12-year-old and study public policy at American University in Washington, D.C.

That decision led me in 2009 to join Pew Research Center where I analyzed media trends and the news agenda. I was never too far away from the world of journalism, but I still craved deadlines, interviews and a humming newsroom. After briefly updating my online reporting skills at Media Matters for America, I itched to jump back into journalism and applied to the NewsHour.

Since then, I haven’t looked back and am thankful to report the news again. In my job, I explore data and interview policy experts and people whose lives helped shape the numbers. Those figures strengthen narrative in ways that anecdotes alone just can’t. That’s the fun thing about data reporting and why I love my job. Each statistic represents a person with a story, and some days, I’m lucky enough to tell it.

Posted 9/28/15

James Autry’s new book wins major praise

Posted on: September 16th, 2015 by ewrobins

A new book of verse, “On Paying Attention,” by James Autry, has won major praise on the blog of noted national journalist Bill Moyers. Read the blog at and watch the interview below.

Autry, a Memphis native who resides in Des Moines, Iowa, is an Ole Miss graduate in Journalism. He is a businessman, lecturer and management consultant in addition to poet. In Des Moines, he served as president of the Meredith Corporation Magazine Group, publisher of  Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Successful Farming. Meredith provided the initial grant to create the Magazine Innovation Center. It is now in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and has been headed for 31 years by Dr. Samir Husni.

The Meek School also has an Autry Scholarship Endowment and Autry has been named a Distinguished Alumnus and elected to the Alumni Hall of Fame of the University of Mississippi.


Edwin E. Meek’s ‘RIOT’ grants intimate look at James Meredith, Ole Miss

Posted on: September 14th, 2015 by ewrobins

Read the article at

Multimedia student team covers Katrina Anniversary on Gulf Coast

Posted on: August 29th, 2015 by drwenger
Ji Hoon Heo and Maggie McDaniel cover the recovery of the seafood industry in Mississippi on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Ji Hoon Heo and Maggie McDaniel cover the recovery of the seafood industry in Mississippi on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Some opportunities for learning are just too good to pass up; that’s why six Meek School students and two profs packed up their bags and loaded up with gear for a trip to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and the Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary.

“On the Ole Miss campus, we’re recognized as students covering Ole Miss events, but here we had to get credentials, figure out logistics and work under the same constraints and with the same expectations as professionals,” said student Brittany Clark.

The student team included Clark, Payton Green, Sereena Henderson, Ji Hoon Heo, Maggie McDaniel and Quinton Smith. They covered stories from President George Bush’s visit to thank local first responders, to the resilience of one coastal church to the comeback of the area’s casino and seafood industries.

“It’s astonishing that people fought to rebuild; they stayed because this is their home and they love the place so much that they’re willing to take the risk that this could happen again,” said McDaniel.

For professors Deb Wenger and Nancy Dupont, it was a chance to help students learn strategies for reporting in unfamiliar territory and on tight deadlines.

“These Katrina stories are emotional, and it’s important that our students learn to cover people with painful memories, “ Dupont said. “They’ve learned that this weekend, and they exceeded my expectations.”

Student Quinton Smith ended up on crutches right before the trip, but he refused to stay home.

“I just realized how good of an opportunity this kind of reporting trip is,” Smith said. “Hurricane Katrina is not something that affected my family personally, but we were all broken up about it and we would watch video from the coverage every night, so I just wanted to be a part of it.”

For graduate student Ji Hoon Heo, it was a chance to learn more about Southern culture.

“It also gave me an opportunity to work with other students in the Meek School,” said Heo. “The journalism graduate program is small, so every time I get a chance to work with other students, it’s a pleasure.”

Sereena Henderson is from Pass Christian, Mississippi – a small town that hit Katrina particularly hard.

“It meant a lot of me to be able to be down here during the 10th anniversary and be able to talk with people who shared similar experiences,” Henderson said. “Listening to people’s stories helped me remember some of my own; it was an emotional time for me.”

The student stories aired on the student-run NewsWatch99 and on the DMOnline. Payton Green is the NewsWatch99 news director, who is also from the Mississippi coast.

“I was a kid when it happened so there wasn’t anything I could do to help back then; now, this is my way to do something, to report on the recovery that we’ve made,” said Green.

Wenger says anyone looking to hire terrific young journalists should look no further than this crew.

“Every one of these students worked hard and produced professional quality work. If there are employers on the hunt for solid multimedia journalists, this is a great list to pull from.”

L-R: Sereena Henderson, Brittany Clark, Nancy Dupont, Quinton Smith, Maggie McDaniel, Deb Wenger, Payton Green, Ji Hoon Heo.

L-R: Sereena Henderson, Brittany Clark, Nancy Dupont, Quinton Smith, Maggie McDaniel, Deb Wenger, Payton Green, Ji Hoon Heo. Meek School students and professors cover Hurricane Katrina Anniversary in Biloxi, Aug. 28-30, 2015.

Evolving into the future, journalism remains relevant for Ole Miss graduate

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by ewrobins

By David Baxley (M.A., ’07)

David BaxleyThe news landscape continues to evolve. The challenge for producers of news is to remain engaged with current trends — understanding what consumers demand in a digital age. Whether your focus is on print, broadcast, or social media, a firm foundation equips one with knowledge in adapting to evolving media. I obtained that solid footing while attending graduate school at the University of Mississippi more than 10 years ago. While I attended, before the birth of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, my experience inside the Journalism Department is one I will cherish always.

Coursework in Mass Communications Research, Communications Law, History of Mass Media, and Mass Media Ethics while attending UM solidified my love for journalism. Although I had worked in newsrooms before graduate school, my passion for the industry grew once I arrived on campus. Even today, my passion for evolving journalism and media was sparked through my experience in journalism classes.

The professors have a unique interest in wanting students to succeed. Whether you are a graduate or undergraduate inside the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, understand your professors want you to grasp concepts, understand material, and — quite frankly — want you to survive in this industry. Dr. Jeanni Atkins and Dr. Kathleen Wickham are two professors who stood out during my time there. Importantly, these professors not only care about you while attending classes, but they also are interested in your success after graduation. The Journalism faculty is among the best in the nation!

I went on to work at a television station and completed my Master of Arts degree in journalism in 2007. I have worked as a news producer; news assignment editor in Dallas, Texas; news assignment manager in Montgomery, Alabama; and most recently, as an investigative producer at the CBS affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama. I have come to understand how much the business has changed in just a few short years.

With the advent of new forms of social media, we must stay on top of our game. Consumers want more immediate content, and they want to be interactive. That change is requiring journalists to produce “impactful” stories — stories that mean something to everyday citizens. Stories must be eye-opening, attention-grabbers. Journalists, particularly those in broadcast, are engaged more than ever with audiences. Rather than just producers of news, newsrooms have become somewhat of a clearinghouse of ideas and views, emanating from consumers themselves, and it is our job to push fresh content to consumers on a continuing basis. Nowadays, journalists are expected to make customers smarter, richer, healthier or safer.

I have been fortunate to earn recognition for my work in journalism throughout my career in television. The awards of which I am most proud, however, came recently. Last November, my television station in Birmingham ran a series of investigative reports on sex offenders. We wanted to know warning signs for parents on potential child sex abusers; so, we went straight to the source. In our report, “Letters to Sex Offenders,” we sent letters to Alabama prisons, asking for advice from inmates convicted of sexual abuse against children. The information gleaned from our inmate interviews was quite shocking. Investigative stories are becoming more and more relevant. Consumers do not want mere facts. They want information they can use. For the report, I was honored with a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award in Large Market Television, a National Headliner Award for Investigative Excellence and an Alabama Associated Press Award for Best Investigative Journalism.

To me, those awards represent the importance of good journalism in today’s society. They also represent the importance of keeping up with evolving media in our society. It is our job, as journalists, to present information in a unique way to keep our customers engaged. Thanks to my education at the University of Mississippi, I continue to see journalism as a powerful component in our society.

What a master’s degree in journalism from Ole Miss has meant to me

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by ewrobins

By Tom Grier (M.A.,’87)

Tom Grier HSWill Norton, Jere Hoar and Jim Pratt. When asked some time ago to put together a few recollections of my time as an MA Journalism student in the mid 1980s, and how the Ole Miss experience influenced my life and career, my memories of these three men first came to mind.

They helped fashion writing skills that have been of pivotal importance in a brief career in journalism and public relations, and a longer career in law. Perhaps more importantly, they instilled values that emphasized effort, character and perseverance. And I also knew that these men cared about me as a person, as well as a student.

The full year I spent at Ole Miss from August 1983 to August 1984 as an M.A. candidate was one of the busiest of my life. I had an assistantship, a heavy class load and duties as a staff writer and senior staff writer for The Daily Mississippian.

I was far from my home in the upper Midwest. There were times when I felt overwhelmed, but the sense that these men cared and stood close, as well as the Ole Miss journalism community in general, gave me the strength to carry on. And I did not want to disappoint them.

I grew up in the Detroit, Michigan suburbs. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in European History, I took the GRE with an interest in pursuing a graduate degree in journalism. My primary goal was to learn to write with discipline. I had worked for my high school newspaper as a co-editor and had written plenty of college papers, but my writing skills had not been honed.

The GRE process allowed me to send my scores to several journalism graduate schools at one time, and I chose Ole Miss as one of the schools. What intrigued me about Ole Miss was an article by the then writer-in-residence Willie Morris about Mississippi and Ole Miss. Willie Morris described Mississippi’s character and why it inspired writers like William Faulkner and others. Willie Morris also compared Mississippi to Ireland where I had recently spent the first semester of my undergraduate senior year at the University College of Dublin, with time spent in England and Scotland, as well.

In the spring of 1983, I was living at my parents’ home and received a call from Jere Hoar’s secretary, who indicated that “Dr. Jere Hoar from the University of Mississippi” was on the line, and wanted to speak with me. On that call, Jere Hoar said he had received my GRE scores and offered me one of the remaining MA journalism assistantships available for the 1983-1984 year, beginning in August 1983.

I accepted, but then flew down to Oxford in June 1983 to look over the campus. Driving down from the Memphis airport toward Oxford, the heat and humidity were powerful — akin to “warm glue” as described by William Faulkner, I believe.

The Lyceum in December 1983 as I am about to depart from Oxford to Detroit for the Christmas break

The Lyceum in December 1983 as I am about to depart from Oxford to Detroit for the Christmas break

Nonetheless, upon entering Oxford and Ole Miss, my first impression was a good one. The Georgian colonial red brick, and Greek-revival character of the campus buildings, the towering oak or elm trees in the Grove and Circle, and the rolling piney hills outside Oxford, were a stark contrast to the Berlin–like character of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I had spent most of the last four years.

I met Jere Hoar at Farley Hall where he spoke about the nature of the South (to a northerner like me), writing, and potential topics for a master’s thesis. At that point, Ole Miss already felt special, a place where the craft of writing meant something, and where people, relationships and history mattered.

Two months later I drove through the lower Midwest to Ole Miss, staying with my sister in the St. Louis suburbs, before continuing on through southern Missouri, Arkansas and into Tennessee before reaching Mississippi. I had a room at Guess Hall, the graduate dorm. At the end of my first day on campus, I met some undergraduates and drove out, in a convertible, to a store on the county line, because someone wanted a cold beer, which could not be purchased in Oxford at that time.

My assistantship was assigned to Jim Pratt, who primarily taught broadcast journalism. Will Norton, chair of the Journalism Department was introduced, and I had already met Jere Hoar.

These three men were very different. Jere Hoar hailed from the Deep South with the look and character of William Faulkner, and an undergraduate degree from Auburn. He was a lawyer as well as a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Iowa.

Jim Pratt was a straight shooter from Texas and it showed. When I asked Jim what he wanted me to do as his teaching assistant, he said “I follow the brushfire rule. I want you to put out the fire that is going to burn my _ss the soonest.”

Will Norton sometimes described himself as a “crass Yankee” as he was a Midwest transplant like me. He had grown up in the Chicago area, graduating from Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College. He had gone on to divinity school, as well as receiving his Ph.D. from Iowa like Jere Hoar.

My assistantship with Jim Pratt took me into some uncharted work right away. Jim became ill early on in the fall semester, and he asked me to help teach some of his classes. I had to prepare notes and outlines for lectures, and then actually conduct the classes. Frankly, it was invigorating. I conducted classes for the history of journalism in the large second floor lecture room in Farley Hall before a large number of undergraduate students. I can recall discussing the writings of a pre-civil war publisher whose printing presses were tossed into the Mississippi River, by one side or the other.

Jim and his wife Dorothy were always kind and supportive. There often were meals at the Pratts’ ranch-style home on the outskirts of town, at holidays such as Easter and at other times. At one such meal, Jim was watching the video work of some of his broadcast students, when he saw some of the subjects of an interview being “posed” which Jim said looked terrible, and he said so graphically. The whole incident was comical, and it took me a while to stop laughing.

Jere Hoar was a taskmaster, but he brought a sense of dignity and decency to writing. Jere Hoar taught communications law, reflecting his own legal background, and I recall his discussion of New York Times v Sullivan and other First Amendment cases during the civil rights era. He also taught feature writing and was infinitely patient with my own struggles with that craft, as I found it difficult. Jere Hoar knew that I liked sailboats and sailing, and at one time, to drive home a point, he said, “Think of a keel. A feature story, like a boat, has to have a keel.”

What often struck me about Will Norton in his news writing and other classes was not only his approach to writing, but also his approach to people. He did not go out of his way to praise the students he knew were more naturally gifted than others. Instead, he focused on the students who showed the most effort, who tried the hardest and who worked the hardest. Character and effort meant more to him than mere talent. In his intensity and focus on values, Will Norton often reminded me of University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.

An aerial view of Traverse City, Michigan, where I live and work. My office is next to the tall building in the center of the photo.

An aerial view of Traverse City, Michigan, where I live and work. My office is next to the tall building in the center of the photo.

Will Norton would mentor my master’s thesis, which I did not complete while on campus (from 1983–1984), but which I would work on intermittently for three years, while working in Michigan, finally completing it in August 1987 before enrolling in law school. Throughout that period, Will Norton worked patiently with me to get it done. I could not have done it, would not have done it, without his commitment.

When I left Ole Miss in August 1984, in the company of Rob Waters, my roommate, heading back to Detroit, Rob and I had the pleasure of staying overnight with Will Norton’s parents in Wheaton, Illinois.

There were other meaningful relationships at Ole Miss, as well. My roommate from my first semester at Guess Hall was from Malaysia, of Chinese descent. “NG,” as he was called, and I became very close, and NG came with me back to Detroit at the beginning of the Christmas holidays. Then he flew home.

My second roommate, for the remainder of my time on campus, was Rob Waters, a fellow M.A. journalism student. Rob was from the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), his parents emigrating from Britain years before. Rob was my closest friend and colleague throughout my time at Ole Miss. Although we came from places thousands of miles away from each other, we quickly realized how much in common we had from our family backgrounds and common outlook.

Ed (“EJ”) Webb also was a M.A. journalism student, and another close friend, from east Tennessee. Rob, Ed and I, would sometimes drive out to Sardis Lake for a swim during the summer term. Like me, Ed went on to law school after Ole Miss and has practiced law in the Johnson City, Tennessee, area for many years.

There were parties attended by the graduate students and professors, and “Trivial Pursuit” parties at Willie Morris’ home on campus, usually accompanied by blues and southern rock and roll in the background, with plenty of bourbon and whiskey on the game table. I can recall a time when Will Norton, Rob Waters and I moved Samir Husni into his first apartment on campus.

I left Ole Miss’ campus in August 1984, but now 30 years later, I am even more aware of how pivotal the writing skills and other gifts I took with me have been to whatever professional and personal success I have had.

Traverse County Courthouse.TGrier

Grand Traverse County’s historic 1880s courthouse, in Traverse City, where I spend a fair amount of time.

My writing career and legal career have been conducted in what Jere Hoar has referred to as “Small Places,” small newspapers and small law firms. I am not a nationally known lawyer or even a well-known lawyer in Michigan. I am not a CEO of a big company. The litigation side of law has never come easily to me, as I am not a naturally competitive or domineering person. But whatever I have achieved, if I seriously consider it, came from those Ole Miss writing and other skills.

After leaving Ole Miss, I worked for a small community newsweekly in the Detroit suburbs, and then a small public relations firm. At age 27, I enrolled in the University of Detroit’s night law program. I worked during the day as a clerk, research clerk and then research attorney to a probate judge throughout my four years of law school. Judge Eugene Arthur Moore was a wonderful man and mentor. I used my writing skills to author, on occasion, some of his opinions. We wrote articles together for national legal publications.

In law school, I used writing skills to “write” onto the Law Review (my grades were not high enough, but you could submit an article in a competition). My Law Review article was published, which was about the use of conservation easements to preserve open and scenic landscapes. A northern Michigan land conservancy purchased several hundred copies of the article for use in their own conservancy program. The aim behind the article was to encourage the preservation of the special lake-strewn character of northern Michigan that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams’ stories and other work — akin to the way the landscape of northern Mississippi inspired Faulkner.

Tom Grier Boat

Sailing Lake Huron in August 1991 following the Bar Exam.

During law school, I edited a monthly newsletter for a Detroit-area environmental group. On a personal side, I have enjoyed sailing on the Great Lakes throughout my life. In the summer of 1991, after taking my Law Bar Exam, I spent several weeks sailing a 22-foot, Canadian-designed sailboat up the coast of Lake Huron and back, mostly singlehanded, and later wrote a series of articles about my sailing experiences for the Canadian sailboat class newsletter which was distributed throughout North America.

In my law practice, of almost 24 years, first in the Detroit area, and for the last 14 years in northern Michigan in Traverse City, writing has been an integral skill used every day, whether it is writing a legal opinion on a matter for a municipal client (which is my primary practice area), or writing a brief for a trial court judge, or appellate judges at the Michigan Court of Appeals, or even the Michigan Supreme Court.

For someone who is not naturally competitive or domineering, the power of writing for a lawyer is the power to tell a story, hopefully a story that will help people with less power, to protect them from the arrogant, from bullies, from people who value money for its own sake.

Something else I took from Mississippi was the humility of a place that has known poverty and defeat and so emphasizes the value of character and perseverance, and which is defiant toward the powerful. It informs the writing, for instance, of Ole Miss Law School graduate John Grisham and the way he relates to “street lawyers” in his writing, rather than to powerful law firms.

In short, even in a life’s work and experiences spent in Small Places, an Ole Miss M.A. journalism degree can make the pivotal difference, and it has for me.

Having been to a private high school, the University of Michigan, four years of night law school, and Ole Miss, I have had a lot of schooling and a lot of teachers and professors. But I can say, without question, that the three most influential academics in my life, both professionally and personally, were Will Norton, Jere Hoar and Jim Pratt. And the most important year of my life was the year I spent in the master’s program at the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi.

T.D. Jakes releases video on “Delta Jewlels”

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by ewrobins

Watch Bishop T.D. Jakes video on Assistant Professor Alysia Steele’s book “Delta Jewels” at