In the fall of 2014, Oxford Stories, at OxfordStories.net, was launched as part of a Journalism 271 class in the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. A course was designed incorporating the website to enable multimedia journalism students to publish their work and share it via social media. After the first semester, the site ended with approximately 5,000 page views.
Last semester, two classes of Journalism 271 multimedia news reporting students teamed up to contribute to Oxford Stories with a goal of reaching 20,000 page views. Students not only exceeded their goal, they doubled it. The fall semester of 2015 ended with 48,720 page views.
There were also new course developments. Adjunct journalism instructor LaReeca Rucker, who created the course, worked with Stephanie Rebman, editor of The Oxford Eagle; HottyToddy.com editor Callie Daniels; and Ed Meek, namesake of the UM Meek School of Journalism and New Media, to publish student stories in their publications.
Meek, who was also a UM assistant vice chancellor for public relations and marketing, an associate professor of journalism, and the owner of Oxford Publishing Inc., is the creator of HottyToddy.com, a website geared toward Ole Miss fans and alums.
Last semester, students were asked to turn in their work on OxfordStories.net with the possibility of having it additionally published in The Oxford Eagle or on HottyToddy.com. OxfordStories.net functioned as a news distribution service with editors from The Oxford Eagle and HottyToddy.com selecting content from the website to republish in their respective publications.
Almost every student had one or multiple stories published by the local media, and some of the student stories published in The Oxford Eagle were picked up by the Associated Press and distributed to newspapers across the country.
Last semester, students wrote a variety of stories about the homeless, nutrition, healthcare, Syrian refugees, UM athletes, student business owners, bullying, the impact of social media, the UM Gospel Choir, and the use of students as confidential informants.
Other topics included UM’s decision to lower the state flag on campus, construction developments on Old Taylor Road, college tuition, adoption, parking woes, cultural appropriation, the environment, religion, racism, Black Lives Matter, the Ku Klux Klan on campus, and local musicians and artists.
“When I initially began designing the class, I knew I wanted to find a way to work with local media,” said Rucker. “Once the local editors got on board, everything seemed to work symbiotically. We are grateful that the editors of The Oxford Eagle and HottyToddy.com have been so cooperative and supportive of UM students. Because of them, many students have been able to obtain professional news clips.”
Rucker said one of the class goals was to create a real-world environment for student journalists so they can understand how the news gathering and writing process works.
“In this interactive setting, they were able to learn as students and become professional writers earning bylines in a real newspaper,” she said. “Some were even lucky enough to have their work recognized and picked up by the Associated Press, an impressive student feat. That was evidence that we were on to something with Oxford Stories.”
Students are assigned 5-10 stories over the semester, a video package and a column.
“Oxford Stories is also a way for students to learn about the power of social media, while taking the content they produce more seriously,” Rucker said. “Their name is on every story published, and in an Internet and new media age, their stories have almost as much power to travel the globe as a story written by a large daily newspaper. It also gives them an incentive to do good work. Otherwise, their stories will not make it on the Oxford Stories site.”
Not every story makes the cut – only the best ones with all of the required elements. Rucker said using the website is also a way for students to easily turn in their work, and it encourages them to stick to deadlines, because the website records the exact time and date stories are entered into the system.
“Students are taught the basics of WordPress so that they may submit their work,” she said, “and since WordPress is a popular blogging and website tool, they learn how to work with multimedia using a content management system.”
The class is also designed to be fun.
“Students are part of a staff, and teamwork is encouraged,” Rucker said. “At the end of the year, we hold an awards ceremony, and students are rewarded with certificates, ribbons and medals for a semester of hard work.”
For motivation, students are told an awards ceremony will be held on the last day of class modeled after the Mississippi Press Association’s annual awards ceremony. Awards were given out last semester based on WordPress website statistics and analytics of the students’ most well-read stories. Each student received an award for their best work, with some students taking home top honors as reporters and writers of the year.
Last semester’s winners were:
Rachel Anderson – 2015 Oxford Stories Social Justice Reporter of the Year
Chloe Riley – 2015 Oxford Stories Reporter of the Year
Dominique McGhee – 2015 Creativity Award
Alice McKelvey – 2015 Music Writer of the Year
Olivia Morgan – 2015 Oxford Stories Reporter of the Year
Brian Romski – 2015 Social Media Reporter of the Year
Bryce Dixon – 2015 Best Feature Reporter Award
Elizabeth Wilks Parry – 2015 Social Media Reporter of the Year
Jac Bedrossian – Best Business Story
Tyler Bullard – Best Video Story
Ariel Cobbert – Best Photographer Award
Allison Fazio – Best Health Features Writer
Lana Ferguson – Best In-Depth or Investigative Reporting
Ashley Gambrel – Best General Interest Column
Connor Heitzmann – Best Visual Artist and Photographer Award
Carson Horn – Best Student Stories Reporter
Kara Knapik – Best Business Feature Story
Chandler Lewis – Best General Interest Column
Herbert Moore – Best Business Feature
Shelby Nichols – Best Religion Columnist
Molly Randles – Best Crime Story
Hannah Simmons – Best Environmental Story
Lynecia Christion – Best Sports Columnist
Elizabeth Darcey – Best Student Feature Reporter
Austen Derrick – Best Multimedia Feature Story
Desmen Ison – Best Campus Stories Reporter
Austin Ivy – Best Multimedia Story
Kennedy Johnson – Best Arts Reporter
Courtney Kamm – Best Video and Broadcast Story
Nate Larkin – Best Religion Reporter
Kailen Locke – Best News Reporter
James Lott – Best UM Athletics Reporter
Haley Renschler – Best News Reporter
Meagan Robinson – Best General Interest Column
Emily Schrimsher – Best Student Feature Story