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Student-faculty team creates documentary on Ole Miss Engineering project in West Africa

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by drwenger

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.09.21 PMIn January 2014, two Engineering Without Borders (EWB) teams from the School of Engineering at Ole Miss returned to Togo, West Africa, to complete a school they started building for the people of the Hedome village a year before. Ole Miss Meek School of Journalism and New Media student journalist Sudu Upadhyay and professor Nancy Dupont followed the team to the West African country to document their work. Here is Sudu’s documentary that chronicles EWB’s work and tells a remarkable story of a minister trying to help his people.

The EWB organization will be returning to Togo in 2015 to work on a medical clinic for the village.  For more information about the program, contact the engineering school’s assistant dean, Marni Kendricks,


White Mayors Win On Black Votes

Posted on: December 3rd, 2014 by ewrobins

Nowadays it’s about green – not black and white.


Dr. Clyde Glenn had lived in Clarksdale for four years. So in 2002, the 46-year-old psychiatrist had an idea: applying for membership at the Clarksdale Country Club, he reasoned, would get him more involved with his community.

But, much to his surprise, he was rejected. It wasn’t for lack of money. It wasn’t for lack of education. It was for something else: He was black.

Flash forward 12 years later. An elderly black man wearing a denim jacket and frayed jeans walks into the mayor’s office.

“Coley, come on in. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, Mr. Luckett. Some drug dealers shot up my street last night. They shot up my truck and now I can’t make it to my house-painting job. I just wondered if the police had had a chance to come by yet?” says Coley White.

Mayor Bill Luckett pivots on his chair, grabs a phone and calls the police department.

“Can you get a detective out to 1450 Choctaw?” he asks.

The mayor’s response did not go unnoticed by his visitor, who later explained how a white mayor got elected in a community 70 percent black.

“Before Mr. Luckett, we had a black mayor,” said White. “But from the people’s point of view, he was never doing anything to help the people. Whenever you wanted his help, he was never around. So a lot of us worked really hard to get Mr. Luckett elected.”

It didn’t always work that way.

In Clarksdale and throughout the Mississippi Delta, race has long been a topic of heated discussion and an intractable problem. For generations, black voters were in electoral chains and a kind of apartheid system had evolved: white mayors, boards of supervisors, school superintendents, police chiefs and sheriffs occupied the Delta’s most prominent public positions decade after decade.

Then came 1965 — and with it, passage of the federal Voting Rights Act. Empowered with full citizenship rights for the first time, the Delta’s heavily black electorate slowly began leveling the political landscape: They started electing black mayors, city councilmen, aldermen, commissioners, boards of supervisors and sheriffs.

But now, a half century after passage of the Voting Rights Act, significant change has swept across the Delta. For much of the last decade, black voters in some communities have elected white mayors.

Today, the Delta’s five largest cities — Clarksdale, Greenwood, Greenville, Indianola and Cleveland — all have white mayors. The reason: Black voters have become more color-blind, more concerned with electing people who can fix potholes, sweep up trash, take out junker cars and shore up dilapidated housing.

As black empowerment across the Delta seasoned and became reality, more voters matured in their ways of thinking and at the ballot box.

“I think some people realized that just being black is not a good qualifier for anything —nor is being white,” said Luckett. “They started looking for quality people with leadership skills, and what’s happened (in the mayoral races) in the Delta is that whites are being elected because they are the better-qualified candidates at that particular time.”

*     *     *

It’s December 2012, and the streets of downtown Greenville are awash in holiday cheer. Mayor John Cox motors along the parade route, his wife, Lynn, at his side. As they cruise toward the levee, his car reaches the peak of a hill. Cox can see all the way down Washington Avenue, can see sidewalks crammed with residents.

“Can you believe this?” he asks his wife.

It’s Greenville’s biggest Christmas parade in half a century.

A year later, Greenville’s Hot Tamale Festival morphed from a one-day event to a three-day festival with more than 8,000 people clogging the streets to celebrate the popular cuisine.

“I really think that those kinds of events started changing the attitudes of groups,” said Cox. “They help everybody feel good about themselves and about Greenville and about the fact that color and race are just no part of this.”

But that wasn’t always the case.

In the 1920s, Greenville experienced its share of tense racial history. After the historic 1927 flood, the Delta was underwater. Thousands of black people lived in tents amid squalid conditions on the Greenville levee. There were complaints of discrimination as white farmers sought to keep their sharecroppers on the levee rather than allow them to be moved someplace else. They feared they might not come back if they were moved out of the county. Those complaints eventually led to a federal investigation.

Despite these shortcomings, Greenville long has been noted for a kind of liberal progressiveness. Black residents got jobs in downtown stores, its police department integrated and the schools desegregated—all earlier than other Delta communities. The city even came to be known as the “rest stop” for weary civil rights workers throughout the 1960s.

By 2011, that progressive mindset led to a different type of change. That year, Cox was elected mayor of Greenville’s 33,000 residents. He triumphed over a black opponent, Carl McGee, winning 57.5 percent of the vote in a city where 78 percent of the voters are black.

“In the Delta, it used to be about race. Not now,” said Greenville contractor Willie Sullivan. “It’s about who can bring money to town and is the best qualified candidate. Nowadays, it’s about green—not black and white.”

Or as Cox puts it: “Black and white people can get past race if there is a trust factor that they have about the candidate. A lot of politicians think it’s all about them. This is not about me. This is about Greenville.”

*     *     *

Across the Delta, similar seeds are taking root. And in many of those places, accessibility seems linked to mayoral popularity. For example, in Greenwood, Mayor Carolyn McAdams initially had little knowledge of where the mayoral boundaries were drawn.

Then one afternoon, during her first term, a black man walked into her office.

“I could tell he was real upset, you know, very emotional,” recalled McAdams.

So she walked out and asked how she could help.

“I need to see the mayor,” he said.

“Well, that would be me,” she replied.

The man then told her how his wife had left him the night before, wringing his hands as he spoke.

“I need somebody to tell me what to do,” he finally said.

Go see a preacher or a therapist, she suggested. But the man wanted her personal advice.

“Well, you know, sir, I’ve been in your shoes before,” she told him. “And I did go to my priest, and then I went and got help from somebody who was very objective and didn’t take sides.”

Two weeks later, the man returned.

“That was the greatest advice,” he told her. “I don’t know that I’m going to get my wife back, but now I’m straightening my life out.”

McAdams said these impromptu encounters have become typical, part of her job, and she welcomes them.

But in Greenwood, like many other Delta towns, that hasn’t always been so.

Once upon a time, this Delta community of 15,000 symbolized an ugly racial history. It was the hometown of Klansman Byron De La Beckwith, who killed Medgar Evers. In 1963, the city made The New York Times’ front page after civil rights activist Bob Moses led hundreds of residents to the Leflore County Courthouse, protesting the shooting of a young activist, Jimmy Travis. They were met by politicians and snarling dogs. The Times’ headline the next day read: “Police Loose Dog on Negroes’ Group, Minister is Bitten.”

But as the decades unfolded, an air of change began to sweep across Greenwood, culminating in 2009 when McAdams got 56 percent of the mayoral votes, beating out the black incumbent, Sheriel Perkins. In 2013, that change continued as McAdams won again, this time with 52 percent.

“There’s still room for growth. There’s still room for improvement,” said Tim Kalich, publisher of The Greenwood Commonwealth. “We still are too focused on race more than we should be. But it’s worlds different than it was 50 years ago.”

And looking down the road, the mayor hopes it stays that way.

“Black, white, green, yellow, at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter because we’re all going to be here,” said Mayor McAdams. “I mean, I’m going to be here until I die, so I want Greenwood to sustain itself as a city. It can’t do that with just one race.”

*      *     *

Sometimes, it seems, the personal relationships mayors have formed with voters have made more of a difference in election years than race.

In Indianola, Mayor Steve Rosenthal attributes his election victory to his deep city roots. In 1913, his grandfather started a clothing store in Indianola called Ben Fried’s.

“We used to joke that we go from birth to burial. We had christening gowns, and I sold suits for the local funeral home,” said Rosenthal, who was born and raised in Indianola.

That position allowed Rosenthal to form relationships throughout Indianola, from the wealthiest in town to the most impoverished neighborhoods.

“When Indianola was 60 percent African-American, that was my business: 60-40,” he said. “When we became 75-25, that was my business. So as the population shifted, so did my business base because our store was moderate, middle-of-the-road merchandise.”

However, merely being friends with everyone wasn’t enough. After the family business burned down in 2001, he realized he had an opportunity to speak out about a troubling political climate.

“Typically, when you’re in retail, especially in a small town, you stay as politically neutral as you can,” he said. “But after I got out of the retail business, there were a lot of things I was frustrated about that I was not able to take action upon publicly.”

Those frustrations centered on financial control of the city and its failing school systems. In 2006, before Rosenthal decided to run for office, then-Mayor Arthur Marble encouraged the Board of Aldermen to approve a 60 percent pay hike for him and a 50 percent raise for the board. They did so in an executive session, and at the next board meeting, an angry crowd gathered at City Hall in an uproar over the increased salaries. Marble publicly admitted that the raise was meant to boost his retirement benefits, but that didn’t quell the town’s outrage.

Rosenthal felt the need to step up. He also believed the city’s largely black public school system was rapidly deteriorating.

“I didn’t feel, at the time, that the administration was equipped to run a system of that size,” said Rosenthal.

But the white community wasn’t interested in helping.

“They had pretty much said, ‘That’s your all’s school. We’ll do other things.’ But I felt like we needed to be involved,” Rosenthal said. “Whether their children are attending or not, the future of Indianola is dependent on a quality public school education.”

Dissatisfaction with Indianola schools has long been a community issue. In 1986, black residents boycotted Indianola’s businesses after the school board selected a white man, W.A. Grissom, as superintendent of a system in which 97 percent of the students were black. The boycott lasted 37 days until Grissom’s contract was bought out, and Robert Merritt, a principal of 16 years, became the system’s first black superintendent.

In a city that gave birth to the White Citizen’s Council — a group dedicated to enforcing segregation — Mayor Rosenthal, who is Jewish, won the 2009 election with 76 percent of the vote in a city where 80 percent of the citizens are black. Then he won again in 2013.

“People chose Mayor Rosenthal because they weren’t satisfied with the predecessor,” said Ben Gaston, general manager of the Indianola Super Valu. “It wasn’t a black-white issue. Steve is well-known throughout the community and people trust him.”

The mayor agrees – then frames the issue in a larger context.

“Now we’re seeing that race is not the deciding factor — that people are choosing people,” he said. “So we’re getting back to what democracy’s all about — freedom of choice and not choosing based on race.”

*     *     *

When the Voting Rights Act was passed, white leaders warned that black voters would only vote for black candidates. That may have been mostly true in the beginning, but the claim was undermined over the years when black support kept re-electing a handful of long-time white officials in each county.

The theory was finally and emphatically debunked again in a dramatic way in June of this year when long-time U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican, was forced into a runoff by Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. The challenger, an ultra-conservative, had been an honored speaker at gatherings of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and had railed against government spending and Obamacare, both of which are dear to the hearts of poor blacks in the Delta.

In the runoff, black Democrats by the thousands rushed to the polls to vote for Cochran, who won by a little over 8,000 votes. Both candidates’ camps agree that all those black Delta votes made the difference.

 *     *     *

Being a white mayor, of course, doesn’t guarantee you’re better than a black mayor.

And sometimes, just as black officials were occasionally hounded by claims that they ignored white constituents, white office holders are finding that they aren’t exempt from racial controversy, either.

In Greenville, Cox came under fire when he was featured in a NBC Today report highlighting academic struggles at a local middle school. He said socio-economic reasons were part of why local schools weren’t integrated. He also said he didn’t send his two daughters to public school because “it was not up to what I felt they should have.”

Black state Sen. Derrick Simmons quickly called for an apology. The senator’s twin brother, Greenville Councilman Errick Simmons, called for the mayor to resign and engineered a no-confidence vote in the council that broke down along racial lines.

Since then, Cox has said he supports public schools and will work with school officials to improve academic performance.

And in Clarksdale, race often is still stage center at city commission meetings. Commissioner Buster Moton, who is black, has made clear his animosity toward Luckett.

“The only thing that really needs to happen is that the mayor needs to be fair,” Moton said in an interview. “We made phone calls and got him elected. Then he turned right around and spit in our faces.

“The way Bill is doing things around here — it’s like he’s trying to put black people back in chains.”

Those remarks draw a sharp rebuke from the mayor, who has worked to reduce crime and remove dilapidated buildings besides using his own money to help rekindle commerce in downtown Clarksdale through blues shops and restaurants.

“He’s called me all kinds of things,” said Luckett. “He’s called me a Republican, a racist, a one-term mayor, a slave driver … It doesn’t feel good being called a racist. People can suggest it, but it’s simply not true. I look at people’s character and abilities and I try to completely overlook color. I think the best policy is to move right on past it.”

And based on the votes, Luckett has widespread support throughout the Delta community of about 18,000. In the 2013 Clarksdale election, he swept to office in a landslide, capturing 70 percent of the vote and taking all four wards.

Some days, it seems nearly impossible to grasp the dramatic changes in Clarksdale that native son Luckett has seen in his 66 years.

“When we were all kids growing up here, no white people ever crossed the tracks unless it was to buy tamales or pick up their maid,” Luckett said. “But a lot of that has changed. In many neighborhoods, blacks and whites now live next door to one another.”

And some days, it’s just as hard for Coley White to grasp those same changes.

“Nowadays,” he said, “a lot of people really aren’t into that color thing. We’ll vote for who we think can get the job done. Period.”

Journalism Innovation class experiments with Google Glass

Posted on: November 10th, 2014 by drwenger

KendricksGlassTechnology keeps changing the way journalists tell stories and that has students in Professor Deb Wenger’s Journalism Innovation class experimenting with Google Glass this semester.  The Web-enabled eyewear has been used by professional journalists to cover breaking events such as the Ferguson, Missouri, riots and feature stories such as NBA Draft Day through the eyes of Victor Oladipo.

Students were challenged to come up with stories that took advantage of the unique “point of view” video that Glass wearers can provide.  For example, Ashleigh Culpepper and her partner Sarah Douglass had USA pole vault champion Sam Kendricks wear Glass during a practice session.

“The Google Glass story was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” said Culpepper, “being a pole vaulter myself I never have seen pole vaulting in slow motion. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

Journalism students Nicole Bounds and Gabriel Austin asked a dancer with RIOULT Dance NY to wear Glass during a rehearsal at the Ford Center with somewhat dizzying results.

“The most challenging thing is explaining to someone how to work Glass,” said Bounds. “I think it is especially hard because you can’t see what they are seeing on the Glass screen, which makes it hard to explain what to do next. With Glass, only the person wearing Glass can see the screen.”

Wenger says the class is designed to expose journalism students to the latest trends in journalism practice and hopes these experiments will help students understand what’s possible, as well as what’s effective, when it comes to the use of new technologies.

“You have to play around with tech and think through its applications before you can use it as an effective storytelling tool,” said Wenger. “These stories aren’t perfect, but producing them contributed to the learning process that every good journalist has to go through these days.”

3 Things Bleacher Report did to rebrand

Posted on: November 10th, 2014 by drwenger
Photo by Gabriel Austin.

Photo by Gabriel Austin.

When the sports website Bleacher Report first started in 2007, it was considered something of a joke in the world of sports journalism. Just about anyone could sign up and be a “reporter” for the then upstart site.

“Bleacher Report began as a platform — give us your email and you start writing,” said Bleacher Report writing program manager King Kaufman. Kaufman says the founders were simply looking for a way to give diehard fans a way to get more information about their individual teams than ESPN and other sports sites were providing.

Now, seven years later, Kaufman, who came to the Meek School to recruit writers, says Bleacher Report has made three key changes:

1.  Better Writing

Since Bleacher Report let almost anyone with a keyboard and Internet access write for the site at first, the content wasn’t very strong, nor was it very reliable. As the years have progressed, Kaufman says Bleacher Report has moved on from focusing on website traffic alone to increasing the amount of quality material that’s being posted on the website.

Along the way, the path to becoming a contributor to Bleacher Report has become much more difficult.  According to its website only 15 percent of applicants are hired, but Kaufman says not everyone has recognized the change.

“Your reputation lags behind reality. You’re not going to convince anyone that you’re awesome; you just have to show them. People will figure it out. There are influencers who catch on…it’s a slow process,” said Kaufman.

2.  More Training

Many of the most popular writers for Bleacher Report are not trained journalists, so Bleacher Report has instituted an in-house training program. “Newsroom education” is how Kaufman describes it.

3.  Rethinking the Numbers

“On the other side, we used data to learn what people wanted to read about,” Kaufman said. By catering to exactly what people are talking about, Bleacher Report has continued to have high volume traffic on their website and mobile app.

Kaufman says the goal now is to get people to come back more often and to give them the the best reader experience possible when they do.

Today, Bleacher Report is one of the top sports sites around. Bleacher Reports now ranks second, only to ESPN, in both unique desktops viewers and unique mobile viewers.

Kaufman was at the University of Mississippi to promote Bleacher Report’s Advanced Education Programs.  The paid programs in sports writing and editing are open to undergraduate and graduate students.

This story was contributed by Gabriel Austin, a broadcast journalism major.

The little town that worked a miracle

Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by ewrobins

How a former segregationist stronghold built a $15 million museum celebrating the life of a black man.


INDIANOLA — It’s early afternoon, mid-September 2008, and the sparkling double-glass doors slide silently open. Soon, a large man shuffles through the doors before seating himself in a wheelchair. A hushed group of onlookers trails behind.

The wheelchair glides down the hallway, then abruptly stops. The man stares hard at the gleaming Gibson guitars, as though he can’t quite believe someone arranged them so neatly on the walls. He kindly greets them all with the same name: Lucille. Yes, there she is – his beloved Lucille.

He keeps going, stops again – stunned at half-century-old photo displays of all those Memphis friends and all those good times. He wheels down a high-gloss hallway, then stops on a dime.

Wait! Can that really be? A replica of the home music studio? The same carpet. The exact same piece of carpet?

The man in the wheelchair slowly turns away. Alone now in a hushed corner of the museum, he drops his head and begins to weep.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen B.B speechless,” said Jim Abbott, former editor of the Indianola Enterprise Tocsin and one of the museum’s founding members.

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center opened in the small town of Indianola in 2008 after more than eight years of planning, plotting and producing. Six years later, visitors from all 50 states and 30 countries – including Denmark, Japan and South Africa – have made the pilgrimage to the 20,000 square-foot shrine to the native son-turned-international blues legend. The project ended up topping out at a cool $15 million.

And it’s not only outsiders who benefit. The museum has spun off afterschool programs for children and health and fitness programs for members of the community.

In fact, continued growth and support have transformed the Smithsonian-quality museum into one of Indianola’s prime economic engines – an engine that has also helped unify a once-splintered community. Since the blue ribbons were cut, two new restaurants have opened in the Delta community of 10,495, and a new motel is scheduled to break ground soon.

“The financial support and the support from the white community to make something happen that honored an African-American that played guitar is not something that would’ve happened a few decades ago,” said Bill McPherson, president of the B.B. King Museum Board.

*     *     *

Truth be told, it almost didn’t happen. Not the lavish display cases. Not the state-of-the-art sound system. Not the posh auditorium. And not the afterschool program for the town’s children. None of it.

By the 1970s, B.B. King had become a global superstar. When he played San Francisco, he stayed at the Top of the Mark. When in New York, he stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. When in London, he gave private concerts for the queen.

But when he came home, he and his band couldn’t sleep in local motels, couldn’t eat in local restaurants.

“I came home to Indianola with my band, but we couldn’t stay at the motel out on (U.S.) 82, we couldn’t eat at the Cream Cup,” a disheartened King once told his friend Abbott.

So, in 1983, Abbott began searching for a way for the town to embrace its famous native son, encouraging the Indianola Chamber of Commerce Board to assist with King’s annual homecoming concert. But it didn’t go down with some of the board members, many of whom had the same problem: They couldn’t see past the color of Riley B. King’s skin.

“I said, ‘Well, you don’t even know the guy,’” Abbott told those who rejected the proposal. “’He’s the nicest guy. I mean, come on. He’s been received by the queen of England. He’s represented the United States in Moscow for the State Department. He is a true gentleman and he’s proud of this town.’”

But the board wouldn’t budge. Enter four white couples. They concocted a plan to host a party to bridge the racial divide. Of the 250 people invited, 125 were white, 125 were black. The garden party along the bayou on June 9, 1983, to which the media was not invited, was unlike any the guests could remember.

“We kind of had a list of some white people that we knew would be challenged to come to the party, but they would have to come – the movers and shakers and all,” said Abbott.

At one point during the evening, King asked guests to gather around the patio. He toasted the crowd. As he looked out at all the black and white faces, he almost began to cry.

“They got to see,” said Abbott, “what a great guy he is.”

A much older, increasingly feeble King, now 88, gave what was billed as his last annual concert in late May. For years, Indianola eagerly awaited those concerts. They saw it as a time to come together, to enjoy music by a man who made a difference in his hometown.

*     *     *

It got serious over lunch one day in July 2000. The lunch group of five – banker, lawyer, restaurant owner, editor and bank teller – started brainstorming ways to turn their museum dream into reality.

Their goal was to pay tribute to the man who had put Indianola on the map. They wanted to convey a saga that included both civil rights and an American success story in the music industry.

“We were kind of like nomads in the wilderness,” recalled Randy Randall, a local banker and one of the museum’s founders. “We didn’t know really where we were going or how we were going to get there, but we were all determined to stay focused on our goal.”

So the group wrote King a letter, asking approval to use his name for the B.B. King Museum. After his go-ahead, they sought two things: location and money.

Auburn and Mississippi State architecture students squared off to find the best spot. Ironically, both groups chose a site with an old brick cotton gin near downtown. When they asked King’s approval, he gave a startling response: It was the same gin he had worked at as a young man helping grease the gin machinery.

“That gin was actually a part of his life,” said Evelyn Roughton, another founding member. “We didn’t have any clue about that.”

Fundraising quickly became another major concern. After speaking with museum experts, the initial $75,000 estimate morphed into the millions.

What to do? Enter Bill McPherson and Allan Hammons. McPherson, an Indianola native, put his career on hold to work on the project full-time. Hammons, owner of Hammons & Associates Advertising, used his business expertise to help jump-start the project.

“I became a little intrigued by the thing, so I guess I kind of tried to talk myself out of it and at the same time talk myself into it,” said Hammons, who was not initially ready to commit to the time-consuming project.

Eventually, in Indianola alone, the team raised over a million dollars to back the museum.

“Oh gosh, I can’t even tell you what, it was so generous,” said Roughton, owner of the Crown Restaurant downtown. “The people here in town were extremely generous and believed in its scale.”

Meanwhile, McPherson and Hammons relentlessly badgered the Legislature with a tax plan to help underwrite the costs. They also got help from Washington, D.C., after pitching the project to the feds with an assist from U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. Fundraising events became a frequent affair.

“It was shocking,” said Hammons. “Every time [the estimate] would go up, there were collective gasps from the board like, ‘We can’t do this. It’s not possible.’ But it was a fun project, and Bill and I literally worked coast to coast to make it happen.”

The museum also got $300,000 from Gibson, the guitar company B.B. King had remained loyal to throughout the years. The most generous individual donation came in a nondescript manila envelope. The $2.5 million check from former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and his wife Donna almost got tossed in the trash with a pile of junk mail.

For six long years, McPherson and Hammons worked seven days a week to corral donations. As money piled up, the design team cranked up as well.

Gallagher & Associates rounded up items significant to King’s life. At one point, he allowed the team to slap sticky notes on anything in his home they wanted for the museum.

“If an institution can tell a powerful story, I really do think it affects the community and it draws tourists, first of all, because it’s authentic and it’s real and it shows people something that they didn’t expect to find there,” explained Cissy Foote Anklam, founder of Museum Concepts in Arlington, Va.

“Then it also revitalizes the community.  Not only economically, which is great, but also just in terms of civic pride and understanding their story better.”

n the end, King left most of the museum’s creation to those spearheading the project.

“He was involved as little as he could be, but we wore him out,” McPherson said. “I mean, he was playing and busy, and we really worried him to death trying to tie him down and get him on film.”

Those museum video clips ultimately snagged a bronze medal in the Muse awards, an international awards ceremony that recognizes outstanding achievement in archives, libraries and museums.

Along the way, the bond the museum forged with the community became evident.

“It’s the first time I’d ever seen groups, black and white, work together on a common thing that both of them felt strongly about,” Roughton said.

Today museum visitors continue to stream in from all over the world. And everything inside those sparkling double-glass doors continues to provide the social glue for a community with a racially fragmented history.

Summed up Dion Brown, the museum’s executive director:

“I wasn’t raised that way, so to me everybody’s equal, and so that’s the way we go forward – making the museum all-inclusive for everybody.”

Ole Miss journalism students cover tornadoes for national, regional media

Posted on: April 30th, 2014 by elwalke1
Meek School of Journalism and New Media students cover the destruction of a tornado in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Photo by Mikki K. Harris

Meek School of Journalism and New Media students cover the destruction of a tornado in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Photo by Mikki K. Harris

Meteorologists had been warning anyone who would listen about the potential for deadly storms in Mississippi and across the South, and on Monday afternoon, their predictions came true for our area.

“At the Student Media Center, students started planning for storm coverage on Sunday, and went into high gear via social media all afternoon Monday. This was the first big test for the brand-new DM staff, and they rose to the occasion,” said SMC Director Pat Thompson.

Broadcast journalism professor and interim NewsWatch 99 advisor Deb Wenger also had video journalists on standby.  Shortly after 2 p.m., all the preparation proved its importance.  An EF-2 tornado hit Tupelo, damaging as many as 500 businesses and 200 homes.

“Our students were amazing.  They did what professional journalists do on a regular basis — cancel previous plans, gear up and go,” said Wenger.

Broadcast journalism senior Ian Cowart produced a story within hours of the touchdown.

Online, DM Photo Editor Cady Herring used photos from Thomas Graning and Ignacio Murillo to compile a photo gallery that quickly garnered hundreds of page views.  Herring also quickly put together a map showing the wide path of the tornado destruction.

“New DM Editor in Chief Lacey Russell anchored the coverage throughout the night,” Thompson said. “Alli Moore got a quick baptism as new Design Editor, and Sierra Mannie contributed to the DM’s online presence. Students were tired as deadline approached Monday night, but spent time planning follow-up coverage for Tuesday.”

On Tuesday, Newswatch 99 produced extraordinary coverage of the storms in Louisville and Tupelo for the 5 p.m. newscast.  Led by manager Miriam Cresswell, the show also included a graphic explainer of how tornados form, as well stories about the ways in which Mississippi  residents were coming together to help the victims.  Students Leah Gibson and Gabriel Austin were on the road by 6 a.m. Tuesday to cover the Louisville damage.

Russell, Graning, Herring and News Editor Logan Kirkand spent all day Tuesday in the field reporting, taking photographs and shooting video.  Photojournalism professor Mikki Harris accompanied the students to help guide their multimedia reporting.

“I was so encouraged by the professional approach and demeanor the students used yesterday,” Harris said. “Logan was in people’s homes and yards not only conducting interviews, but helping. Logan said, ‘I didn’t really do that much. I helped carry a bin full of things to their car and tied a rug to the top of their car.’ Logan may not see that as doing much, but it is. He was there on assignment, interviewing, recording audio, capturing stills and video. Logan taking the time to move his focus away from a story, and focus on the people, shows tremendous skills as a journalist.”

In addition to all the work for student media outlets, former DM Editor Adam Ganucheau wrote the lead story for the New York Times’ U.S. page online.  Graning’s work was used by the Associated Press throughout the day on Tuesday.  Journalism student Jared Senseman’s photos were included in a slideshow produced for the Weather Channel on

Photo by Jared Senseman, April 28, 2014.

Photo by Jared Senseman, April 28, 2014.



Photojournalism Spring 2013 Multimedia Projects

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 by elwalke1
Below are featured student multimedia projects from two of the photojournalism classes at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at The University of Mississippi. The course introduces students to visual storytelling, and challenges them to not only capture storytelling moments, but pair visuals with audio to produce multimedia content using Final Cut Pro or Premier.


“Memory Makers,” by Kayleigh Skinner


“Steve Kolbus: A Delta Blues Man,” by Jared Burleson


“The Tree of Knowledge,” by Bentley Burns


“For the Love of a Daughter,” by Bridge Leigh


“The Life Oxford,” by Blake Johnson


“Connecting to an Unexpected Home,” by Kristen Stephens


“The View from Home Plate: A Homegrown Yankee Remembers,” by Miriam Cresswell


“A Passion for Puppies,” by John Chicoli

Student journalist covers Westboro Baptist protest on Ole Miss campus

Posted on: May 19th, 2013 by elwalke1
Photo by Jared Senseman. May 18, 2013.

Photo by Jared Senseman. May 18, 2013.

Westboro Baptist Church came to Oxford May 18, to protest the movie The Blind Side and the Ole Miss fans’ love of football.

Student journalist Jared Senseman covered the event for

Mobile newsroom created for coverage of Double Decker Festival

Posted on: April 27th, 2013 by elwalke1
Journalism students take over High Point Coffee couches as a makeshift newsroom at the Double Decker Festival.  Photo by Deb Wenger.  April 27, 2013.

Journalism students take over High Point Coffee couches as a makeshift newsroom at the Double Decker Festival. Photo by Deb Wenger. April 27, 2013.

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 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.”

Mission Ole Miss: Journalists and ROTC team up for learning

Posted on: April 26th, 2013 by elwalke1
Embedded journalists cover the ROTC final field exercise.  Photo by Maggie McDaniel.  April 25, 2013.

Embedded journalists cover the ROTC final field exercise. Photo by Maggie McDaniel. April 25, 2013.

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.