By David Baxley (M.A., ’07)
The 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.