Archive for the ‘Alumni News’ Category
A Meek School alumnus has been named deputy White House press secretary.
Check out this story by The Daily Mississippian about J. Hogan Gidley, 41, of South Carolina, who is a 1998 graduate of the University of Mississippi with a degree in broadcast journalism and minor in political science.
Media outlets have reported that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has confirmed Gidley’s position in numerous press reports.
See the NewsWatch video here.
Gidley is pictured below with Meek School faculty members Senior Lecturer in Journalism Robin Street and Dr. Jim Lumpp. He returned to the Meek School to speak to students several years ago.
As an Emmy-winning sports producer, Terry Ewert has worked for NBC, CBS, and the Big 10 Network. He has overseen or produced the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Super Bowls, the Master’s, NCAA basketball tournaments, and many other sporting events around the globe.
The 1973 Ole Miss graduate met with students and faculty, offering his take on how to get into a career you will love.
“First, you have to have internal clarity,” Ewert says. “That sense of knowing what you want whether that’s a certain place to live, or your focus is on starting a family or on getting to a certain position within a particular company.”
Ewert said those still in school should study psychology as every job is collaborative, and it’s also important for students to take a business or accounting class so they know how to handle their own finances.
“Get an internship. It’s always better to be on the inside,” Ewert says, “Brand yourself. Be ready to network.”
Finally, he says anyone hoping for a career in sports has to do one thing.
Meek School students and University of Mississippi Association of Black Journalists officers Terrence Johnson and Brittany Brown, and Assistant Dean Pat Thompson attended the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans Aug. 8-13.
While there, they spent time with UM alumni, including Fred Anklam, Jared Boyd, Lynecia Christion, Jesse Holland, Rose Jackson Flenorl, Dennis Moore, Ashley Norwood, Norman Seawright III and Kayleigh Skinner.
Terrence and Brittany also participated in NABJ’s Day of Community Service helping to rebuild homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Harold Burson, a University of Mississippi alumnus known as the “Father of Public Relations,” was inducted Friday (July 21) into the Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame in recognition of his decades as a giant figure in the industry he helped invent.
Burson, a 1940 Ole Miss graduate who has been described by PRWeek as the 20th century’s “most influential PR figure,” founded the powerhouse public relations firm Burson-Marsteller with Bill Marsteller in 1953. The firm created the concept of total communication strategies, which became the industry standard for decades.
Will Norton, dean of UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, was among those who wrote a letter supporting Burson ’s nomination to the Hall of Fame. Norton notes Burson has had a long and exceptional career and brought honor to the profession. He’s also made enormous contributions to the success of the Ole Miss journalism school.
“We have worked with Harold to initiate the integrated marketing communications degree program at Ole Miss that now attracts nearly 1,100 majors to the Meek School,” Norton said. “His sage advice in developing the curriculum and his interaction with faculty and students have been crucial for the program’s gaining recognition from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.”
“Without the guidance of Harold Burson, the Meek School would not be what it is.”
A Memphis native, Burson was an exceptional student, so much so that he entered Ole Miss at age 15. When he was 19, he served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army, and in 1945, he worked as a reporter for the American Forces Network and was assigned to cover the Nuremberg trials after World War II.
After leaving the military, he used a connection he had forged with an engineering firm, which became the first client of his new PR company. Later, Burson-Marsteller was born.
The PR business grew from there and for many years, Burston-Marsteller was one of only two major PR firms in the world. In 1969, Burson’s firm was making about $4.4 million a year, according to PRWeek, but by the early 1980s, revenue was about $64 million, and Burson was head of a firm with 2,500 employees in 50 offices worldwide.
In 1983, it officially became the world’s largest PR firm, with regional headquarters in New York, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and London.
His firm handled several major accounts. For example, it help ed Johnson & Johnson with its response to the deaths of eight people who had taken Tylenol in 1982. The company was not faulted, but it assumed responsibility and took the product off the market and halted advertising.
Representatives showed complete transparency and openness and made themselves available at all times to answer questions. The response to the Johnson & Johnson case led to Burson being credited with creating the template for crisis management.
The British government called on Burson-Marsteller ’s help during an epidemic of mad cow disease. He also counseled Union Carbide, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant after a famous meltdown in 1979 and BP after its Torrey Canyon oil tanker sank .
The Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame is co-sponsored by the Southern Public Relations Federation and Mississippi State University’s Department of Communications. The names of the Hall of Fame members adorn the walls in the Mitchell Memorial Library at MSU.
Inductees must have 25 years of professional experience that brings honor to the profession and show strong contributions to their organization, city, state or region, among other criteria.
Burson’s son, Mark, is an adjunct instructor in integrated marketing communication at UM. He accepted the recognition on behalf of his father, who could not attend the ceremony Friday.
Scott Fiene, director of the school’s integrated marketing communications undergraduate program, said it’s fortuitous for Ole Miss that the “father of public relations” got his start here.
“He’s counseled royalty and shaped the image of many top global brands , but he’s always remained involved and partnered with the university on so many projects,” Fiene said. “His influence on the profession isn’t just what he has accomplished, but on the lives he has touched and the students he has mentored.
“The seeds he has sown will live for generations to come.”
Rick Dean and Kristie Aylett, agency principals with The KARD Group, a PR and marketing firm based in Mississippi, also were among those writing letters in support of Burson’s nomination .
“Kristie and I have studied and respected Harold’s contributions to our industry since we were students and, as professionals, we continue to use things learned from him,” Dean said. “To have played a role in Harold’s well-deserved nomination and induction into the Hall of Fame was our honor.”
Story by Michael Newsom
As the chief news anchor and managing editor of Fox News Network’s breaking news division, Shepard Smith has seen it all. He covered the 1997 death of Princess Diana. He was on the scene five minutes after planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center on 9-11.
He covered the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire on their classmates before taking their own lives. He was there when Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, making sure the nation understood the severity of conditions that ravaged the region, transforming the lives of its residents.
At one time, Smith worked the Pentagon, the White House, Los Angeles and London, all in the same week, and he has been on the frontlines of American and international news helping write a first draft of history.
Smith is a Holly Springs native, a New Yorker of 20 years, a Mississippian, a former University of Mississippi journalism student, and a devoted Ole Miss Rebels fan.
Because of all of those factors, he was a featured speaker at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media’s “It Starts With MEek” conference last week, an event that promotes diversity and inclusivity. He is also gay. Smith believes his sexuality is a piece of his personal story, but not the most defining factor.
In the fall of 1979, broadcast journalism was added to UM’s journalism program. Meek School Dean Will Norton said the department was filled with print professors, but after three years of searching, they hired the late professor Jim Pratt, Ph.D., who had spent 40 years with CBS.
“He was a great man who worked hard with students outside and inside of class, and one of his first students was Shepard Smith,” Norton said. “He immediately identified Shep as this young guy who would have a great future.”
Smith left Ole Miss during his junior year of college for a Florida internship. When the school year began again in the fall of Smith’s senior year, he made a decision that caused Pratt to remark to Norton: “Shep decided to stay in Florida and take the job. He’s not going to graduate.”
“So my immediate response was: ‘Well, he’ll never amount to anything,’” Norton said.
The crowed laughed Friday afternoon as Norton spoke about Smith’s career, a journey that took him to Gainesville, Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando and Los Angeles before establishing himself in New York City.
“His reporting has been a trademark of the Fox News channel,” Norton said. “He anchors most primetime news presentations provided by Fox News. He was like so many of you (journalism students) in the 1980s. He was this energetic young guy carrying equipment around everywhere, thinking that he could make a difference, and he has.
“Through the years, we have watched him develop into this smooth, sophisticated television personality who represents the best of the profession. In the process, we have become so proud of the journalism values that Shep Smith espouses and truly grateful for his promotion of his roots on this campus.”
Smith said he’s carried many fundamental lessons learned in Mississippi throughout his career. Some came from working at a fast food restaurant, one of the most important things he said he ever did.
“I really learned about little things,” he said. “Like if you (give customers) two and three napkins instead of two napkins, you’re just screwed if that happens over, and over, and over again,” he said. “If you give them three ketchups for every (order of) fries, you’re going to go broke. So you learn these little things in life. They really translate to everything else.”
He also learned fundamental journalism lessons at Ole Miss and took a job in Panama City, Florida, in 1987 without graduating from the UM journalism program, citing an economic recession as his reason for staying with the company.
“All the time, I’m just kind of chasing ambulances and trying to find out what is going on, going to city council meetings and trying to make it relatable at a time when television is how people are getting their news,” he said. “It felt important to me at the time … I wanted to operate in the public interest … and I wanted to be their eyes and ears, and let them know what’s happening, so they could decide what they think about what’s going on in the world.”
Smith was bitten by the news bug as a child while sitting at the breakfast table. His family often disagreed about the Vietnam War.
“All that time, I was thinking, if I could just get over there and find out what’s happening, and let mom and dad know, we could avoid these discussions,” he said. “You know? (I was a) little kid.”
He was also influenced to become a reporter by Memphis news media. At the time, Smith said Channel 5 had the first live truck in Memphis.
“Memphis is the greatest, biggest city in the world if you are coming from Holly Springs,” Smith said, as he recalled watching the live broadcast of Elvis Presley’s funeral. “We had never ever, ever, ever seen this (a live truck broadcast.) No one had ever seen this. I mean, we’d seen something from somewhere with Eric Sevareid or someone, but nobody local had ever been live in my world.
“And I’m immediately like, ‘Oh s—. Now I can actually do this. I might be able to get over there and find out what’s happening in Vietnam, and let the parents know about it. I really might. And that’s when I decided this is what I want to do.’”
Smith said Pratt helped professionally mold him. One of his first assignments – investigating how long the burgers were left sitting out at the Union Grill. “I think some heads rolled over that, if I remember,” he joked.
After working in Florida, he landed a job at “A Current Affair,” a self-described “disaster.” Overwhelmed by work and never home, he rarely spent a night in his apartment for a year and a half after moving from Los Angeles to New York.
“I was still getting carded when I came into my own building,” he said. “So I’m just traveling, traveling, traveling and popping up all over the world, because we didn’t have enough people. And other people needed to get home. They needed to get home to their dog, or their children, or their wife, or their husband. And I didn’t need to do that. I needed to sort of escape what my own reality might have been, because I wasn’t answering my own questions, or even posing my own questions to myself about what it is that is different about me.
“I’m really not different. I really like all the same stuff y’all boys like. All of it. But I am different.”
Smith hadn’t questioned his sexuality at the time.
“That’s sort of how I rolled,” he said. “And that’s why it wasn’t until seven, or eight, or nine years ago, I started living my truth. I grew up in Holly Springs. I went to the First Methodist Church. I went to Ole Miss. You know what we do. We wear khakis and startched white shirts, and we all do what everybody else does. And Hotty Toddy!
“That’s exactly what we do. Y’all wear dresses. We wear khakis. We are drunk by 10 p.m.,” he joked. “‘I’m not making that 8 o’clock (class). What are you doing on Friday?’ I didn’t get it. And on top of that, I was also trying to avoid what having a normal social life is. I didn’t need to go home and find my girlfriend or boyfriend, I just cut it off (and said): Where do you want me? Next plane?”
Because of that, Smith witnessed much of modern history. He even missed his sister’s wedding to cover convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s execution by lethal injection.
“Nobody was going to outwork me, and no one did,” he said. “If they wanted me to shoot it, I’d grab the camera and shoot it. I worked hard and kept going, and going, and going.
“I really hit it hard, and I was crushing everybody. My bosses were really so astounded. They were like how can you do this? … At one point, they were like: ‘You have to sleep. You can’t continue to stay up.’”
Smith said he never hid his sexuality. He just avoided the question. There were too many consequences.
“A. You’re going to hell for it,” he said, listing the reasons he avoided the subject. “B. You’ll never have any friends again. C. What are you going to tell your family? And by the way, you’re on television on the craziest conserative network on Earth,” he joked.”That will probably put you in front of a brick wall. Of course none of that was true, but that’s how it felt.”
One day, he decided to confront his fears. He talked with his closest friends, and began to live his truth.
“Someone asked me if Roger Ailes (founder and former chairman and CEO of Fox News and the Fox Television Stations Group, who resigned in July of 2016 following allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues) had been abusive to me, and I said, ‘No. He was always good to me,’ and that was the truth. And when I told the truth, I guess it was considered that I outed myself. I didn’t even think about it, because I didn’t think I was in.”
Smith said his sexuality is both important and a non-issue.
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “It’s not a thing. I go to work. I manage a lot of people. I cover the news. I deal with holy hell around me. I go home to the man I’m in love with. I come home to my family.”
He joked that he’s moved on to more important battles, like Ole Miss sports.
“Now, I just want to win on Saturdays,” he said, receiving applause from the audience. “That’s all I want to do. I don’t even care about the bowl. I just need to beat LSU. ‘Go to hell LSU.’ My dad likes that,” said Smith, whose father was sitting on the front row in the Overby Center auditorium.
Because diversity and inclusivity is the focus of “It Starts With MEek,” Smith addressed the issue of stereotyping others.
“The big black guy in the back is not always the criminal, and the little white girl in the front is not always the victim,” he said, again receiving applause from the audience. “That’s really ingrained in us.”
He said goth kids who wore trenchcoats were unfarily stereotyped after the Columbine shootings.
“Dylan and Eric,” he said. “They were different kids who were stereotyped. I am in no way making excuses for them. They ruined lives. They changed my life … But a lot of kids who kind of like the goth thing or might think it’s cool to wear a trenchcoat, had to suffer after that.”
Muslims are now being stereotyped because of 9-11.
“They didn’t do that,” he said. “People who bastardized that religion brought that thing down, and started this conflict. It’s not about religion, but we’re turning it into that because that’s what they want us to do.”
Smith rejects any personal stereotypes people may assign him. On the weekends, he said you’ll find him at Vaught Hemmingway.
“I’m not playing your stereotypes,” he said. “I’ll be there. And later, I need to watch ESPN the rest of the day. And tomorrow, I need to think about it.”
Concerned about Jackson’s leadership, Smith said he’s glad UM is setting a progressive example for the state. “We have a special responsiblitiy as people from this place to go out and show the world with our deeds and our actions that we are very inclusive, and we want everyone who is good to be here, and the rest of y’all can go,” he said, receiving applause. “…We’ve done a fantastic job. It’s not easy. This place is littered with landmines. Yet, they’re getting it done.”
He’s embarrassed by the Confederate emblem on the state flag and believes the flag should be retired to a museum.
“You can’t be much of an activist when your job is to report the news,” he said, “but you can remind people what happened under that flag. … So it’s got to go. Put it in the museum. Don’t get rid of it. Make it part of your curriculum. Talk about it. But get it out of the stadium. Get it out of the grove. Get it out of my state.”
Smith later answered audience questions, including what’s your best advice for getting a job in New York City. His answer: Get a job somewhere else first, because New York City is different.
“We operate faster, and we speak different,” he said. “… Everything about life has a way, and no one tells you what it is. And if you’re real polite, (they) hate you, because it gets in the way. There’s no time for it … ‘No, I’m not going to look you in the eye.’”
Those are foreign ideas to most Mississippians and Southerners, he said.
“You have to work somewhere else where they don’t care about you first,” he said. “… It’s not that we don’t like each other. We’re just very busy, and in a really big hurry. We’ve got to get to that train. We’ve got to get to that elevator. Back on that train. Back on the elevator.”
He believes there are advantages to living in Mississippi.
“There are plenty of things that we’re just ruling on,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons I’m so proud of this place. Because one of the things that Ole Miss has done through all their struggles is give our kids a chance. We’re educating our children here, and some of our children are willing to stay here and make our state a better place. And I think I can say really without bias, more as an observation, people who come out of this place tend to do really well.”
Smith said he wrote in his high school yearbook that he wanted to have a journalism career in Nashville, but they kept turning down his audition tape. He had never been west of Texas or north of the Carolinas when he graduated high school, but his inexperience didn’t hinder or confine him. It gave him a unique life perspective.
“I felt like my Holly Springs upbringing … we had it great,” he said. “But it wasn’t like we were rolling in dough or traveling around the world anymore than anyone else was … I didn’t realize it until I got to New York that all my friends were Ivy League kids, and they’re all millionaires, and they all know governors and … I was like: ‘Holy crap. I’ve led a deprived life,'” he laughed.
He said never let a small town limit your dreams.
“If you are from Eupora, or Iuka, or Mount Pleasant, or Hickory Flat – you can do whatever you want, and what you’re supposed to do is go do it and bring some of it back here, because this really is our only hope,” he said. “Our institutions are our only hope. Our government is regressive, and our institutions are progressive.”
Smith has accomplished a lot in his journalism career, but he said he’s always been grounded by Mississippi.
“I sort of kept my Mississippi/Ole Miss sensibilities about myself,” he said. “I didn’t (think) I had become something because I moved away from here. I think I was something because of the foundation I got here … (There’s) something about … home … that we kind of know that other people don’t. Right? I think we get that in ways other people don’t.”
– Story by LaReeca Rucker
The Meek School of Journalism and New Media recently concluded its “It Starts With Meek” campaign promoting diversity and inclusivity. Two panels were called “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” A panel of African American Meek School alumni discussed their experiences as students and professionals.
The first panel was moderated by Jesse Holland, an Associated Press race and ethnicity reporter. It featured panelists Gabriel Austin, a video editor for Mississippi Today; Ashley Ball, a communications associate for Siemens Corporations; Poinesha Barnes, a news producer for WREG; Kim Dandridge, an attorney for Butler Snow; Kells Johnson, an assignment editor for WZTV Fox 17; and Selena Standifer, deputy public affairs director for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
The second panel, featuring the same panelists, was led by Rose Jackson Flenoral, manager of global citizenship for FedEx Services.
Meek Journalism students who are part of the J102 Oxford Stories journalism class were asked to sit in on the panel and share their thoughts. Their responses are featured below.
The first question asked was how panel members thought Ole Miss has changed since they were students. Members agreed there are more conversations now acknowledging race issues.
They discussed personal experiences of name, gender, political beliefs, and race bias in their own work spaces.
They also discussed and agreed that being a black minority today is celebrated. Black culture is being celebrated after being oppressed for so long, especially through social media, with hashtags like #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy.
At the end, each member offered advice to students heading into the workplace. They said try to expose yourself to different cultures and experiences and be prepared for the unexpected. They said students should be go-getters and indispensable.
They suggested being open-minded and experiencing different spaces. They said “integrate, but don’t assimilate.” Panelists also advised students to be versatile, step outside their comfort zones, and surround themselves with people who are aiming in the same progressive direction you are.
I thought this panel was very thought-provoking and stimulating. I loved listening to the panel member’s perspectives on race issues.
They gave extraordinary advice on how to handle indirect and direct stereotype issues. Their advice was very impactful and something everyone should hear. Being open-minded and stepping out into different spaces can change your perspective.
This discussion focused on how fighting hate with love has helped members of the African American community through troubling times faced at the University of Mississippi.
Multiple panelists said they have faced adversity in their current professions. Some said they had never faced blatant racism at Ole Miss, but did once they joined the workforce.
One story that stood out to me was how one man was told “You will always be able to find another job,” insinuating that he was only an “affirmative action” hire.
Walking away from this discussion, I felt more enlightened. Much of the discussion did not just focus on the inequalities faced by black men and women in the professional world; they emphasized that many of these same inequalities are experienced by white women in the professional world.
I had never thought about the fact that once I graduate and enter the professional world, my opportunities could be limited just because of my race. I felt that this discussion was thought-provoking and enlightening for anyone who listened.
What initially impressed me was the diversity of age and gender represented by the panel. Moderator Rose Jackson Flenoral introduced the group of men and women. The first woman to speak during this presentation was Kimbrely Dandridge, a former UM student and former Associated Student Body president.
What struck me immediately was Ms. Dandridge introducing herself as the first African American to be elected into this prestigious position. At first I found it mesmerizing to be given the opportunity to listen to this young woman speak, but I also thought to myself, “FIRST black ASB president? There wasn’t one sooner?”
I am aware of the racially segregated past of the University of Mississippi, but this moment made me realize that transitioning into a campus that consistently practices inclusion is still a challenge here. Black inclusion on campus is a more recent element of student life than initially assumed.
Ms. Dandridge, as well as other members of the panel, experienced moments of racism that they could have let bring them down. Luckily, because they were strong-minded and strong-willed, these incidents became factors in their developing success.
An example of racism that Dandridge faced was when she joined a predominantly white sorority on campus, Phi Mu. Members of the sorority accepted her, but the study body did not. Racial slurs were thrown at her throughout campus, and she discovered an article that labeled the sorority a “joke” for accepting an African American young woman.
Another panelist spoke about his experiences with campus racism. When he began attending the University of Mississippi, he lived on a dorm floor as only one of five other black students. He made friends with the white students who neighbored him, and become closer with them over time. Choosing these friends also pushed him towards deciding to join a fraternity on campus.
This decision, however, became more controversial than progressive. He would be one of the first African American men to become a member in Ole Miss’ Greek system. Typically, an African American student would choose to join a black fraternity, and likewise for caucasian students because of the university’s history.
This young man’s bravery, whether he was aware of it at the time or not, set a path for the future success of university students from a variety of backgrounds. These situations, as well as the others discussed by the panel, are elements of the University of Mississippi’s history that provide constant hope and drive to create a more inclusive campus.
This panel of black Meek School alumni discussed their experiences here at the university and in the workforce. This was such a great experience for me, because I am a black journalism student here, and even though I am just a freshman and have yet to start my career, I could relate to so much they have gone through.
I related the most to Poinesha Barnes when she started to speak about the situation with her name. I, too, have an ethnic name that is not considered common. Like she is named after her father, I am too am named after my grandmother, so I am extremely proud of my name. However, I am in fear of being judged by future employers because of this.
I could also relate to her being natural and the way people may stereotype me because of my hair. People often assume that I do not act like the average African American person because of the school I attend, so I am often called an “Oreo,” but then they assume that I’m “ woke” and a militant angry black girl.
Many times, I have been told that I would not succeed in an on-air position because of my hair in its natural state. Of course, hearing many comments like this makes me angry, but like many people on this panel, on many occasions, I have to stop and think about my future before I respond.
Hearing them talk about some of their experiences gave me so much hope that I could actually succeed in this industry. This panel helped me to better prepare myself for stereotypes I have to deal with during my college life and when I enter the workforce.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow featured a panel of black Ole Miss Meek School alumni. The panel discussed their experiences at the University of Mississippi, changes, or lack thereof, in race relations on campus, and how stereotypes have followed them into the professional world.
The mediator, Jesse Holland, started the presentation by asking the panel what it was like as an African American at Ole Miss. The panel was filled with recent graduates, but their stories made me feel as though race relations have not evolved over time.
The panelists reported almost unanimously the emotional and even physical abuse they endured as students. Even with stories of being threatened by dorm mates, unnecessary frisking by a police officer, and being harassed while walking on the Square, all of the panelists agreed that they would return to Ole Miss if they had the chance.
The panelists said that even though there were less than ideal situations, all the life lessons and good relationships made it worthwhile.
In the Overby Center on campus, seven Ole Miss alumni gathered to discuss some of the race issues they have faced on campus. The panel ranged in age, but all seemed to face the same difficulties at some points in their time here at Ole Miss.
UM 2013 graduate Ashley Ball said her Ole Miss experience was very normal, and she did not face direct racism. After graduation, she got a job working on the external communications team at Siemens USA. Ball was then only one of two black women who worked with the company, and she described her first direct encounter with racism. In the end, the panel gave the audience great advice: “Surround yourself with people who are going to bring you up, and get you to where you want to be in life.”
On Friday, I attended the “It Starts with MEek” panel discussion “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The panel consisted of seven African American alumni of Ole Miss and was moderated by Rose Jackson Flenoral.
The panelists, most being very recent graduates, discussed what it was like in their time at Ole Miss and how the university has changed over time. Almost all of the panelists shared stories of times when they had been called a racial slur or had hateful things said about them, but they also stated that the climate is changing and trending in the right direction. They said a dialogue has started on campus, and it is helping the university combat this history of hate that has plagued Ole Miss for years.
The panel then shifted to issues faced in the workplace and what it is like being an African American in newsrooms and offices that are predominately white. It was clear to the audience that discrimination in the workplace was still an issue. One of the panelists brought up the term “microaggression” and said some people don’t even realize what they say is offensive. In little ways, whether it is meant as a joke or not, microaggressions still have an strong affect on whoever it was directed towards.
Towards the end of the discussion, the panel was asked to give advice to students in the audience who are heading into the real world, workplace environment. The biggest thing I took from this question was to surround myself with people who have similar goals as me and are going in the direction I want to go. This is something that I have been taught for years, and to hear it now from a different perspective made that advice so much stronger.
The discussion was interesting and entertaining. The advice they gave was not just centered around African American or minority students, but for everyone as a whole. The discussion opened my eyes about discrimination in the workplace and really gave me a sense of what it could be like in any of the panelists’ shoes.
On Friday afternoon, I attended the discussion panel led by Ole Miss alumni based on their experiences as African American people in both the journalism workplace and their experiences as an Ole Miss students.
I expected this event and panel to not really affect me much, based on the fact that I am not a minority. I was very wrong after only being there for a couple minutes when each panel member began telling their individual stories of being targeted in both the media workforce and as students at the University of Mississippi.
Certain stories that were told really affected me, such as the story about the one woman being the first African American member of a sorority. She became a member of Phi Mu, and many blogs and such were put up on social media to personally attack and assault her. This struck me as absurd, especially based on the fact that there are still minimal African Americans involved in the Greek community.
What I took away from this lecture is that it is important to push inclusion, especially in a place such as Mississippi where the history says otherwise. It was very beneficial to hear their stories and hear the way they have been treated, especially in the aspect of microaggressions. After this panel, it is a personal goal of mine to consider the way I talk to people and interact with them, because words are powerful and can hurt even when you don’t intend for them to.
I was not sure what to expect from the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow panel, but I was intrigued to hear what journalists had to say to aspiring journalists at the Meek School. Most of the questions asked had to do with race, gender, age, and the parts they play in being a journalist.
Being that I am a white female, I do not personally relate or experience some of the stereotypes and struggles that a black journalist would experience, so hearing a different perspective was beneficial.
Being a journalist on its own is a challenge and is a risk to take on considering the idea that the “starving artist” idea still lives today. Aside from the challenges and risks of taking on a career in journalism, I have a future of struggles within my career because of my gender and age.
As confirmed by the female panelists, there will be certain stereotypes, and people who think less of me and my intelligence because I am a woman. Also, it never occurred to me that my age and millennial status would affect my career. Young panelists spoke about the preconceived ideas that millennials are lazy.
“Millennials care about being happy,” said one female panelists. People love to criticize millennials for being lazy, lacking commitment, and having little concern for the outside world. Millennials face a lot of hate and doubt from their elders because millennials have a high turnover rate, but this is because if millennials are not happy, they will leave and begin anew regardless of the paycheck, which I find to be refreshing and hopeful. By the time I join the work force, the work place will be filled with even more millennials, so this will be an adjustment to the work force as a whole.
I was born a white female. I never had the same struggles a black male or female would face. Black female panelists talked about fighting the stereotype of the “angry black woman” or a the stereotype of a “black person that cannot take a joke.”
A black male panelist mentioned that many black journalists are assigned stories just to get a black point of view. This diminishes their talent and is unfair. The same man struggled with combatting black stereotypes. He didn’t write about topics he loved in fear that it would be too stereotypical.
He said black males typically write about sports, crime, or race issues. He did not want to be seen as a black reporter who “won’t talk about anything, but black news.” He wanted to simply be seen as a writer. These are struggles that I will never have to face, but these struggles are seemingly unfair and unjust.
I will have my own struggles to face in the work force. I have already experienced the stereotypes of being a blonde, fashionable, outgoing, white girl. In high school, the smart girls in the class were shocked to hear my name on the honor roll. They told me they thought I was just dumb and fun.
These same struggles will follow me in the work place. People will not take me seriously because of my appearance. People will doubt my intelligence and capability as a woman and as a writer. No one is free from judgement in the work place or, really, anywhere.
I arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of 1975 with high expectations as I entered the Pre-Med curriculum.
It took only one semester for me to turn the rudder in another direction (I still don’t understand the difference between Meiosis and Mitosis). But once I returned from Christmas to find out that 85 percent of my class had failed, the “C” that I earned didn’t look as bad as I first thought.
Having received an English scholarship for some articles I had written in high school, I turned my interest to Journalism.
I was shocked when I was expected to turn in “three stories a week” to The Daily Mississippian. There were many days after I graduated that I wrote five articles in a day.
I was among the lucky ones, as I was offered a job during Christmas of my senior year to work in Pascagoula, at my hometown newspaper: The Mississippi Press. I would stay there for 19 years, the majority in sports but the final two years as Managing Editor. In that time, I remembered covering the Super Bowl in New Orleans one day and a junior high basketball tournament the next.
By this time I had fallen in love, and followed my fiancée to Birmingham. One of the two daily papers at that time was a fellow Newhouse publication, and I was able to transfer in 1998. We remained there until 2003, when I was allowed to transfer to Mobile because of my mother’s health. So until 2012, I had worked 33 years for the same company.
Then we saw the report about the Times-Picayune being gutted. We knew immediately all the Newhouse papers in Alabama and Mississippi would follow. I was prepared to return to my reporting duties, but even those positions were soon gone.
I was given 11 months of severance. I thought this would give me plenty of time to find a job. Several friends were surprised that I was staying in Mobile, because all I had ever done was work for a daily newspaper. Since moving back to the Gulf Coast, I had purchased a house and had fallen in love with my new town.
Then reality sunk in for a 55-year-old job seeker. In the first nine months, I applied for 100 jobs. The few interviews I received said the same thing: “overqualified.” I then read an article on Linked In about this same situation and what to do.
Next up was an interview to be a secretary for the Mobile County Health Department. Once I got seated, they said I had a great résumé but was “overqualified.” Because of the article, I quickly responded with “Thank You!” They were stunned, but I continued. “This is a government job with a fixed pay scale? There is no negotiating salary? So don’t you want the most overqualified person you can get?”
The next day they called and offered the job. I was completely bored 50 percent of the time, but I was paying my mortgage. I quickly learned to beg people for extra work, which they were happy to provide.
I did take a promotion to serve as Grant Writer, but it was a disaster. The technical aspects of the job were something that I failed to grasp. The job was vital, since our health department is independent and receives no tax funding. After one year, I resigned the post and went back into the secretarial pool.
Then a former Press-Register colleague left as Public Information Officer for another entity. The administrators were desperate to complete the daily duties. I began to “volunteer” and was soon the de facto PIO. When the job officially was opened to candidates, I still had to apply through the county’s Personnel Board and go through the interview process.
Thanks to my months of filling in as a temp, I already had my foot in the door. But it wasn’t until they told me in person of their final decision that I could breathe again.
I have certainly enjoyed the job. They all laughed when I told them I actually started at Ole Miss in Pre-Med, but the labs kept me from getting a good seat for happy hour at The Gin. MCHD serves an important role in the community, and just celebrated its bicentennial in 2016.
On the side, I have kept busy writing a sports column for a weekly newspaper in Mobile called “Lagniappe.” It is a French term for “a little something extra.” I joke that MCHD pays my mortgage while Lagniappe covers my bar tab. When I told this to one of the paper’s owners, their response was that they were obviously paying me too much.
As for my personal life, I am happily married with no children. This Fourth of July will mark 30 years since I met my Donna, but we did not get married until 1999. She actually proposed to me at a Valentine’s Day dinner.
If you remember Mike Wixon, he still lives in Pascagoula. He left the newspaper world many years ago, and has been involved with real estate. He is a very happy grandpa who rides his bike (his bad back from basketball won’t allow him to play golf anymore).
I was on the Ole Miss campus last week. I have been telling people I felt like I was at Epcot because it was all too perfect.
If you would like to see some of my sports writing, please visit http://lagniappemobile.com/category/style/sports/
As for my “real” job, we just uploaded our 2016 Annual Report to http://mchd.org/General/Bulk_Documents.aspx?type=Annual%20Report&index=1&subindex=1
Otis Sanford, a longtime columnist for The Commercial Appeal, will be a guest speaker at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics Monday, April 24, at 6 p.m. to talk about the racial conflict and transition that has taken place in Memphis politics, from the time of E.H. Crump’s rule of the city in the first half of the 20th century, to the modern era in which African Americans exert power.
Sanford has written about this subject in his new book, From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics.
He will be joined in the discussion by two other long-time political observers, Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center, and Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie.
The program in the Overby Center Auditorium is free and open to the public. A reception will be held following the event, and arrangements have been made for parking in the lot adjacent to the auditorium.
Sanford, who grew up near Como, a north Mississippi town in the shadow of Memphis, is a 1975 graduate of the University of Mississippi. He majored in journalism. He served on the staff of major newspapers in Jackson, Pittsburgh and Detroit before settling at The Commercial Appeal, where he eventually became managing editor.
In 2005, Sanford was awarded the Silver Em, the highest honor given by the university’s journalism school to native Mississippians who excel in journalism or to those who have distinguished themselves in the state.
He is now a member of the University of Memphis faculty, but continues to write a weekly column for The Commercial Appeal.
“Otis is not only a product of Ole Miss we value, he has become the most knowledgeable source on Memphis politics, and it will be great to welcome him back,” said Wilkie.