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Alumni Update: Josh Ellis

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by ewrobins

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

Alumni Update: Josh Miller

Posted on: October 8th, 2015 by ewrobins

Josh MillerJosh Miller (’02) is now the editor in chief of two magazines published by Hoffman Media, Taste of the South and Southern Cast Iron.

Alumni Update: Rob Waters

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by ewrobins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Waters & Family

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

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

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

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

Alumni Update: Laura Houston Santhanam

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by ewrobins

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 9/28/15

Recent grad living his dream

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by ewrobins

Ignacio Murrillo

Ignacio Murillo graduated from the Meek School in 2014, and already has landed a job that lets loose his creativity and passion for design, fashion and photography. A photo assistant for Harper’s Bazaar magazine in New York City, Murillo said his job is the most stressful yet most enjoyable thing he’s ever done.

Murillo’s job search was anything but traditional. He Photoshopped pictures of himself with Harper’s Bazaar special projects director Laura Brown and tweeted them to her: #Thiscouldbeusbutyouareplaying.

“I would say that I was getting pretty annoying, but she finally liked one of the photos that I tweeted and replied to me to call her office,” Murillo said.

He was given a test for a features internship that took him about 10 hours to complete. He didn’t make the cut for that job, but impressed them enough that his contact information was passed along to other departments.

Murillo moved to New York, crashing at friends’ apartments while he continued his search for a job. He made regular contact at Harper’s Bazaar, and it paid off: an internship with the art and photo department.

In November, shortly before his internship ended, he was offered a job — on his birthday — as a men’s fashion assistant at a PR company where he had interned two years earlier. In the middle of March, he heard that Harper’s Bazaar was hiring and he reached out to the photo director.

“I had to interview with three editors before I got the answer I had dreamed about since I was 10 years old,” he said.

“The best — funny — part of my story is that the image and tweet that opened the door for me was related to the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV show and the first issue I worked on with my name on the masthead featured ‘Game of Thrones’ leading lady Emilia Clarke as the cover star. It might sound stupid, but I took that as a sign that I was at the right place.”

Murillo said his work days run the gamut from routine to glamorous, including meeting celebrities.

“I help the photo department produce our well/back of the book photo shoots,” he said. “I help with the historical, fine art and commercial research that goes into producing a shoot. I help manage our in-house studio for all the front-of-the-book pages. I help manage our interns to ensure everything is completed thoroughly and efficiently. One day I could be focusing on invoices and the next day finding new locations for upcoming stories.”

Throughout his years as a student at the University of Mississippi, Murillo had internships and worked at the Magazine Innovation Center and the Student Media Center. He was a photographer and award-winning designer for The Daily Mississippian and The Ole Miss yearbook, and said he learned a lot about journalism and working on teams.

“Most my learning has been on the job because there were no classes on how to produce a photo shoot that costs thousands of dollars in another country,” Murillo said, laughing.

“The best advice I have for current students is to intern as much as possible. I was hired by both companies where I was an intern here in NYC. Don’t be afraid to go big. I think one of the things that helped me get where I am was that I was never really scared to just go out there and get it.”

Alumnus Jay Sheridan featured in Nashville’s “40 Under 40”

Posted on: August 20th, 2015 by ewrobins

The Nashville Business Journal selected Meek School graduate Jay Sheridan as one of its “up-and-comers in the business community.” Read the article at

Alumni Update: Marlo Kirkpatrick

Posted on: June 24th, 2015 by pchurdle

MarloBioShotMarlo Kirkpatrick (’86) has degrees in journalism and English cum laude and has enjoyed a long career as a writer. She is the owner and writing partner in Kirkpatrick & Porch Creative, an award-winning advertising agency based in Madison, Mississippi, and also works steadily as a freelance writer. Magazine and book assignments have taken Marlo to locations throughout North, Central, and South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Marlo has won more than 200 local, regional, and national awards for creative excellence, including the National Outdoor Book Award, the International Self-Published Book Award, the Benjamin Franklin Publishing Award, and three Southeastern Outdoor Press Association Book of the Year Awards. She has been named the Jackson Advertising Federation’s Writer of the Year five times, including four of the last five years.

Marlo is married to Stephen Kirkpatrick, a wildlife photographer she met when he hired her to write a book for him (17 years later, Stephen refers to this project as “the job he is still paying for”). The Kirkpatricks were married in an orchid garden in Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1998.

Marlo’s books include 100 Years of Home: A History of Mississippi Children’s Home Services; Lost in the Amazon: The True Story of Five Men and their Desperate Battle for Survival; It Happened in Mississippi; and Mississippi Off the Beaten Path, a guide to unique attractions currently in its eighth edition. She has also collaborated with her husband on several coffee table books, including Sanctuary: Mississippi’s Coastal Plain; Romancing the Rain: A Photographic Journey into the Heart of the Amazon; Among the Animals; Images of Madison County; Wilder Mississippi; and To Catch the Wind. Her journalism degree has taken Marlo to places and led on her adventures she never could have imagined in her early days at Ole Miss; she is grateful for every opportunity her journalism degree has given her.

Becky Jones West among 2014 “Super Women”

Posted on: September 10th, 2014 by ewrobins

Meek School alumna Becky Jones West was chosen by Memphis Business Journal as one of its 2014 “Super Women in Business.” West is CEO of WestRogers. Read the story at

Historic Zoning board honors Jay Sheridan

Posted on: September 10th, 2014 by ewrobins

Meek School graduate Jay Sheridan was recognized for his service on the Historic Zoning Commission in Franklin, Tennessee.  Read the story at

Ronnie Agnew featured on “Mississippi Arts Hour”

Posted on: September 9th, 2014 by ewrobins

Listen to Tom Pearson’s “Mississippi Arts Hour” interview with Meek School alumnus Ronnie Agnew at Agnew is executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting.