The Meek School of Journalism and New Media

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Take a virtual tour of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media

Posted on: March 20th, 2018 by ldrucker

Have you ever wanted to take a tour of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Here’s your chance!

Link to video.

Meek School student selected for national multimedia project investigating hate crimes

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ldrucker

Meek School major Brittany Brown is one of 26 students from 19 universities selected to participate in a major national investigation into hate crimes in the U.S. as part of the 2017 Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia reporting initiative.

Brittany is a junior from Quitman, majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in Spanish. She is in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a digital content producer, anchor and correspondent for NewsWatch Ole Miss. She was an intern at WTOK-TV in Meridian and a research intern in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Summer Research Program, and she is co-president of the University of Mississippi Association of Black Journalists.

Headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, News21 was established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to demonstrate that college journalism students can produce innovative, in-depth multimedia projects on a national scale.

Students from journalism programs across the U.S., as well as Canada and Ireland, will join Cronkite students for the 2018 investigation. They will examine the major issues surrounding hate crimes in America.

The students are participating in a spring semester seminar in which they are conducting research, interviewing experts and beginning their reporting. The seminar is taught in person and via video conference by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and Cronkite’s Weil Family Professor of Journalism, and News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former senior editor for investigations and enterprise at the Houston Chronicle.

“We chose hate crimes and hate incidents as this year’s timely News21 topic because of the apparent increase throughout the country of such acts – from bullying and vandalism to assaults and murders – involving racial, religious, nationality, gender and sexual orientation bias,” Downie said.

Following the seminar, students move into paid summer fellowships, during which they work out of a newsroom at the Cronkite School in Phoenix and travel across the country to report and produce their stories.

“We will be able to do what many newsrooms cannot, which is to deploy dozens of student journalists to investigate the culture of hate and related acts of violence in every state in the nation,” Petchel said. “Not only do recent attacks on people of different races and religions call for it, it is the right thing to do in the name of public service journalism.”

Over the past eight years, Carnegie-Knight News21 projects have included investigations into voting rights, post-9/11 veterans, marijuana laws and guns in America, among other topics. The projects have won numerous awards, including four EPPY Awards from Editor & Publisher magazine, the Student Edward R. Murrow Award for video excellence, and a host of honors from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Hearst Awards Program, considered the Pulitzer Prizes of collegiate journalism.

Cronkite fellows will be named later this semester. In addition to the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, the other universities are:

  • DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana
  • Dublin City University, School of Communications, Dublin, Ireland
  • Elon University, School of Communications, Elon, North Carolina
  • George Washington University, School of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.
  • Indiana University, The Media School, Bloomington, Indiana
  • Kent State University, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio
  • Louisiana State University, Manship School of Mass Communication, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Morgan State University, School of Global Journalism and Communication, Baltimore, Maryland
  • St. Bonaventure University, Jandoli School of Communication, St. Bonaventure, New York
  • Syracuse University, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse, N.Y.
  • University of British Columbia, Graduate School of Journalism, British Columbia, Canada
  • University of Colorado Boulder, College of Media, Communication and Information, Boulder, Colorado
  • University of Iowa, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Iowa City, Iowa
  • University of North Texas, Mayborn School of Journalism, Denton, Texas
  • University of Oklahoma, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Norman, Oklahoma
  • University of Tennessee, School of Journalism & Electronic Media, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • University of Texas at Austin, School of Journalism, Austin, Texas

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provides core support for the News21 program. Individual fellows are supported by their universities as well as a variety of foundations, news organizations and philanthropists that include the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Hearst Foundations, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, International Ireland Funds, The Arizona Republic, The Dallas Morning News, Myrta J. Pulliam, John and Patty Williams, and Louis A. “Chip” Weil.

Husni names The Magnolia Journal as 2017 magazine Launch of the Year

Posted on: February 9th, 2018 by ldrucker

In the hit HGTV series “Fixer Upper,” Chip and Joanna Gaines own and operate Magnolia Homes, a remodeling and design business in Waco, Texas. The show chronicles their adventures turning dilapidated houses into showplaces while helping revitalize neighborhoods throughout central Texas.Houses aren’t the only thing that have benefited from the duo’s magic touch. The couple’s magazine, The Magnolia Journal, won the 2017 magazine Launch of the Year Award at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York City Feb. 6.

Dr. Samir Husni, professor, Hederman Lecturer, and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, presented the award along with the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media.

From a field of 212 new magazines launched with a regular frequency between Oct. 2016 and Dec. 2017, Husni said they selected 20, then carefully chose 10 finalists for the top honor.

What made The Magnolia Journal stand out? Husni said the magazine will launch its spring issue Feb. 13 with a $1.2 million rate base.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 06: Doug Olson and Samir Husni speak on stage at the American Magazine Media Conference 2018 on Feb. 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for The Association of Magazine Media)

“It’s been a long time since a magazine has generated as much buzz in the marketplace as The Magnolia Journal has,” Husni said. “The connectivity of the content and the design made, and continues to make, this magazine fly off the shelves. Under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief Joanna Gaines, this print product creates a very interactive experience for readers. All in all, The Magnolia Journal burst onto the scene, and in less than a year, floated to the top, deserving the Launch of the Year Award – an honor well-deserved.”

Husni said the magazine has had amazing success on newsstands. The first issue sold out immediately, and Meredith Corp. had to issue a second printing. “It’s rare in that industry that takes place,” Husni said.

He said one reason the magazine has been successful is because of the couple’s strong connection to their fans. “People who watch their television program always tell me how close they are,” he said. “You feel like you are just talking to them. So the magazine was just an extension. It brought the pixels-on-the-screen-experience to something you can actually hold in your hand. Only print can give you that experience.”

Chip and Joanna Gaines, who serve as the editor-at-large and editor-in-chief, respectively, sent a video response about the award that played during the award ceremony. Joanna Gaines said they were honored that the Waco, Texas-based title won the 2017 Launch of the Year Award, and they thanked Husni.

“For us, this has been such an amazing journey watching these issues come to life,” Joanna Gaines said. “We’ve loved every minute of it … We are really excited about what’s to come with The Magnolia Journal.”

The event was held during the American Magazine Media Conference, the largest magazine media conference in the country. Among the top 10 finalists were titles such as Airbnbmag, Alta, Bake it up!, goop, MILK Street, The Golfer’s Journal, The National, The Pioneer Woman and TYPE Magazine.

“Almost every major magazine publisher published at least one new magazine last year,” Husni said. “That’s why I called 2017 the Year of the New Magazine. He said that’s evidence print magazines are not a dying medium.

Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines, accepted the Launch of the Year Award from Husni. “We’re super excited about it for lots of reasons,” Olson said in a video. “Number 1, it was a huge team effort starting with Chip and Joanna Gaines and their vision and our execution on that. Second, Meredith doesn’t win very many of these awards, so we are super excited and very much appreciate the recognition.”

Husni has a busy season ahead of him with magazines. He is currently preparing for the ACT 8 Experience, an event organized annually by the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism set for April 17-20 in Oxford. The 2018 theme is Print Proud, Digital Smart.

And Newell Turner, one of Husni’s former UM magazine students, who rose to become the Hearst Design Group editorial director, will be presented the Silver Em, the University of Mississippi’s highest award in journalism, at a campus event during the ACT 8 Experience. The event will be held held April 18 in the Overby Auditorium in Farley Hall on the UM campus at 5:30 p.m.

The Silver Em award dates to 1958, and recipients must be Mississippians with notable journalism careers or journalists with notable careers in Mississippi.

CONTACTS:

 Dr. Samir Husni | 662-915-1414, 662-832-6247 | samir.husni@gmail.com

Meek School alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. Pens ‘Black Panther’ Superhero Novel

Posted on: February 1st, 2018 by ldrucker

University of Mississippi alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. was tapped by Marvel to reintroduce the world to the 1960s “Black Panther” superhero franchise through a new novel ahead of this weekend’s release of the blockbuster film about T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda.

Holland, a Holly Springs native who graduated from the university in 1994 with a degree in journalism, was tasked in 2016 with retelling the story through a 90,000-word origin story novel based on material in six comics. The goal was to create a new world for the main character, T’Challa, set in modern times.

The novel was released last fall as part of efforts to promote the new $200 million movie, which stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and features Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o. Rap megastar Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack.

Jesse Holland Jr.

Being asked to write the novel, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?” was a dream come true, Holland said.

“I’ve been reading comic books my entire life,” Holland said. “When I was at Ole Miss, me and my friends would drive from campus all the way to Memphis to comic book shops on Wednesday or Thursday nights when the new ones came out and pick them up.

“I told Marvel I’d love to take it on and they offered to send me some Black Panther comic books for research, and I said, ‘Don’t bother. I already have them all in my basement right now.”

The movie is poised for a majorly successful box office opening weekend. Drawing attention as one of the first superhero movies to feature a person of color as the main character, it follows the release of “Wonder Woman,” which featured the first female superhero star on the big screen.

Audiences are clamoring for something different from traditional Hollywood superhero movies, and there’s a much broader appeal than normal that is driving the high expectations, Holland said.

“This is not a recycled superhero story,” he said. “It is not the third different actor playing the same character. This is something that is completely new, completely different as far as superhero movies go.

“One of the things we are going to see behind the success of this character is that we as Americans don’t need to see the same story over and over. We are accepting of new heroes and new mythologies, and in fact we’re more accepting of heroes of all colors and genders. America is ready for a different type of hero.”

In the film, T’Challa returns home to the isolated, but technologically advanced, African nation of Wakanda to succeed the throne that was recently vacated when his father, the king, died. The country is able to be technologically advanced because it’s the only source of an advanced metal known as vibranium.

UM alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. has written a novel for Marvel to reintroduce its 1960s superhero ‘Black Panther,’ the main character in a new blockbuster film.

When another nation attempts to invade Wakanda to take the ultrarare material, T’Challa is forced into a role as his nation’s protector.

He is a complicated character, Holland said.

“When people ask me about T’Challa, I tell them to imagine if the president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the pope were all the same person,” Holland said. “On top of that, he’s a superhero.

“His superhero outfit is bound with vibranium, which makes him almost indestructible. He also takes a special herb that gives him super powers.”

“Black Panther” is drawing high marks from critics. The New York Times called it, “A jolt of a movie,” and said it “creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth. Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.”

Over six months, Holland wrote the updated origin story based on a 2005 version.

“It’s actually pretty cool to not have to start from scratch and to take a storyline by an absolutely great writer like Reginald Hudlin,” Holland said. “He based his work (in 2005) on the great work that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started with.

“To be able to take that work and make it your own and be able to add and subtract and mold it to something you’re happy with is just fabulous.”

Doing this kind of work is nothing new for Holland. Disney Lucasfilm Press commissioned him to write the history of the Star Wars franchise’s newest black hero, “Finn.” He told his story in the 2016 young adult novel “Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Finn’s Story.”

He’s also penned award-winning nonfiction. His book “The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slavery in the White House” (Lyons Press, 2016) won the 2017 silver medal in U.S. History in the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

He teaches creative nonfiction writing as part of the Master of Fine Arts program at Goucher College in Townson, Maryland. He is also a race and ethnicity writer for The Associated Press.

Holland recently saw a screening of the movie, which he said is “fabulous.” He expects the release will create a major payday for everyone involved.

“From everything we’re seeing – all of the sold-out movie theaters, pop-up bars, pop-up art shows and pop-up screenings, it seems like this is going to be a record-breaking weekend for Marvel, and maybe the movie industry,” Holland said. “It’s going to be amazing to see the final numbers.”

By

Covering politics in the Trump era: New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin speaks at Meek School

Posted on: October 20th, 2017 by cjoyce

New York Times national correspondent, Jonathan Martin, visited students in an advanced reporting class at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media Monday, Oct. 23, offering advice and sharing details about his path to becoming one of the nation’s leading political reporters.

For the past four and half years, Martin has crossed the country to cover campaigns, elections and the larger political trends behind them. Prior to joining the Washington bureau of The Times, he worked as a senior writer for Politico, and has also been published in The New Republic, National Journal, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin joins a Meek School advanced reporting class Monday, Oct. 23.

Following a weekend touring the town of Oxford with his family and taking in the Ole Miss vs. LSU pre-game festivities in the Grove, Martin stayed in town an extra day to speak with students from the Meek School and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute.

Martin said some of his favorite parts of the job are traveling to places all over the country to write stories. He explained how his job works around the presidential cycle and that he is much busier “in the even years.”

“I kind of look at [this job] in two ways,” he said. “One, I’ve got campaigns and elections. Those have a start, a middle, and an end. It’s pretty straightforward: somebody wins, somebody loses…The other thing I do, which I think is so much more challenging, also it’s more enriching, is sort of looking at what’s happening in the country with the lens of our politics and how that’s informing what’s going on.”

Martin said covering national politics has become particularly complex in the past few years, as both the Democratic and Republican parties have faced challenges from within. He spoke about his experience working with the Trump administration, and said President Trump had come after him personally two to three times throughout the campaign.

Most recently, President Trump accused Martin of setting Tennessee Senator Bob Corker up by taping him without his awareness and capturing him saying, among other things, that Trump was recklessly tempting “World War III.”  The Times later published the audio tape in which Corker could be heard asking to be recorded. 

Martin also talked about how The Times correspondents respond to the President’s social media. He said The Times reporters have learned to discern whether: “This is an extraordinary moment in American history vs. He’s blowing off steam on Twitter once again; let’s see what’s actually happening.”

Offering some insider insight into The Times’ new policy on social media, which prohibits journalists from expressing partisan opinions, political views, or candidate endorsements, Martin said, although there has been a little pushback, most people support the new policy. He personally believes it offers useful guidance, and ultimately encourages people to think twice before they post.

Offering advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in journalism, Martin said good reporting requires cultivating reliable sources: “It’s not complicated. Treat people like you want to be treated. Don’t always call them when you need something. And over-report…make more phone calls than you think you need. It’s easier to get things done working ahead, and your story (is)New going to be better for it.”

Article written by Savannah Smith

Meek School alumnus named deputy White House press secretary

Posted on: October 15th, 2017 by ldrucker

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.

New Albany High School students visit Student Media Center

Posted on: September 25th, 2017 by ldrucker

New Albany High School students visited the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media Student Media Center Sept. 21. They watched the live NewsWatch Ole Miss newscast, sat in on the daily critique with NewsWatch faculty adviser Nancy Dupont, and had a Q&A with Daily Mississippian editors. Shane Sanford of Ole Miss Sports Productions arranged the visit.

1962 Ole Miss riot and news media’s vital role, then and now

Posted on: September 10th, 2017 by ldrucker

It was 55 years ago this month that the University of Mississippi campus was engulfed in a riot when James Meredith sought to enroll in the state’s flagship university.

Segregationists from around the South had descended on the campus and a riot ensued. More than 300 reporters traveled to Oxford to cover the story.

Some were beaten; others had their equipment damaged or set on fire. Agence France-Press reporter Paul Guihard was murdered, the only reporter killed during the civil rights era.

The issues then were as stark as they are today – as demonstrated by protests and demonstrations occurring in Memphis and across the nation regarding the existence of Confederate memorials on public grounds.

Screen grab from The Commercial Appeal of Dr. Kathleen Wickham’s guest column.

In today’s climate the emotions on both sides are as raw as when the monuments were installed, the beliefs as rigid and the hate as repulsive.

But at a time when claims of so-called “fake news” are used to undermine the press’s credibility, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the role of the press in reporting riots, protests and disturbances.

That role – granted by the First Amendment – is to monitor the actions of government and powerful people and institutions by providing a reliable source of information about how law enforcement, public officials and citizens react to events and protect people and property.

Attacks on the press for performing this work are an affront to democracy. Journalists report the news without fear or favor on behalf of the people.

The reporters who descended on Oxford in 1962 were doing just that. They were driven to seek the truth and inform the public about what was happening.

In my new book “We Believed We Were Immortal: Twelve Reporters Who Covered the 1962 Integration Crisis at Ole Miss“, I explore the crisis through the words and experiences of journalists who were there.

They include Sidna Brower, the Memphis reared editor of the student newspaper; Claude Sitton of The New York Times, known as the dean of the civil rights press corps, Dorothy Gilliam, also a Memphis native who was the first African-American woman hired by The Washington Post; Michael Dorman of Newsday, who explored the town’s attitudes as evidenced by the Faulkner family; and Tupelo-native Neal Gregory of The Commercial Appeal, who wrote about the mood of Oxford’s religious community.

Guihard’s unsolved murder is also a significant aspect of the book. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, another reporter who came to Oxford in 1962, spoke at the 2010 dedication of a memorial marker for Guihard.

Rather observed that the job of a reporter is to bear witness and “be an honest broker of information. To take the viewers to the scene …to get as close to the truth as you possibly can, recognizing that most of the time you can’t get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Journalism is viewed as the first draft of history. It is through such drafts that truth emerges. Journalists speak for their communities and create public conversations, emboldened by the belief that their stories shed light on public affairs and can change the world.

Dr. Kathleen Wickham, a former Memphian, is a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. She is scheduled to sign copies of her new book at 5 p.m. Sept. 12 at Square Books in Oxford, and at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 at Novel bookstore in Memphis.

This column was originally published in The Commercial Appeal.

Meek School of Journalism and New Media is back in action

Posted on: August 21st, 2017 by ldrucker

We’re back in action at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, and we have a great event coming up that all students who are interested in journalism, public relations and marketing might enjoy attending.

The Meek School of Journalism and New Media will host a Meek & Greet event welcoming students to campus Thursday, Aug. 24, from 2-4 p.m. We will have music, snow cones, a Snapchat Meek & Greet geofilter, photo props, representatives from student organizations and local employers.

It is a great opportunity to interact with other Meek students and faculty. If you are interested in majoring or minoring in journalism or integrated marketing communications, this is a great time to gather information and ask faculty members how you can get involved in the journalism and IMC programs.

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith speaks about his Meek School of Journalism roots and life

Posted on: May 3rd, 2017 by ldrucker


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.”

You can also read The Clarion-Ledger version of this story here.

 – Story by LaReeca Rucker