The Meek School of Journalism and New Media

The University of Mississippi

Posts Tagged ‘Ole Miss’

WTVA news director visits Meek School NewsWatch students

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ldrucker

Mike Raffaele, WTVA news director, met with University of Mississippi Meek School of Journalism and New Media NewsWatch students last night offering advice about improving the newscast and about getting internships and jobs.

Daily Mississippian sponsors ‘Cookies, Coffee & Conversation’

Posted on: September 13th, 2017 by ldrucker

The Daily Mississippian sponsored a “Cookies, Coffee & Conversation” open house at the Student Media Center on Wednesday evening, Sept. 13. Chancellor Jeff Vitter and his wife, Sharon, were among the guests who stopped by and met with DM editors.

Pictured with the Vitters are DM Managing Editor Slade Rand, Social Media Editor Anessa Guess, Graphics Designer Emily Hoffman and Editor in Chief Lana Ferguson.

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 takes over NewsLab website to cover journalism and IMC industries

Posted on: September 5th, 2017 by ldrucker

After almost 20 years of serving as a resource for journalists and journalism teachers, NewsLab will undergo a change in structure to ensure that its mission of improving journalism will continue.

On Oct. 2, NewsLab will become part of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

Launched in 1998 with a grant from the Park Foundation, NewsLab has been maintained since 2003 as an online training center by its founding executive director, Deborah Potter. Thousands of journalists, educators and students worldwide have benefited from NewsLab’s resources on reporting, producing, ethics, photojournalism and many other topics.

All current NewsLab resources will remain online at a new standalone site, hosted by the university. New material, including research projects and creative work, will be added by the Meek School.

“I’m delighted that NewsLab has found a university home,” Potter said. One of NewsLab’s early goals, she said, was to serve as a bridge between television newsrooms and educators to help working journalists discover and apply the lessons of academic research. “I can’t wait to see what NewsLab at Ole Miss will learn that will help journalists at all levels and in all media do better work.”

The Meek School of Journalism and New Media offers two undergraduate degree programs: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Bachelor of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications. Faculty in the school often work at the intersection of technology and content creation. Sustaining NewsLab will allow the school to share more widely the work of its faculty and students and to contribute to important conversations about media, communication and technology occurring around the world.

“Under Deborah Potter’s leadership, NewsLab developed a reputation for supporting quality journalism across digital platforms,” said Dr. Will Norton, dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “As part of our school, the site will build on that foundation and expand its mission to include a broader range of communication fields in keeping with the focus of our school.”

Potter may collaborate with the Meek School’s NewsLab on future journalism projects.  For more information on the launch or to inquire about contributing to the new site, contact Mike Tonos at jmtonos@olemiss.edu.

Join the Meek School family in the Grove on three special game days

Posted on: August 29th, 2017 by ldrucker

Football games are kind of like a family reunion, and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media is part of the University of Mississippi family.

This fall, game days will offer an opportunity for Meek School students, alumni and faculty to reconnect and network during three themed events.

“We thought it would be fun to bring smaller groups of our graduates and students together so they could network, reminisce and reconnect with each other and some of their favorite professors,” said Debora Wenger, assistant dean for innovation and external partnerships, and associate professor of journalism.

The events include specific days for alumni from the Meek School’s integrated marketing communications program, the broadcast journalism program, and The Daily Mississippian and yearbook staffs. They will be held on the following dates:

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Rebels vs. Vanderbilt – IMC Alumni Day

The IMC program saw its first graduates walk across the stage in 2013. IMC Alumni Day is a chance for everyone with an IMC degree to come help celebrate the growing IMC program and alumni success.

“We hope the IMC event brings some of our alums back to campus, helps them connect with current students, and gives us a chance to highlight some of the new things happening with our program,” said Scott Fiene, assistant dean for curriculum and assessment, and assistant professor of IMC.

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Rebels vs. LSU – DM/Yearbook Alumni Day

The Daily Mississippian and The Ole Miss yearbook have been part of the university for more than 100 years. Event organizers hope to see anyone who has ever worked on these publications join others in the Grove before the game.

“Many of our recent graduates return to the Student Media Center to visit us on football weekends, but this will be the first official alumni event since we celebrated The Daily Mississippian’s 100th anniversary in 2011,” said Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media, and assistant professor of journalism. “We’re proud of our graduates’ accomplishments, and our current DM and The Ole Miss yearbook students look forward to networking with them.”

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Rebels vs. Arkansas – Broadcast Alumni Day

UM broadcast journalism graduates are working in TV, radio, movies and many other exciting careers. They are invited to come back to campus to talk about what they’re doing and meet and encourage other students who want to follow the same path.

“For the broadcast event, in particular, Dr. Nancy Dupont and I are hoping to catch up with some of our amazing graduates and to introduce them to current students,” Wenger said. “The plan is to have NewsWatch reporters using Facebook Live to cover the event for grads who can’t be there for the game, too.”

The events are open to everyone, including prospective students who want to stop by to inquire about the journalism and IMC programs. For more information about the programs or events, email meekschool@olemiss.edu or call 662-915-7146.

Meek students and faculty attend NABJ convention in New Orleans

Posted on: August 13th, 2017 by ldrucker

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.

Meek School students prepare for graduation and the real world

Posted on: May 11th, 2017 by ldrucker

Insecurity, worry, tranquility, acceptance, and excitement. What do all these adjectives have in common?

They are the series of emotions college seniors feel leading up to graduation.

Most college seniors are often unsure about where they will go and what exactly they will do once they’re thrown out into the real world with only a diploma to prove their worth. Over the course of their four, or maybe five years, at Ole Miss, seniors have learned who they are as people and who they want to be once they enter the professional world.

In the days leading up to graduation, seniors are getting ready to walk across the Grove stage where they have spent so much time to receive their diplomas and officially become Ole Miss alumnae.

Elise Jones.

“I can’t believe how fast it has all gone by,” said Elise Jones, an upcoming Meek School of Journalism and New Media integrated marketing communications graduate. “It seemed like yesterday that I was being dropped off at my dorm by my parents and was first feeling some type of freedom.”

Ashley Quagliaroli.

Ashley Quagliaroli, an upcoming Meek School graduate from Atlanta, Georgia, is graduating with a double major in IMC and political science. As she gets ready to leave Oxford, she has decided to take a different route than immediately entering the work force. Quagliaroli will have a gap year between graduate school so that she can gain more experience in her field before pursuing a law degree.

“I’m so excited to be able to pursue my love for journalism and also be able to pursue my other love of law,” she said. “I have always struggled deciding between the two before I realized that maybe I am just meant to do both and find the happy medium later.”

Rachel Reimers.

Another upcoming Meek School graduate, Rachel Reimers, who is graduating with a degree in journalism, will continue her education at the University of Georgia before joining the workforce. Many college seniors are choosing to continue their education after gaining their undergraduate degree, hoping to find better paying jobs or higher ranking positions in their field.

“I’m hoping that by gaining my MBA, I will become more valuable to the professional world,” Reimers said, in regard to pursuing her MBA.

Elise Jones, an upcoming Meek School graduate with an IMC degree, has decided to move to Dallas, Texas, after graduation. Jones will be working as a marketing coordinator for an insurance company.

As Elise gains real world experience in Dallas, she hopes to become an entrepreneur.

“I’m extremely excited to make the move to Dallas,” she said. “I’ve loved my time here, but I’m ready to put everything I’ve learned to real use. This is a completely new chapter in my life, but I know I’m ready.”

Murphy Butler.

Murphy Butler, an upcoming Meek School IMC senior, has also decided to join the workforce. The New Jersey native will begin an internship with a travel lacrosse program in his home state.

“I’m excited to put my degree to use and combine my two passions, sports and marketing,” Butler said. “Before I begin my internship, I am going to relax for a little while and visit with friends and family.”

As Butler gains more experience in his field, he hopes to start a travel lacrosse program and become an entrepreneur like his mother, Chris Murphy.

“I’ve grown up with my mother having her own successful business and my father finding success in the sports world,” he said. “I’m hoping to one day be able to find a way to bring these two things together for myself.”

Chloe Riley, an upcoming Meek School graduate with a degree in journalism and a specialization in public relations, has decided to move to New York to become a business analyst. Though Riley’s degree is in journalism, she has found that her career path may not always completely align with her college degree.

Chloe Riley.

“I’m so excited to work with this company,” she said, “although what I’ll be doing is not quite journalism.”

As she begins to pack her belongings and say her good-byes, Riley is starting to realize how quickly her time at Ole Miss as gone by.

“I can’t believe that I’m about to be in the real world,” she said. “Leaving Ole Miss is so scary, because so much is changing in my life right now. I’m excited, but all this change is intimidating,” Riley said about her upcoming move to New York.

As college seniors graduate and move on to their next project in life, many are left in awe by how quickly their time at Ole Miss has gone by. From spending their first Saturdays in the Grove, to staying up all night for finals, upcoming graduates look back with fond memories of their time in Oxford.

As  Riley gets closer to her move, she offers words of wisdom to fellow Meek students: “Enjoy your time here because it’s fleeting,” she said. “Talk to your professors and really get to know them. Find an internship doing something you’re passionate about, and try not to stress too much about the future, because I promise everything will turn out the way it should.”

For more information about graduation, visit the University of Mississippi Commencement web page. 

  • Story by Nancy Jackson

UM students take top awards from Public Relations Association of Mississippi

Posted on: May 10th, 2017 by ldrucker

Photo caption: University of Mississippi public relations students were the only college students in the state recognized in the Public Relations Association of Mississippi Prism student competition recently. Pictured from left to right, are seven of those student winners: (front row) Rachel Anderson, a journalism and Spanish major from Chesapeake, Virginia; Christina Triggs, a marketing and corporate relations major from Sugarland, Texas; Emma Arnold, a journalism major from McKenzie, Tennessee; Hannah Pickett, an integrated marketing communications major from Houston, Texas; (back row) Alex Hicks, an IMC major from Meridian; Sarah Cascone, a journalism major from Thomasville, Georgia; and Cassidy Nessen, an IMC major from Katy, Texas. Not pictured is journalism graduate Maggie McDaniel from Columbus, Georgia. Photo by Stan O’Dell.

University of Mississippi public relations students won every award presented in the Public Relations Association of Mississippi student competition recently, and one student was named the best public relations college student in the state.

Journalism and Spanish major Rachel Anderson from Chesapeake, Virginia, was named PRAM’s 2017 Student of the Year, competing with nominees from five other universities in the state.

“Rachel was selected for her impressive record of excellence and drive in all areas such as her academic honors, PR-related organizations and experience, and for her activities on campus and in the community,” said Kylie Boring, PRAM’s director of student services. “She has acquired a skill set of talents that will help propel her into the public relations industry, and I am confident she will represent this industry to the highest standard.”

Anderson also won an award for her student work, as did five other students and one alumna. The awards were presented at the PRAM state conference in Hattiesburg April 24.

Students entered public relations campaigns they produced in Senior Lecturer Robin Street’s advanced public relations class. Each campaign required multi-media skills, including writing news and feature articles, shooting video and photos, creating digital media, planning creative events and conducting research.

“I was so proud that every student award presented went to one of our students,” Street said. “Our students demonstrated that they excel in the diverse set of skills needed in PR. That is a tribute to the preparation they received from all the faculty members at the Meek School.”

Awards were given at three levels, based on the number of points judges award each entry. The top award is the Prism, followed by the Excellence and Merit awards. Multiple students can win in the same category if they earn the required number of points.

Hannah Pickett, an integrated marketing communications major from Houston, Texas, won a Prism.

“Students from the University of Mississippi once again proved their knowledge and understanding of the public relations practice through their entries in the Prism Awards,” said Amanda Parker, PRAM’s vice president for awards. “The judges praised Prism Award winner Hannah Pickett for having an extremely creative and well-planned project, making it an excellent campaign all around.”

Excellence winners were Anderson; Emma Arnold, a journalism major from McKenzie, Tennessee; and Christina Triggs, a marketing and corporate relations major from Sugarland, Texas.

Merit winners were Sarah Cascone, a journalism major from Thomasville, Georgia; Cassidy Nessen, an IMC major from Katy, Texas; Alex Hicks, an IMC major from Meridian; and Maggie McDaniel, a journalism graduate from Columbus, Georgia, who now works as an account manager at Communications 21 in Atlanta.

For more information on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit their website at http://meek.olemiss.edu or email MeekSchool@olemiss.edu.

Billion Dollar Buyer will offer business advice May 5 at the University of Mississippi Pavilion

Posted on: May 3rd, 2017 by ldrucker

Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Attendees will eat free during an hour of power-packed wisdom from America’s “Billion Dollar Buyer” beginning at 11:30 a.m. May 5 in the University of Mississippi’s Pavilion.

Tilman Fertitta, chairman and CEO of Landry’s, is bringing his rare blend of sarcasm and success to the Ole Miss campus. The king of the restaurant world has become a media celebrity renowned for making tough deals. With more 500 properties and 60,000 employees, Fertitta leads a high-flying lifestyle that takes him all over the world where he makes deals regarding his restaurant, hotel and casino empire.

He’s very hands-on, closing multi-million dollar real estate transactions to buying the honey for his restaurants. He’s loves the details and art of the deal.

“It’s always just business,” for Fertitta, but for the companies that are successful in securing his favor, it’s a game-changer. “I’m in the gambling business. I know what it means to play the odds. But, at some point, you’ve got to go all in to make the deal.”

That’s  what Fertitta will do at the Pavilion. He’ll field audience questions. “I love to be in the spotlight,” Fertitta said. What better place to do it than at Ole Miss where Fertitta has strong ties?

“My family’s roots in Mississippi go back nearly 50 years, and I have a residence in Oxford,” he said. “My two oldest sons attended Ole Miss, as well as my niece, Kelli. The town Square was way ahead of its time, bringing boutique shops and interesting restaurants without losing the relaxed feel of a small Southern town. I believe in it so much that I’ve invested in it.”

Co-sponsored by the School of Business, Ole Miss Athletics and the Meek School of Journalism & New Media, Fertitta’s visit will feature Fertitta’s candor, humor and bravado, laced with four decades of wisdom in buying, selling and developing some of the premiere properties in the country. Don’t miss his nuggets of wisdom that will challenge even the brightest mind to go for the jackpot.

Admission to the event is free, and the first 1,000 attendees will get a free lunch thanks to the generosity of sponsors Renasant Bank, Evans Peter, PC and White Construction.

“I can’t wait for Ole Miss to experience Tilman’s wit and wisdom, noted Blake Tartt, III, who invited Fertitta to speak. “I’ve known Tilman since childhood and have worked with him on developments for over 30 years. I’m eager for our students and guests to see the king in the house and get a personal dose of his develop me                                                                                                        nt genius.”

Here’s a link to the UM Communications story about the event. 

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