Since its beginning as an idea of Alabama professor David Sloan, the Southeast Journalism Conference has worked hard to meet its two original purposes: 1) to encourage greater interest in student journalism and 2) to create closer ties among journalism schools in the Southeast United States.
In November 1985 Sloan wrote a letter proposing a new organization based on those purposes and mailed it to all journalism programs in the South listed in the Journalism Directory, which is published annually by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. By January 1986 about 12 schools had indicated interest in joining, and later that spring Sloan met with representatives from four of those schools at an AEJMC regional meeting in Knoxville, Tenn. It was agreed that the group would use the constitution of the long-established Southwest Journalism Congress as an early model and begin formal operation in the 1986-87 school year.
It was also decided that the SEJC would sponsor two primary annual activities during its formative years – a publications contest and a convention, both for students at member schools. Fifty-one categories of newspaper and magazine writing, editing, layout, photo and advertising competition were set up. One category, an overall sweepstakes trophy for the school with the most awards, was deleted at the 1987 faculty business meeting, leaving 50 regular categories at that time. The convention would be held at the home school of the faculty president, and the faculty vice president would become the president the following year.
By June 1986 Sloan reported that 24 schools from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee had applied for charter membership.
As the first president of SEJC, the University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Byron St. Dizier organized an extensive student publications contest and a three-day inaugural convention set for Feb. 19-21, 1987. St. Dizier estimated that several hundred contest entries were received from 13 schools, and attending the first convention were 60 representatives from Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Samford, Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay, Georgia State, Southeastern Louisiana and Northeast Louisiana.
The first convention got under way in conjunction with a Sigma Delta Chi meeting that featured reporters who had covered a recent civil rights march that received national attention in Forsyth County, Ga. The following day featured workshops and discussions on freelancing, student press law, terrorism, the media and media careers. Most speakers were working journalists from the Birmingham Post-Herald, Birmingham News and Southern Living magazine who had also served as contest judges. A keynote luncheon address was delivered by Cable News Network’s Jerry Levin, a correspondent who was held hostage by terrorists. Levin called for the United States to put more effort into gaining the release of other kidnapped American journalists. Socials were held Friday night for both faculty members and for students – a tradition that has lasted through the years.
At Saturday’s business meetings the SEJC constitution was adopted, Lori Martin of Austin Peay was elected as the SEJC’s first student president, Crystal Nelms of Middle Tennessee was chosen student program director for the 1988 convention, and Middle Tennessee publications director Jackie Solomon was elected faculty president. It was decided that literary magazines and yearbooks would not be included in competitions and that the organization should research the possibility of including broadcast categories.
For the second convention, held April 21-23, 1988, at Murfreesboro, Tenn., most sessions utilized students as speakers. Discussions were devoted to media ethics, open meetings and records laws, newsroom management, community journalism, sports writing, cutline writing and newspaper readership studies.
The highlight, a lecture by Draper Hill of the Detroit News on the development of the American editorial cartoon, was sponsored by the Middle Tennessee mass communication department as part of a seminar on political cartooning.
About 60 representatives from Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay, Belmont, Georgia State, Southeastern Louisiana and Northeast Louisiana attended, and students from 12 schools won awards in the publications contest, judged by staffs of the Nashville Banner, Tennessean, the Tennessee Associated Press and United Press International bureaus.
For 1988-89, vice president Joe Mirando of Southeastern Louisiana University was elected faculty president, Thom Storey of Belmont was elected vice president and Southeastern Louisiana’s Brian Federico was elected both student president and convention program director.
Convention No. 3, held March 2-4, 1989, in Hammond, La., introduced the student research competition category to the SEJC and featured sessions such as investigative reporting, an update on the new journalism vs. objectivity debate, the question of whether creativity and journalism can co-exist, opportunities in freelancing, wire service and news bureau work, as well as workshops on various areas of newspaper production.
Richard Benedetto, political writer for USA Today, gave the luncheon keynote address on the putting together of USA Today. In the address, which concluded with a lively question-and-answer period, Benedetto discussed the origins and back-room beginnings of the paper.
A record 662 entries in 52 categories were submitted by the 14 schools participating in the conference. Newspaper writing, editing and layout categories and all photography entries were judged by 23 reporters and editors of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and all magazine entries were evaluated by the staff of Louisiana Life magazine. All 14 schools participating in the conference received awards.
The Saturday business meetings concluded with the research paper competition being accepted as a new, permanent category for the conference. Thom Storey of Belmont College became the faculty president, and Leonard Teel of Georgia State University was elected faculty vice president. Following a decision in the student business meeting to combine the student coordinator and president positions, Ian Campbell from Belmont College was elected student president.
1987 – University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala.
1988 – Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
1989 – Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, La.
1990 – Belmont College, Nashville, Tenn.
1991 – Georgia State University, Atlanta, Ga.
1992 – University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Miss.
1993 – University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
1994 – Northeast Louisiana University, Monroe La.
1995 – Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
1996 – Mississippi College, Jackson, Miss.
1997 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
1998 – Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.
1999 – University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Lafayette, La.
2000 – Georgia College, Milledgeville, Ga.
2001 – Mississippi University for Women, Columbus, Miss.
2002 – Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tenn.
2003 – University of West Florida, Pensacola, Fla.
2004 – Troy State University, Troy, Ala.
2005 – Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, La.
2006 – Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. (20th anniversary)
2007 – University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala.
2008 – University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.
2009 – Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn.
2010 – Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, La.
2011 – Troy University, Troy, Ala.
2012 – University of Tennessee-Martin, Martin, Tenn.
2013 – Union University, Jackson, Tenn.
2014 – University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Lafayette, La.