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SEJC condemns actions of UNA; UNA president responds

On November 29, past and current presidents of the Southeast Journalism Conference issued a thorough condemnation of the University of North Alabama’s recent actions regarding its Student Media adviser position. The university’s president responded yesterday, defending the university in a letter of his own.

SEJC’s letter was addressed to the university’s president Kenneth Kitts and provost Ross C. Alexander. It was also sent to UNA’s board of trustees and to members of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. There has been no response as of yet from anyone CCed on the letter.

The SEJC letter issues a condemnation for “what we regard as an unjust, unnecessary and seemingly punitive action in forcing media adviser Scott Morris from his position.” Morris currently advises The Flor-ala, the student newspaper. The letter goes on to read, “We are also troubled by your new faculty protocols that mandate that any requests for media interviews with faculty must be screened through the administration. This not only infringes on students’ First Amendment rights but undermines the principle of academic freedom as well.”

The College Media Association issued a censure on UNA on November 26. CMA argued administrators “could provide absolutely no correspondence, reports or materials indicating they were thinking of changing (Morris’) position before publication of the Sept. 6 article that students and Morris said instigated the change.” Morris claims that he was made aware his job description only weeks after The Flor-ala reported that UNA administration improperly withheld public documents.

That news article cited the president of Alabama Defense Lawyers Association, Dennis Bailey, was quoted as saying the administration was “acting in contravention of a long-time published Attorney General Opinion on the subject.”

However, UNA officials deny any accusations of retaliation. They claim discussions of replacing of Morris’ position with a tenure-track line for a candidate with a terminal degree far pre-date 2018. Kitts maintains this position in his response to SEJC.

“(The decisions) do not involve any considerations that constitute a threat to the First Amendment. Rather, they reflect sound, fair, and deliberative decisions that are consistent with our academic needs and recommended practices in the field of student journalism.”

In response to criticisms on the school’s policies for dealing with media inquiries, Kitts argues that the school is in compliance with the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education’s inquiry into the matter. “Our organizational practices in dealing with media inquiries are already in alignment with FIRE guidelines, and soon we will have a statement in place that is consistent with the one featured on the FIRE website.”

The SEJC letter also contains an extensive quote from former UNA communications department head Greg Pitts, who disputes the university’s claims, recalling “no talk of converting the position to a faculty line.” He also wrote “If UNA asserts that discussion started in 2014 to change the position to a tenure‐track line, I must add that it did NOT begin with me. If anyone asserts that I made this request, I would describe their claim as FALSE.” Kitts’ letter does not reference these comments nor Pitts’ time with the university.

In a story published yesterday by the Student Press Law Center, Morris maintained his stance that the decision was based on student coverage of the administration. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they told me to leave today,” Morris told the SPLC. 

Alexander was reached for comment for the SPLC story and declined. He did not directly respond to SEJC’s letter.

2018 Convention, Harding University, Searcy, Ark.

About 250 registrants attended the Best of the South Awards Banquet on Feb. 16. —Photo by Robert Buckman

A total of 213 students and 37 faculty advisers from 28 schools in seven states participated in the 32nd SEJC convention, hosted by Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, Feb. 15-17, 2018.

Amber Narro of Southeastern Louisiana University received the Journalism Educator of the Year Award, and Emmalyne Kwasny of Mississippi State University was named College Journalist of the Year at the Best of the South Awards Banquet on Feb. 16.

The 2017 BOTS competition drew 412 contestants from 30 schools.

The winners in the 15 categories in this year’s onsite competition were spread among 15 schools.

Four new schools were admitted to the SEJC at the business meeting that day: Louisiana College, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Leon Alligood of Middle Tennessee State University was installed as the new president, succeeding Katherine Ramirez of Harding University. MTSU will be the host for next year’s convention. The University of Southern Mississippi was approved as the convention host for 2020.

The faculty delegates also discussed the situation at Xavier University in New Orleans, which summarily terminated its long-time newspaper adviser and SEJC faculty delegate, Melinda Shelton, and discontinued the print edition of the student newspaper, the Xavier Herald.

The delegates also paid tribute to Thom Storey, the long-time faculty delegate from Belmont University in Nashville, who died Jan. 10 after a long battle with cancer.

Sonia Nazario, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, was the keynote speaker at the BOTS Awards Banquet. The daughter of an Argentine immigrant, she has specialized in reporting on malnourished children, the children of drug addicts and immigration.

She is the author of “Enrique’s Journey,” a book based on her 2003 series in the Times of a Honduran boy’s struggle to find his mother in the U.S. The 2003 series won the Pulitzer for feature writing.

Nazario stressed that although it is important for journalists to examine issues from all angles, there comes a time when activism is necessary.

“I didn’t go into journalism because I loved to write,” she said. “I went into journalism because I had something to say. I had a boatload of opinions! But I wanted to weigh into reporting with an open mind.”

She began her career at 21 as a foreign correspondent in Latin America for the Wall Street Journal.

“Enrique’s Journey,” which was on sale at the banquet, won more than two dozen awards besides the Pulitzer, including the George Polk Award for International Reporting. Nazario was also a Pulitzer finalist in 1998 for her reporting on children of addicts, and in 1994 she won a Polk Award for local reporting on hunger among schoolchildren in California.

She warned that “no democracy can stay in power without a vibrant press.”

See also “Images of the 2018 Convention” under “News.”

The 2018 SEJC Convention took place Feb. 15-17 in the ornate David B. Burks American Heritage Building on the campus of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Photo by Robert Buckman

Remembering Thom Storey

Thom Storey died Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, following a lengthy battle with cancer. Thom was a faculty adviser for Belmont University for years and chaperoned students to conferences all over the Southeast. In 1993, he was named Journalism Educator of the Year by SEJC. He loved going to SEJC conferences, working with students and catching up with colleagues. Many of you will remember him as the quick-witted man in the Hawaiian shirt.

He was a member of the Belmont faculty since 1985 and served as chair of Belmont’s Media Studies department. After starting his career as a sports writer and columnist, he moved on to cover a variety of topics, including working as a copy and travel editor at The Tennessean for many years.

View the Belmont tribute to Thom:

2017 Convention, University of Mississippi, Oxford

NYT’s victor: use social media for storytelling

David Victor, senior staff editor for the New York Times.

Victor details uses of social media

David Victor, senior staff editor for New York Times, presented to an audience of over 60 attendees the different ways reporters can use social media to enhance their storytelling.

In an hour and 27-minute presentation at the 31st SEJC Convention at the University of Mississippi, Victor revealed a variety of social media tips to young journalists on such networks as Twitter and Facebook, as well as third-party aids to these networks, like CrowdTangle and Tweetdeck.

“I think a lot of times when we think about social media, we think about putting our stories out there,” he said. “You know, trying to get traffic from them or you think about horrible people harassing you. Yes that stuff exists, but I want to get past that and talk about the ways we can use it for good.”

Victor discussed how to search Twitter for story ideas and sources, how to monitor social media and how to find contact sources through social media and building Twitter lists.

Victor told a story of Michael Paulson, a religion reporter for the Times, who was working on an assignment centered around Orthodox Jews and members of other religions, who refuse to sit next to women on planes because it’s against their religion. In the story, he noted that you can’t go to an airline and say, “Excuse me; can you connect me to your most disgruntled passengers?”

Without having to go to airlines or ask random people about Orthodox Jews, Victor assisted Paulson in his research for sources and performed what he called “perfect source tweeting”— searching Twitter for keywords a person might use in a situation with an Orthodox Jew or in any other situation.

“The overall rule here is to think what your perfect source would tweet,” he said. “Imagine you are in the situation, think about what you would say.”

Through perfect source tweeting, Paulson and Victor were able to do eight interviews from Twitter and five were used in the story. Victor said when searching these tweets, think of keywords a person would use. He said the most common words to look for are “I,” “me” and “my.” Keywords used for Paulson’s story were “Jew,” “flight” and “plane.”

For a train crash that Victor covered, he searched for tweets reading, “I’m safe” and “I’m alive.”

He also stressed the importance of being aware of fake sources and how to verify if the source is telling the truth.

“Every time there is a mass shooting in this country, there are people who will fake tweets saying, ‘Oh my God, I was in that building. I’m so glad I got out,’” he said. “No idea why they decide to do this, but every single time, there are news organizations that seem to fall for it.”

Victor also taught the audience how to build a social dossier, which is a method used by The New York Times to identify people  through their social media who may be named in breaking news.

In this interactive part of the session, Victor showed the audience his personal Facebook and asked the audience to point out ways to identify if he was real.

“Maybe look on the New York Times website to see if you actually have the position that you say you have,” an audience member said to Victor.

Searching through people’s profiles and viewing whom they are connected to provides good opportunities to find information on someone and to ask more personalized questions and verifying a source, according to Victor.

The social media tool Victor appeared to be the most passionate about, and whose use he  encouraged, was Twitter lists. A Twitter list is a curated group of Twitter accounts that a user can personalize for his or her own profile. A user can also subscribe to lists created made by other users.

“If you have local TV stations, local newspapers that you’re competing against, student blogs, whatever that might be, you can put them all in a feed,” he explained. “You could create a list of college newspapers from across the country and maybe see which of their posts are doing really well and you might be able to localize the idea.”

To help with lists, Victor recommended the use of CrowdTangle, a third-party website that helps keep better track of your lists.

Also, Victor discussed how to talk to a source online for a potential quote or how to find general information you’re using in your story.

“Be specific about what you want and keep your requests simple,” he said.

Victor has worked for the Times for four years. Previously, he had served as the social media editor for ProPublica Inc. He graduated from Penn State University with a degree in journalism and is originally from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.

Holland addresses race, ethnicity reporting

Jesse Holland speaks to student and professional journalists at the 2017 SEJC convention in Oxford, Mississippi, about reporting on race and ethnicity in a changing U.S.

“If you want to be a popular writer, do not write about race and ethnicity, because you will always get attacked by people who don’t want to talk about race and ethnicity.”

Jesse Holland, Associated Press race and ethnicity reporter and author, spent an hour and 15 minutes with student journalists at the SEJC conference at the University of Mississippi in Oxford talking about how reporting on race and ethnicity is a changing field.

Holland said a common thread in his 300-400 daily emails is “Why do you always talk about race?”

“Usually I don’t respond, because the obvious answer is, ‘I’m a race and ethnicity writer. It’s sort of what I do,’” Holland said, chuckling. “But there’s a more important reason why there are race and ethnicity writers, and that reason is demographics.”

In the past, even when he worked on other beats, such as being a Supreme Court correspondent for seven years, Holland said he continued to write on his own time about these issues. When the race and ethnicity job opened, Holland said he “decided to take my passion and make it my job.”

The first few years were spent crossing the country, covering stories of tragedy and racial violence.

“After I started the job as race and ethnicity reporter for the AP, Ferguson happened,” Holland said. “So, I ended up spending about three weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, and then a few months after that is when Charleston [South Carolina] happened… And then after that, Baltimore happened.”

Holland said some of his favorite stories he’s done under the race and ethnicity beat have been about history.

“At heart, I guess you could say I’m a historian. I love writing about the past. I love looking at things that happened 100, 200, 300 years ago — and seeing how it still affects our lives today.”

By 2040, Holland said, the U.S. will become a minority-majority country.

“And that means, for the first time in its history, there will not be a majority race in America. There will only be a collection of minorities,” he explained. “No race will be more than 50 percent, and this is according to the U.S. Census.

“So frankly, as a business, that means as journalists we have to recognize that our readership is changing; that we will no longer be able to depend on one race to make up the majority of our readers. We now have to cover everyone. And you can’t cover everyone by writing one story.”

The second change, Holland said, is going to be covering white Americans as a minority.

“We’re having to learn now, as an industry, how to cover white Americans,” Holland said. “Race and ethnicity used to mean you cover everyone but white Americans. That’s changing.”

Jerry Mitchell addresses BOTS Awards Banquet

Jerry Mitchell, veteran investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reminisced on his journalistic legacy of bringing justice to former Klu Klux Klansmen during his speech at the SEJC Best of the South Awards Banquet on Friday, Feb. 17.

“I truly believe we work in one of the world’s most noble professions,” Mitchell said, addressing the crowd of about 300 students and advisers. “And when we are at our most noble, we make a difference in people’s lives.”

He noted this difference can come in many forms: by telling stories, telling the truth or even changing the conversation.

Mitchell recalled when he was in high school and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan visited his hometown, Texarkana. He covered Reagan’s speech as the editor of the Tiger Times, his high school newspaper. He recalled a day spent with Hillary Clinton and the time he interviewed Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“That’s the beauty of journalism,” he said; “you get to meet so many amazing people.”

Mitchell is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won a MacArthur genius grant. His career has focused mainly on racially motivated crimes and racial reconciliation; his investigative endeavors and stories led to the conviction of four Klansmen.

“You have far more power than you realize,” he told the students.

Mitchell said he’s always been inspired by Medgar Evers, a NAACP field secretary who investigated racial crimes, such as the infamous Emmett Till murder in Mississippi in 1954. Evers, 37, was shot and killed in his driveway on June 12, 1963, by Byron De La Beckwith, a Klansman.

Mitchell discovered the Mississippi Legislature had sealed all the records concerning Evers’ death for 50 years. That was his cue to start digging.

“If someone tells me I can’t have something, I want it like a million times worse,” he said, chuckling. “If you’re like that, you belong in reporting.”

He discovered the Mississippi State Sovereignty Committee aided De La Beckwith’s defense attorney to keep him from being convicted.

Thirty years later, Mitchell interviewed De La Beckwith and later found himself in the courtroom when De La Beckwith was finally convicted for Evers’ murder.

“I just felt chills, because the impossible had suddenly become possible. I believe that’s what journalism is all about,” Mitchell said.

At the end of his speech, Mitchell addressed the public’s attitude toward news media today. He mentioned how people are calling the press “dishonest,” but brushed it off with, “Oh, please, I’ve had worse insults from Klansmen.” He noted his career has been filled with death threats, as many journalists’ lives are, but encouraged students not to be afraid of what people say.

“The thing is, those death threats led to an unexpected gift for me,” Mitchell said. “The gift of living fearlessly. Living fearlessly is not about living without fear; living fearlessly is about living beyond fear. Living fearlessly is about living for something greater than ourselves.”

Wenger Shares Google News Lab Tips

Deb Wenger, a trainer of Google News Lab, led an interactive presentation at the SEJC convention at Ole Miss, which demonstrated ways that aspiring journalists can utilize accessible tools to improve their future writings. 

  “How many of you search Google more than 10 times a day?” Wenger asked to a crowd of about 40 students as she introduced her presentation.

All hands in the audience rose in response.

“The goal of the perfect search engine is to understand exactly what you need and return exactly the results that you want, regardless of what you put in the search box,” she declared.

Wenger showed how searches can be narrowed, depending on what is entered in the search bar.

She exhibited how to include or exclude words that appear in search results, as well as how to locate postings specifically from certain domains or posted by particular websites.

  “This is a good tool if you do a lot of Google searches to refine and narrow what you get,” she reiterated.

Wenger then shifted from word searches, to image searches.

She asked the audience, “How many of you have had a story before where you didn’t have an image, so you went to Google Images to find something that would fit with it?”

The majority of hands rose again.

Wenger stressed the importance of using searched images in stories if the rights are available.

  “The one that you’re looking for is the one that is labeled for reuse and modification. That means that you can take that photo and do what you want with it,” she explained.

She also showed attendees how to conduct a reverse image search, to discover where an image originated. She stressed that reverse image searches can often unveil hoaxes or “fake news” once the origin is discovered.

She projected a picture of a photo that circulated as Malaysia Airlines 370 crash footage. However, after a reverse search, she proved that the photo had been edited and was obviously a photo from the television show, “Lost.”

She projected another image of a ballot, circulated on Election Day, which claimed Donald Trump was not on the ballot in Oregon. After another reverse image search, it was revealed that the photo originated from a man’s personal Facebook profile.

“It’s probably not an official ballot if it’s on only one guy’s Facebook feed,” she suggested.

Wenger joked that she uses this feature to check pictures provided by students as excuses from tests and homework assignments. She gave the example of a reverse search that she did on a picture of a car accident.

She chuckled as she said, “I upload and I’m like, ‘Huh! Amazing! How’d you end up in Brazil?!” 

The audience joined her laughter.

“This is where I think it gets fun,” she said as she switched gears from image searching to discussing Google Trends. 

Google Trends tracks the trends of popular internet searches, updating results every three to five minutes. 

  “We’ve become a much better predictor in breaking news situations about what the problems are that people are interested in,” she proclaimed.

Wenger asked the audience to guess one of the five most commonly searched cities in the United States within the past year.

“I still haven’t heard one,” she teased as an array of incorrect cities were called out from eager students of the audience. 

Eventually, a student called out, “Flint, Michigan?” and was rewarded with a large T-shirt that Wenger tossed across the room to him.

She flashed the five most-searched cities on the projector: Flint, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Dallas and Palm Springs.

  She continued to test and toss T-shirts to other students who correctly responded and exclaimed trends.

“The most important thing for us as journalists to think about with Google Trends, is how much more honest it is than polling or talking to people.  It allows us to connect to our audience about what they’re really asking questions about,” she said.

Searching behind a computer is a safe, judge-free zone, she said. People are more likely to ask questions behind the safety of a screen, than to risk potential ridicule for ignorance from peers. 

After a presidential debate last fall, Wenger said that the most-related search to Hillary Clinton was, “What is Roe vs. Wade?”

“We always have to take this data and apply it to journalism,” she explained.

She elaborated that through Google Trends, journalists can get ideas on what questions people want answered in stories, as well as what topics people care to read about.

She offered one final tip regarding how stories can be improved through the use of visuals and maps, by utilizing My Maps and Google Street View. 

She prompted attendees to download the Google Street View application. She then urged everyone to test it by standing, rotating in place and taking a 360-degree photo of the auditorium.

“Page views are still relevant and important but ‘time on site’ is something that has become even more important to news organizations to try to keep people on their site,” she said. “So, when they take that extra time to absorb what’s on that 360 image, that’s a benefit.”

Wenger also explained how maps serve as a helpful contribution to stories.

  “Any web map can be embedded on any website. If someone makes a map that works, you can use it,” she declared.  “And get in the habit of searching for a map if your story has a geographic component to it.”

She gave the example of a map that tracked the path of Malaysia Airlines 370 before it disappeared. This map was featured in a story about the crash. She also provided the example of a map pinpointing where fires were in California embedded in a fire cover story.

Through the many Google News Lab training sessions that Wenger has led, she said she often finds that many journalists are ignorant of how to access of these tools.

“Tools have gotten better. Google News Lab has listened to journalists and made them easier for them to work with, but journalism students are extremely busy,” she explained. “You may have heard about it, but unless it’s in your daily routine, you forget that it even exists.”

Panel suggests journalists should pick their battles

Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger; Kate Royals, education reporter for Mississippi Today; Bill Rose, senior Overby Fellow for the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism; Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting; and Marshall Ramsey, editorial cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger, discuss covering news during a time of heightened distrust toward the news media.

Four prolific Mississippi-based journalists discussed continuing their professions in a largely Republican state at a time of increased hostility toward the press at a 2017 SEJC panel held in the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism Feb. 17.

Titled “Assault on the Media,” the panel featured Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger; Marshall Ramsey, an editorial cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger and radio host; Kate Royals, an education reporter for Mississippi Today; and Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting discussed the current state of distrust towards the news media on both a local and national scale.

Bill Rose, senior Overby Fellow for the center, first asked panelists about President Donald Trump’s 77-minute press conference that occurred two days prior, during which the commander-in-chief claimed the media are no longer trustworthy.

Agnew, erstwhile executive editor of the Clarion-Ledger and four-time Pulitzer Prize judge, said with every tweet, Trump weakens his own power.

“I think it plays well in some parts of the country, but I believe that when you cry wolf as many times as the president has with the media in 6 a.m. tweets, people with brains can start to decipher for themselves what is news and what is not,” he said.

Ramsey, an editorial columnist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Clarion-Ledger and USA Today, said members of the media must also face “trolls,” or people who make contentious statements for shock value, who have been “emboldened” by the polarizing national discourse.

Mitchell said regardless of what subject matter reporters cover, journalists must exercise caution, especially in a time when objective journalism may fall prey to U.S. public opinion, which he said is “splintering” in wake of polarizing news media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC.

“We have to pick our battles as journalists,” he said. “I think the more important battle is truth, and the more important battle is reporting on things.”

Agnew said the press should consider what it misses when reporting; he noted that the press missed covering Trump when it missed speaking to community members.

“How did we miss Donald Trump?” he asked the crowd of around 130 students and collegiate faculty members. “How did we miss this discontent of the country that would put Donald Trump in office? I think because we weren’t watching. We covered the incendiary things that he said  … We didn’t cover the people who were actually embracing his message.”

He advised the audience to “cover the people” instead of “covering the celebrity.”

Ramsey, meanwhile, said journalists should take note of who they follow on social media, as well as avoid creating an “echo chamber” of concurring opinions on their feeds.

“We can all now go safely into our little news bubble and we can get a la carte news how we want it, when we want it, what we want to hear,” Ramsey said. “I’ll sit there and read different views on my Facebook feed from different people and (will think) ‘Wow, did they watch the same thing I watched?’ Then I realize that they were watching a different news source than I was watching.”

The panelists also discussed covering Mississippi, which Mitchell said has poor records laws. Mitchell, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated investigative reporter with the Clarion-Ledger whose work has prompted four Ku Klux Klansmen’s convictions, said developing sources is crucial to community reporting.

Royals agreed.

“There’s constantly roadblocks — people are never going to make it easier for you to get what you’re trying to get,” she said. “You just expect it.”

Brian Blakely, a senior mathematics student from Louisiana Tech University and photographer for the university’s newspaper, said although he is not a journalism major, the panel spoke to what he sees his coworkers experience.

“It’s still interesting to see and hear the stories of people and the trouble’s they’ve had then and how things have changed over time,” he said.

2016 Convention, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tenn.

The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20.
The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20. —Photo by Robert Buckman

The 30th Southeast Journalism Conference convention teemed with alacrity as student journalists and their advisers brushed up on the latest news trends, tricks and technology.

Held at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, the three-day-long conference Feb. 18-20, 2016, hosted around 350 people from 37 universities in six states. Conference-goers meandered around the Student Union halls like children around a candy display. The university’s hilly landscape transformed into a refuge for college reporters from which they could gather anything from insight to sheer motivation.

“It was just an incredible experience seeing all these people that are passionate about the same thing as I am,” said Claudia Young, 20, from Arkansas Tech University.

The APSU newspaper, The All State, celebrated its 85th anniversary of publication with a “birthday party on” Thursday, Feb. 18. A panoply of old newspapers decorated the room, and party-goers decorated the air with questions and comments about the papers’ designs. The smell of old newspapers accentuated the rummaging through the venerable parchments.

Every SEJC convention gives student journalists an opportunity to share their schools' newspapers, providing a useful exchange of information and ideas.
Every SEJC convention gives student journalists an opportunity to share their schools’ newspapers, providing a useful exchange of information and ideas. —Photo by Robert Buckman

The night of news nostalgia also commenced the conference’s onsite competitions, which tested journalists on subjects such as news writing, law and ethics and anchoring. During the birthday party, feature writing contestants threw questions to The All State’s editorial staff like a major league pitcher.

“I got to talk to a lot of students and get interviewed about my career at The All State,” said Katelyn Clark, SEJC student president and The All State editor-in-chief.

While feature writers queried the paper’s loquacious staff, the arts and entertainment contestants covered a comedy show hosted by the Upright Citizens Brigade.

The next day’s competitions had news writing contestants cover a staged protest regarding APSU’s missing mascot, Governor Peay X.

Peay X, the original mascot, was replaced with The Governor. Despite students’ voting for the original mascot, Peay X has still eluded APSU.

“It was a lot of fun because we have been documenting the missing mascot stuff, so this was a good way to kind of get the ball rolling on that,” Clark explained.

When students weren’t flaunting their finesse, they were in professional development panels. Reporters and professors offered a peek into their experiences, which ranged from digital storytelling methods to the relevance of World War II to today’s news.

One session that stuck out to Young was “Digital Chameleon: Shape-Shifting in the Ever-Changing Media Landscape.” Young, who said she enjoys editorial and op-ed writing, found solace in the panel.

“I’m not super interested in news, but (the speaker has) made a living out of not doing news at all,” she said. “It was great seeing someone who is passionate about the same thing I am, because I’m afraid I won’t make a living because I don’t want to do news, so that was really encouraging.”

According to Clark, preparation for SEJC began after last year’s convention in Atlanta.

“Once we realized that we were gonna be the host school for the following year, when I got elected SEJC student president … we pretty much started planning right then,” said Clark.

The process provided Clark with an experience she said will help her in the real world.

More than 300 faculty and students from 37 schools in six states attended the Best of the South Awards Banquet in the Wilma Rudolph Special Event Center in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Feb. 19.
More than 300 faculty and students from 37 schools in six states attended the Best of the South Awards Banquet in the Wilma Rudolph Special Event Center in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Feb. 19.                      —Photo by Robert Buckman

The onsite awards luncheon was held in the Student Union at Austin Peay State University on Feb. 20.

The event culminated with the Best of the South Awards Banquet on Friday, where students were garlanded for feats accomplished in 2015,  and the onsite awards luncheon on Saturday. An antsy ambiance filled the rooms as nominees and applicants awaited results.

“It was such a huge event, and I’ve never been part of planning an event of that magnitude,” Clark confessed. “Most of the planning that I’ve helped with has been on a smaller scale than this huge conference that we planned, so I think the perspective that it gave me was, there’s always a bigger picture.”

With the conference location’s shift from bustling Atlanta in 2015 to bucolic Clarksville, the SEJC shifted to a more spacious venue.

“Atlanta was a very urban area, and this one was kind of in a rural area, so it was a little bit harder to find things around here,” said Emily Proud, 21, from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. “I definitely think there’s a lot more space for us here.”

Despite the conference’s ample space, the shared passion of journalism students made the event intimate.

“Belmont has a really small journalism department, so sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few people wanting to do what I want to do,” Proud related.  “But now it’s really cool because I get around all of these people who are like, ‘I want to do it, too.’”

Clark related to the energizing conference feel; in her third year as part of The All State and SEJC, she recalled her conference experiences.

“I’ve been to every SEJC conference since I started my All State career, and so it’s been a lot of fun seeing a lot of different places,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of different schools, and I’ve met a ton of people, students and professionals who have helped me further my career and networking and things like that. SEJC has been a big part of my college career because it was The All State, just on a grander scheme.”

The schematics behind hosting a reporters’ retreat, however, demanded an even more attentive eye as Clark transitioned from attendee to administrator.

“I think the hardest part was just making sure that what we put into different people’s hands was the right thing and that we chose the right people for it, and it turned out that way,” she said passionately. “We chose the right people to do what needed to be done.”