The 2016 Southeast Journalism Conference 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 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.
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.
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.”
In an age where everyone can be a journalist, Gene Policinski, a founding editor of USA Today and chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and its First Amendment Center, predicted that use new technologies will make reporters’ credibility a more valuable commodity.
Policinski was the keynote speaker for the Best of the South Awards Banquet, held in the Wilma Rudolph Event Center during SEJC’s 30th annual convention in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Friday, Feb. 19.
He called the modern cell phone both a toy and a necessity in today’s media world.
“You and I, I suspect, see our lives through this prism, through this device,” Policinski said, holding his cell phone. “And that, to me, is where we’re going to have to be in the 21st century, despite all of the talk about the future of the free press — the viability of journalism in a world where everybody is a journalist. And when everybody is a journalist, whom do I trust?
“But when you move across that spectrum of a toy to a tool to a necessity, the value of the information that I receive goes up exponentially in terms of, is it reliable and is it credible?” said Policinski.
With information so easily available, he noted, people have begun to say newspapers are dying and are not concerned about the credibility of the information they receive. Explaining what he calls the “Kardashian effect,” Policinski said every time journalists publish a click-bait or eye-candy story meant only to entertain and draw in readers, “we do ourselves a disservice, we do our profession a disservice, and we do the future of the free press a disservice because we say to people, ‘Look how trivial we can be.’”
However, he added optimistically, consumers will still turn to good journalism because they will still ask themselves where can they find the information they trust and where can they find the people who really know what’s happening.
Even with op-ed columns, he said, he has found people look for opinions that challenge them.
“Ultimately, the value in journalism has always been to give people the news and information they need to make decisions about their lives,” Policinski told the audience of more than 300 faculty and students. “The need and want of people to make informed decisions is the key to defending a free press.”
He stressed the importance of quality journalism, and the positive impact a story can have on thousands of lives, citing a story about two local journalists who recognized a regional trend in infant deaths in hospitals.
“You tell me journalism isn’t important when it does that story,” he challenged the crowd. “You tell me that it’s biased media or irrelevant media. We saved 16,000 lives with one series of stories. I think that’s the tremendous power of credible, accurate, meaningful, relevant, serious and maybe even boring information.”
He also stressed the importance of the media to be able to get interviews, get information and provide discussion for the masses.
“We’re all participants in this incredible moment in human history where, for the first time, we can talk to the rest of the planet and it can talk back,” he said.
Policinski is a co-author of the weekly, national column, “Inside the First Amendment,” and is host of the online news program “Journalism/Works.” He is an adjunct faculty member at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as well as a certified journalism educator from Journalism Education Association.
“It’s up to you, and for me as long as I’m still active, to stay the course in terms of bringing information, of bringing news to the best of our ability, the most accurate, fair representative way that we possibly can because that is what people will come to value.”
Kevin Slimp, founder and director of the University of Tennessee Institute of Newspaper Technology, addressed the continuing importance of newspaper columns during the 2016 SEJC conference on the Austin Peay State University campus.
Although newspapers are traditionally known for relaying news, they also feature columnists’ opinions on a multitude of potentially controversial subjects. Even though columns may not be considered news, Slimp said good columns can be highly regarded because of what goes into them.
“They aren’t just a list of facts,” Slimp said. “Columns include other things. They include your opinion, other sources that you pull in, other people’s opinions and things that happen in history.”
Even though columns are based off opinions, Slimp said the important part is backing up opinions with research and talking to experts on a particular subject.
He also said the best columns are the ones that bring light to issues in society. However, Slimp said these controversial topics often scare young columnists away.
“When you’re younger and when you’re starting out, it’s only natural that you don’t want to push too many buttons,” Slimp said. “You don’t want to make people mad. But as you develop the skill of being a columnist, you’ll come to the point just like I did, and it was about 17 or 18 years into it when I figured this out, that you realize if you’re a good writer, and if you’re a reasonably intelligent person, and most people in journalism are, then probably most people think about the same way that you do.”
Ultimately, he advised young columnists to “(not) be afraid to write about what you think, if it’s the truth.”
After choosing a topic, Slimp said the writing process is different from newswriting. While it is important to make sure your grammar is correct, he said you have to be more casual when writing a column.
He said the best advice he ever received was from his high school senior English teacher.
“You write the way you think and people will read it,” he said.
Writing the way you think includes putting more of your personality in it than you would with news writing.
Slimp also addressed the claims that newspapers are dying out, and said those claims were a “load of crap.”
He talked about a column he wrote three years ago regarding large newspapers that elected to go “digital only,” including The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. So Slimp wrote a column about the importance of newspapers.
He said a small group in New Orleans composed of eight individuals who owned about 75 percent of the city’s wealth contacted him about New Orleans losing its primary newspaper with the Times’Picayune going to three-days a week for its print edition and focusing on its nola.com website. The group was concerned that the loss of a daily newspaper would drastically affect the city’s economy.
“They were concerned that if New Orleans loses its daily newspaper, then everyone will consider us a second-rate city and nobody will want to move their industries here and it will be a huge economic blow to the city,” Slimp said.
Ultimately, rather than the city losing a newspaper, he said The Times-Picayune just lost its quality. In turn, The Advocate of Baton Rouge swooped in and became New Orleans’ only daily newspaper.
Slimp said this was proof that newspapers will never die, but also partially because newspapers are the most accurate medium for news.
“Really, if you really want to find the truth today about news, you really need to look at a newspaper,m because newspapers check sources and double-up on sources and check facts,” he said. “When you watch TV, like ‘60 minutes,’ they can stick a microphone in front of anybody, and anybody can say anything.
“I had no idea the response that that story was going to have. That week, that story ran in over 2,000 newspapers in the United States. I got thousands and thousands of messages from people, and guess what? Not one bad message. Every one: ‘You were right.’”
Among the plethora of presentations at the SEJC convention, one that every journalist in this modern age should have attended was “Rethinking Journalism in the Age of Social Media.”
Austin Peay’s Rob Baron, Ph.D., a communication professor, focused on the ever-changing state of modern journalism, particularly focusing on social media’s role in that evolution.
“There’s a famous quote by John Culkin: ‘We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,’” Baron said. “That idea is that we create technologies, we use those technologies and then we in turn are changed by those technologies. It’s not like technology is some magic genie that forces us to do things. We’re always forced or pushed to do things by how the tools shape us.”
This quote was the thrust for the entire panel: Because journalists and their readers use social media, journalism must adapt the way they write, then market the news to how the consumer wants to receive it. Just as journalists in the past had to adapt their styles to radio or television, Baron said, today’s journalists must adapt to the new frontier called the Internet and the new technology called social media.
Citing data, Baron said that in 2013, 47 percent of Facebook and Twitter users used the social media sites to access their news; by 2015, the percentage jumped to 63 percent.
He added that 23 percent of Twitter users and 28 percent of Facebook users discuss the news on these platforms as well, and the need to adapt becomes apparent.
“No one really is just a print journalist anymore,” Baron said. “You have to be involved with audio, video, images, stuff like that. It’s all becoming this big blob of media.”
Some of the key points Baron outlined for becoming successful at using social media to promote journalism were that the “spreadability,” or availability, when the audience needs the information, must be considered along with portability, reusability and its relevance to multiple audiences. Also, the information must be a part of a steady stream of material to keep your audience engaged.
“I don’t know anyone who has given me or given anyone a reason for why things go viral,” said Baron. “If you think about your favorite viral media moments in the last year, I think there are lots of things that go viral, but no one can really explain why that’s the case.”
However, Baron pointed to the work of Henry Jenkins, Ph.D., Sam Ford and Joshua Greene, Ph.D., from their book, “Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture,” as having a potential answer.
In their book, they hypothesize that a piece of medias’ viral nature may come from engaging in a shared fantasy, using parody and humor, activating “cultural production” in audiences, offering an air of mystery, engaging rumors that speak fears or desires and activating civil engagement.
However, Baron said, the most important thing journalists can do is to build themselves as a “brand” they can sell online.
“I think building a social media brand means finding a voice, being able to find out who you are in terms of a coherent identity,” Baron said, “finding like-minded allies that can help you spread your message and inhabiting social media communities.
“All of these different things get at a core question that every journalist or person who is creating content needs to be aware of, and that is the simple question of, ‘Who are you on social media?’ The more you can do to do those kind of things, that’s going to help you to be there.”
Baron closed by telling the audience that social media and the Internet are like floating down a massive river and you’re “along for the ride.”
“It doesn’t mean you’re out of control and you don’t have a role to play in it, but, like white-water rapids, social media is going to go the way it wants to go,” Baron stressed.
“I think the same can be said for those making content for social media,” Baron added. “You can’t direct where the river is going; all you can do it make sure your message stays in line and afloat. So your job as a professional is to ride the waves of social media and make sure you end up where you want to be and at a given moment you’re cognizant of how the river is flowing and how you can navigate that river as best you can.”
[Clarksville, Tennessee] – The Southeastern Journalism Conference named Sudu Upadhyay of the University of Mississippi as 2016 College Journalist of the Year, and Austin Peay State University took home the coveted Best College Newspaper award.
The awards, chosen from 441 qualified entries from 35 universities, were announced at the SEJC’s annual convention, hosted by Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tennessee Feb. 18-22.
The complete list of winners is as follows: **
Best News Writer/ 35 entries
#10 Rebekah Barnes, Louisiana Tech University
#9 Alyssa Newton, University of South Alabama
#8 Riley Wallace, Belmont University
#7 William Hadden, Belmont University
#6 Holly Duchman, University of Louisiana – Lafayette
#5 Becca Risley, Lipscomb University
#4 Lauren Booker, Georgia State University
#3 Chelsea Pennington, Samford University
#2 Sarah Grace Taylor, Middle Tennessee State University
#1 Jonathan Capriel, University of Memphis
Best Feature Writer/ 34 submissions
#10 Tori Roper, Troy University
#9 Connor Raybon, Southeastern Louisiana University
Tied #7 Danica Smithwick, Union University
Tied #7 Brianna Langley, Lipscomb University
Tied #5 Ashley Lyons, University of Louisiana – Monroe
Tied #5 Holly Duchmann, University of Louisiana – Lafayette
Tied #3 Matthew Wolff, Georgia State University
Tied #3 Patrick Lantrip, University of Memphis
#2 Clara Turnage, University of Mississippi
#1 Joshua Cannon, University of Memphis
Best Opinion/Editorial Writer/ 27 entries
#10 Adam Quinn, Samford University
#9 Megan Boyanton, Northwestern State University
#8 Jasmine Fleming, University of North Alabama
#7 John Sadler, Louisiana Tech University
#6 Kyle Waltman, Mississippi State University
#5 Alexis Hosticka, Harding University
#4 Elena Spradlin, Austin Peay State
#3 Mitchell Oliver, Georgia State University
#2 Seth Dickerson, University of Louisiana – Lafayette
#1 Meagan White, Middle Tennessee State University
Best Arts & Entertainment Writer/27 entries
#10 Miranda Brown, Tennessee State University
#9 Natalie Franklin, University of South Alabama
#8 Rachel Brackins, Harding University
#7 Jimmy Lichtenwalter, Samford University
#6 Stephanie Schiraldi, Lipscomb
#5 Zoe McDonald, University of Mississippi
#4 Gus Carrington, University of Memphis
#3 Andrew Wadovick, Austin Peay State University
#2 Stacy Reppond, University of Louisiana – Monroe
#1 John Connor Coulston, Middle Tennessee State University
Best Sports Writer/ 33 entries
#10 Todd Dean, Tennessee State University
#9 Michael Shipma, Troy University
#8 Ben Wellham, Northwestern State
#7 Matthew Emery, Arkansas Tech University
Tied #5 Sam Chandler, Samford University
Tied #5 Katherine LeJeune, Louisiana State – Shreveport
#4 Omer Yusuf, University of Memphis
#3 Kadin Pounders, University of North Alabama
#2 Samuel Cowan, Belmont University
#1 Dylan Rubino, University of Mississippi
Best Special Event Reporter/Editor/ 16 entries
#6 Kaleb Turner, Harding University
#5 Jonathan Capriel, University of Memphis
#4 Sean Keenan, Georgia State University
#3 Ethan Steinquest, Austin Peay State
#2 Tierra Smith, Grambling State
#1 Logan Kirkland, University of Mississippi
Best Press Photographer/ 26 entries
#10 David Parks, Union University
#9 Mikalla Cotton, Union University
Tied #8 Logan Kirkland, University of Mississippi
Tied #7 Greg French, Middle Tennessee State University
Tied #4 Erin Turner, Lipscomb University
Tied #4 Hunt Mercier, University of Southern Mississippi
Tied #4 Shelby Watson, Austin Peay State
Tied #2 Courtland Wells, University of Southern Mississippi
Tied #2 Jacob Follin, Mississippi State University
#1 Andrew Hunt, Belmont University
Best News Graphic Designer/ 12 entries
#5 Taylor Bowser, Troy University (ADD)
#4 Lewis West, Austin Peay State
#3 Cina Catteau, Harding University
#2 Kali Daniel, University of North Alabama
#1 Maddie Richardson, Georgia State University
Best News-Editorial Artist/Illustrator/ 8 entries
#4 Seth Nicholson, Troy University
#3 Joey Plunk, University of Tennessee-Martin
#2 John Miller, Georgia State University
#1 Jake Thrasher, University of Mississippi
Best Newspaper Page Layout Designer/ 19 entries
#8 Nicholas Davison, Xavier University
#7 Madisen Theobald, University of Mississippi
#6 Taylor Bowden, Mississippi State University
#5 Sean McCully, Austin Peay State
#4 Caroline Carraway, University of Mississippi
#3 Emily Lasher, Georgia State University
#2 Carmen Blackwell, University of Louisiana – Monroe
#1 Shilo Cupples, University of North Alabama
Best Magazine Page Layout Designer/15 entries
Tied #6 Jared Pekenpaugh, University of Tennessee – Martin
Tied #6 Gopal Gurung, Louisiana State – Shreveport
#5 Clair Per-Lee and Rebeccal Terrell, Samford Univeristy
#4 Jordan Knox, University of South Alabama
#3 Andrew Graham, Union University
#2 Brion Eason, Florida A & M
#1 Braxton White, Florida A& M
Best Magazine Writer/ 9 submissions
#4 Ali Renckens, Union University
#3 Cady Herring, University of Mississippi
#2 Cody Sexton, Louisiana Tech University
#1 Sydney Cromwell, Samford University
Best Television Hard News Reporter/ 9 submissions
Tied #4 Ashleigh Burton, University of Tennessee – Martin
Tied #4 Haley Greathouse, Troy University
#3 Leslie Newman, Lipscomb University
#2 Breana Albizu, Georgia State University
#1 Kelly Savage, University of Mississippi
Best Radio Hard News Reporter/ 4 submissions
#2 Ashley Parmer, Tennessee State University
#1 Sydney LaFreniere, University of Tennessee – Martin
Best Television News Feature Reporter/ 13 submissions
#9 Brittany Clark, University of Mississippi
#8 Jake Jones, Mississippi State University
#7 Tierra Robinson, University of West Alabama
#6 Emily Proud, Belmont University
Tied #4 Brittany Robinson, Southeastern Louisiana University
Tied #4 Ben Goodman, Austin Peay University
#3 Tyler Wayne Smith, University of Louisiana – Monroe
#2 Alex Ro, Georgia State University
#1 Caroline Saunders, Samford University
Best Radio News Feature Reporter/ 9 submissions
#4 Morgan Burger, University of Mississippi
#3 Natalie King, University of Tennessee – Martin
#2 Riley Mueller, University of Mississippi
#1 Erin Thomas, Middle Tennessee State University
Best Radio Journalist/ 6 submissions
#3 Tori Seng, University of Tennessee – Martin
#2 Steven Gagliano, University of Mississippi
#1 David Caddell, Troy University
Best Television Journalist/ 12 entries
Tied #6 Yvonne Thomas, Samford University
Tied #6 Dominique Brogle, Southeastern Louisiana University
#5 Kristen Gautreaux, Nicholls State
Tied #3 Jamal Goss, Georgia State University
Tied #3 Browning Stubbs, University of Mississippi
#2 Ryan Renfrow, Troy University
#1 Heather Black, Mississippi State University
Best Advertising Staff Member/6 entries
#3 Danielle Shearer, Southeastern Louisiana University
#2 Kelsey Shumate, University of Mississippi
#1 Katelyn Clark, Austin Peay State
Best Journalism Research Paper
#4 Hailey Lange, Southeastern Louisiana University
#3 Hayley Taylor, University of West Alabama
#2 Anna McCollum, University of Mississippi
#1 Rachel Stanback, Samford University
College Journalist of the Year/ 18 submissions
#10 Sarah Grace Taylor, Middle Tennessee State University
#9 Danica Smithwick, Union University
#8 Erin Turner, Lipscomb University
#7 Tierra Smith, Grambling State
#6 Emily Featherston, Samford University
#5 Ciara Frisbie, Georgia State University
#4 Grishma Rimal, Troy University
#3 Holly Duchmann, University of Louisiana – Lafayette
#2 Eric Craig, Xavier University
#1 Sudu Upadhyay, University of Mississippi
Best Multimedia Journalist/ 9 submissions
Tied #3 Brianna Champion, University of West Alabama
Tied #3 Sarah Grace Taylor, Middle Tennessee State University
#2 Taylor Slifko, Austin Peay State
#1 Erin Turner, Lipscomb University
Best Public Service Journalism/ 9 submissions
#4 University of Mississippi
#3 Charles Bailey, Georgia State University
#2 Katelyn Clark, Taylor Slifko, Sarah Eskildson, Austin Peay State
#1 Cardinal & Cream, Partnership with Lane College, Union University
Best College Audio News Program/ 5 submissions
#2 University of Louisiana – Monroe
#1 University of Tennessee – Martin
Best College Video News Program/ 11 submissions
#5 Lipscomb University
Tied #3 Southeastern Louisiana University
Tied #3 Georgia State University
#1 Troy University
Best College Magazine/11 submissions
Tied #4 Georgia State University
Tied #4 University of North Alabama
Tied #4 Samford University
#3 Louisiana Tech University
#2 Florida A & M
#1 Union University
Best College Newspaper/ 23 submissions
Ranked #10 Grambling State University
#9 University of Tennessee – Martin
#8 Troy University
Tied #5 University of Southern Mississippi
Tied #5 University of North Alabama
Tied #5 Mississippi State University
#4 Middle Tennessee State University
Tied #2 Louisiana Tech University
Tied #2 Georgia State University
#1 Austin Peay State University
Best College Website/ 26 submissions
#10 University of Mississippi
#9 Louisiana Tech
#8 University of Southern Mississippi
#7 Lipscomb University
#6 Florida A & M
#5 University of Louisiana – Lafayette
#4 Belmont University
#3 Austin Peay State University
#2 Arkansas Tech University
#1 Middle Tennessee State University
Best College Radio Station #10/ 4 submissions
#2 Southeastern Louisiana University
#1 University of Tennessee – Martin
Best College Television Station/ 8 submissions
#4 Samford University
#3 University of Tennessee – Martin
#2 Troy University
#1 Southeastern Louisiana University