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2012 Best of South and Onsite Winners

The Southeast Journalism Conference held its 27th annual convention at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, February 22-23, 2013.

176 students from 31 colleges were ranked in 30 categories as being among the “Best of the South” in the SEJC’s annual journalism awards competition. Southeastern Louisiana University took home Journalism Championship medals for the team effort in the onsite competition.

The SEJC competitions are open to the organization’s member schools from eight states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee —recognized in its constitution as eligible to enter the contests.

The purpose of the SEJC Best of the South contest is to function as a journalism teaching-tool, as well as a competition. All entries are given a rating, and judges are encouraged to provide comments and professional advice. The ratings and commentaries are given to each school’s faculty delegate to distribute to his or her students who enter, regardless of whether their entry won top recognition. A comprehensive list of this year’s winners is below. For any questions concerning the 2012 “Best of the South” Competition, please contact Traci Mitchell

The onsite competition puts student journalists’ talents to the test in competitions at the conference and awards individuals certificates and points for their school teams that accumulate to recognize one team as the Journalism Champions.

2012 “Best of the South” Winners

News Writer
1st (tie) Brian Wilson Belmont University
1st (tie) Christopher Whitten University of Memphis
3rd Michelle Corbet University of Memphis
4th A.J. Mercincavage Lynn University
5th Kaitlyn Byrne Mississippi State University
6th Ashley Chaffin University of Alabama
7th Tanya Giraldo Arkansas State University
8th (tie) Cole Avery University of Louisiana, Monroe
8th (tie) Emily West Middle Tennessee State University
10th LaToya Pickett Tennessee State University
Feature Writer
1st Lauren Ferguson University of Alabama
2nd Jessica Adkins Belmont University
3rd Amelia Krauss Union University
4th Gina Cherelus Florida A&M University
5th (tie) Hayley Blair Auburn University
5th (tie) Elizabeth Rose University of La-Lafayette
7th Caitlin LaFarlette Arkansas State University
8th Maya Jones Xavier University
9th (tie) Laura Apperson Georgia State University
9th (tie) Zachary LaSalle University of Louisiana, Lafayette
Arts & Entertainment Writer
1st (tie) Ashley Hinson University of La-Lafayette
1st (tie) Emma Herrock University of La-Monroe
3rd Cory Woodroof Lipscomb University
4th Mary B. Sellers University of Mississippi
5th Jane Horne Middle Tennessee State University
6th Courtney Boyd Georgia State University
7th Catherine Ragusa Southeastern Louisiana University
8th Caleb Hennington Arkansas State University
9th Te Duffour University of West Alabama
10th (tie) Jared Dowling University of Alabama
10th (tie) Ashley Gressett Mississippi College
Opinion/Editorial Writer
1st Chris Shattuck Georgia State University
2nd Chelsea Boozer University of Memphis
3rd (tie) Amie Rolland Louisiana Tech University
3rd (tie) Adam Quinn Samford University
5th (tie) John Jerome Thompson Arkansas State University
5th (tie) Clint Simpson Arkansas State University
5th (tie) Jasmine Mitchell Florida A&M University
8th (tie) Lyndsey Ruble Harding University
8th (tie) Katherine Burgess Union University
10th Phil McCausland University of Mississippi
Sports Writer
1st Eric Single Vanderbilt University
2nd Alex Hubbard Middle Tennessee State University
3rd (tie) Corry Mulligan Samford University
3rd (tie) DeRon Talley University of La-Monroe
3rd (tie) Austin Miller University of Mississippi
6th Alexis Hosticka Harding University
7th (tie) Matt Chaffin Harding University
7th (tie) Katie de la Rosa University of Louisiana, Lafayette
7th (tie) Caleb Odom Troy University
10th Marc Torrence University of Alabama
Special Events Reporter
1st Adam Mills & Colby Leonard University of Alabama
2nd Terah Boyd Georgia State University
3rd Rebecca Alvarez Louisiana Tech University
4th Kayla Paine Arkansas State University
5th Candace Barnette Mississippi State University
6th Anne Marie Van Casteren Lynn University
Press Photographer
1st Srdjan Marjanovic University of La-Monroe
2nd Rebecca Croomes Auburn University
3rd Joshua Vaughn Austin Peay State University
4th Ciley Carrington Grambling University
5th Austin McAfee University of Mississippi
6th (tie) Chris Honiball Vanderbilt University
6th (tie) Ashel Parsons Harding University
6th (tie) Patrick Duffy Georgia State University
6th (tie) Caitlin Trotter University of Alabama
10th Joseph Patrick Tennessee State University
News Graphic Designer
1st Christopher Martin Southeastern Louisiana University
2nd Aysha Johnson Georgia State University
3rd Alex Cline University of Tennessee
4th Christopher Do Middle Tennessee State University
5th (tie) Michelle McDaniel University of Louisiana -Monroe
5th (tie) Kalsey Stults Tennessee Tech University
7th (tie) Whitney Hendrix and Sarah Grace Moorehead University of Alabama
7th (tie) Ruth Augustin Lynn University
9th (tie) Kristen Ellender Nicholls State  University
9th (tie) Zack Orsborn Mississippi State University
News/Editorial Artist
1st Kelsey Hargrove University of La-Monroe
2nd Josh Clark University of Mississippi
3rd David Barrentine Arkansas State University
4th Christy Walker Austin Peay State University
5th Brandon Murray Troy University
Newspaper Page Layout Designer
1st Kristen Webb Vanderbilt University
2nd (tie) Anna Yang Georgia State University
2nd (tie) Holly Jay Union University
4th Marilyn Ferrell Georgia College & State University
5th (tie) Emily Roland University of Mississippi
5th (tie) Melody Kitchens Auburn University
7th (tie) William Housley Tennessee Tech University
7th (tie) Emma Crawford Mississippi State University
9th Lyndsey Ruble Harding University
10th (tie) Ross Landry and Erica Falgout Nicholls State University
10th (tie) Molly Bowman Louisiana Tech University
10th (tie) Kristin Jaggers Austin Peay State University
Magazine Page Layout Designer
1st Benjamin Hurston University of Mississippi
2nd Daniel Roth University of Alabama
3rd Chidozie Acey Florida A&M University
4th Elizabeth Cassada Samford University
Magazine Writer
1st (tie) Marc Torrence University of Alabama
1st (tie) Bracey Harris University of Mississippi
3rd Morgan Grain Florida A&M University
4th Allison Hubbard Samford University
5th Beth Byrd Union University
TV Hard News Reporter
1st Kristen Swilley Florida A&M University
2nd Chrissy Carter Southeastern Louisiana University
3rd Courtney Steele Troy University
4th (tie) Quinn Panganiban Tennessee State University
4th (tie) Gerard Manogin University of Mississippi
T4th Lauren Holt and Lauren Fulton Mississippi State University
TV News Feature Reporter
1st Baillee Majors Troy University
2nd Alvin Barrilleaux Nicholls State University
3rd Kelli Volk Tennessee State University
4th Aryeonne Johnson Georgia State University
5th Megan McKeown Mississippi State University
6th Brooke Bascle Southeastern Louisiana University
7th Niekeisha Pryce Florida A&M
8th Hannah Riley University of West Alabama
9th Lauren McLaughlin University of Mississippi
10th Tierra Robinson University of West Alabama
Radio News Feature Reporter
1st Janea Judge-Hemans University of La-Lafayette
2nd Liz Komoromi Lipscomb University
3rd Aria Aaron Florida A&M University
4th Blair Blanchard University of Louisiana, Lafayette
5th Wil Herrmuth Tennessee State University
6th Tiffany Logan University of Tennessee, Martin
7th Miya M. Jefferson Tennessee State University
8th Kelsey Rogers Troy University
Radio Journalist
1st Nicholas Andrews University of Mississippi
2nd Jessica L. Taylor University of La-Lafayette
3rd (tie) Bethany Meeks University of Tennessee, Martin
3rd (tie) Crystal Jordan Florida A&M University
5th Matthew Doyle Southeastern Louisiana University
Television Journalist
1st Ashley Bull Nicholls State University
2nd Chrissy Carter Southeastern Louisiana University
3rd Cody Long Georgia State University
4th Judson Garner Troy University
5th Kelli Volk Tennessee State University
6th Hannah Riley University of West Alabama
7th (tie) Stephen Quinn University of Mississippi
7th (tie) Kristen Swilley Florida A&M University
9th Nicolette Carney Lipscomb University
10th (tie) Chenelle Terry Samford University
10th (tie) Jesse Pope Mississippi State University
Advertising Staff Member
1st Sabastian Wee Georgia State University
2nd Kristen Saltzman University of Mississippi
3rd Lane Davis University of La-Monroe
4th Farrah Miller Mississippi State University
5th Rachel Montoya Southeastern Louisiana University
6th Channing Montgomery Grambling State
7th Kasey Strickland Samford University
8th Kaseril Suwaratan Troy University
9th Jen Hoffman Georgia College and State University
10th Bridgette Buchanan Tennessee Tech University
Journalism Research Paper
1st Anna Cox Samford University
2nd Lesley Rivers Southeastern Louisiana University
3rd Alicia Johnson Georgia State University
4th Kaley Winstead Mississippi College
Public Service Journalism
1st Vanderbilt University
2nd University of Memphis
3rd University of Alabama
4th University of West Alabama
5th Louisiana Tech University
6th University of Louisiana, Lafayette
7th Southeastern Louisiana University
College Audio News
1st Tennessee State University
2nd Georgia State University
3rd (tie) Lipscomb University
3rd (tie) University of La-Lafayette
5th (tie) University of Tennessee, Martin
5th (tie) Southeastern Louisiana University
College Video News
1st Southeastern La. University
2nd Troy University
3rd University of Mississippi
4th Georgia State University
5th University of West Alabama
6th Mississippi State University
7th Lipscomb University
8th Lynn University
9th Samford University
10th Tennessee Tech University
College Magazine
1st (tie) Samford University
1st (tie) Tennessee Tech University
3rd University of Alabama
4th (tie) University of Tennessee, Martin
4th (tie) Louisiana Tech University
6th Florida A& University
College Newspaper
1st University of Alabama
2nd Auburn University
3rd Vanderbilt University
4th University of Mississippi
5th University of Tennessee
6th Xavier University
7th (tie) Harding University
7th (tie) Georgia State University
9th Belmont University
10th Arkansas State University
College Website
1st University of Alabama
2nd University of Mississippi
3rd Harding University
4th University of Tennessee
5th Lynn University
6th Georgia College & State University
7th Louisiana Tech University
8th Vanderbilt University
9th (tie) Union University
9th (tie) Austin Peay State University
Multimedia Journalist
1st Margaret Ann Morgan University of Mississippi
2nd Aura Cruz Lynn University
3rd (tie) Autumn Allison Belmont University
3rd (tie) Nicholas Finch University of West Alabama
5th Alex Brown Union University
6th Jadaun Sweet Florida A&M University
7th Cheril Nathaniel Southeastern Louisiana University
College Journalist of the Year
1st Will Tucker University of Alabama
2nd Cole Avery University of La-Monroe
3rd Chrissy Carter Southeastern Louisiana University
4th Emily Roland University of Mississippi
5th (tie) Elizabeth Rose University of Louisiana, Lafayette
5th (tie) Cody Muzio Troy University
5th (tie) Brian Wilson Belmont University
8th (tie) Lindsey Blakely Arkansas State University
8th (tie) Patrick Boyd Louisiana Tech University
10th Becca Andrews Middle Tennessee State University
College Radio Station
1st Tennessee State University
2nd University of Tennessee, Martin
3rd Lipscomb University
4th Southeastern Louisiana University
5th University of Mississippi
College TV Station
1st (tie) Southeastern Louisiana University
1st (tie) Troy University
3rd Tennessee State University
4th University of Mississippi
5th Florida A&M University
6th Lipscomb University
7th Samford University
8th Georgia State University
9th Vanderbilt University
10th Mississippi State University

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2013 Convention, Union University, Tenn.

Gene C. Fant Jr., Ph.D., gave the opening address of the 27th annual SEJC convention at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., encouraging his audience to “be committed to truth no matter where it may lead you.”

“The ultimate power of narrative is that it has truth,” Fant admonished his listeners. “Truth is among the most powerful elements in the universe. So when journalism, when narrative, when storytelling embraces the truth, it suddenly begins to be filled with power. We cannot allow ideology to trump our commitment to truth, no matter what our ideology might be. And so this is the ultimate power of narrative that I encourage you all to embrace.”

As an English professor at Union, Fant related the importance of journalists’ accuracy and truthfulness to a piece of literature he assigns as part of his English classes: George Orwell’s classic “1984.” In this work of speculative fiction, Fant explained, the main character’s job is to redact offensive material and facts that have changed from old newspaper articles.

“It really is an image of how the media and journalists in particular influence our collective understandings of events, our collective memories of things — our collective identity even as a society,” Fant said.

Although he writes mostly editorial content for nationally syndicated publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and First Things, Fant admitted he does “dabble” in journalism, but as more of a raconteur. True to this self-proclaimed identity, Fant began his speech to the SEJC members and advisers by using anecdotes to illustrate how journalists affect public perceptions of events. Through word usage, Fant said, journalists can make any event anything from unforgettable to totally negligible.

The news coverage of the aftermath of a tornado that wracked Union University in February of 2008, Fant said, was “one of the most transforming events” of his life. However, the coverage of a crisis at his high school when someone set fire to the school after setting off a military-grade tear gas canister in 1979 became forgettable to many who had lived through it.

Fant also warned against reporting information hastily, a problem that has compounded as information becomes easily available through the Internet. Specifically, he referred to some faulty journalism that occurred after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

“There was just misinformation all over the place,” Fant said, “and what struck me was that our national memory of the event was also being influenced by false data. It was journalists, who were there on the scene trying to do their best with the information they were given but who were also being conflated with nonprofessional media, (who were) shaping our eventual memory of how the event took place.”

One of the key contributors to this problem of faulty facts and egregious errors lies in the surge of “news” that spreads unprofessionally through “citizen journalism” on social media sites like Facebook, Fant said. He warned the audience that this citizen journalism has a distinct “dark side.”

“Anyone with an iPad suddenly has a camcorder and access to the Internet, and they can say anything they want to say and report anything they want to report,” Fant explained. “Now the problem with that is: How do we know the accuracy of these things?

“These are not people who have journalistic standards,” Fant continued. “They aren’t looking for any of the classic things we teach in our programs. Instead, what we have are live eyewitnesses with opinions.”

To combat this, Fant stressed the importance of professionalism in journalism, because the surge of citizen journalism can adversely affect not only the memory of incidents in the annals of history but also the perceptions of the profession.

To correct what Fant described as a weakening in the profession, he encouraged those future journalists listening to fight to uphold the principles of truth and honor in reporting. Only by adhering to this code, he said, would journalism become revitalized and the power of narrative restored.

“How do we carve out a future for journalism in the era of citizen journalism and digital democracy if we do not dedicate ourselves to utter truthfulness?” Fant asked the crowd. “How do we maintain our reputations as shapers of the democratic impulse? If everyone else is being unreliable, we must be reliable, and we do this through our truthfulness.”

Steve Coffman: Death of print is greatly exaggerated

Coffman 2The outlook seems bleak: Print subscriptions are down, and papers are waning in size. However, the shift doesn’t signify a decline in readership, but rather a shift in how news is delivered, said executive editor Steve Coffman of The Jackson Sun in Tennessee.

“So often you’re going to hear, ‘These papers are dead. They’re dying. They’re losing subscribers. There’s no future in it,’” he said before students from seven states at last month’s Southeast Journalism Conference at Union University. “But I don’t think so. We have a good case to make.”

The award-winning, 26-year news veteran also serves as the paper’s director of content and audience development, and as technology progresses, Coffman said, so does journalism’s reach.

“We have lost subscribers to our print product,” he admitted. But at the same time, he continued, the loss has created instead a “vivid, visual audience going up, up, up, up in some pretty significant ways.”

This adapted audience has become privy to technology. Smart phones and tablets provide readers with news coverage at any time and in any situation, so news companies—like Gannett Co., Inc., the country’s largest media corporation that owns The Jackson Sun—are forced to adapt or sink. But these advances are inevitably expanding beyond websites.

“At Gannett,” Coffman said, “we’ve got an app for that!”

And it does. The “Full Access Plan” to any Gannett-owned paper provides that access to articles on the paper’s website and an application providing the day’s news stories. Readers can also choose to use the e-edition app, which, instead of listing articles, shows a digital form of the paper in its printed layout.

The shift in news delivery also prompted a shift in Gannett’s pay model. Those who visit Gannett websites but do not subscribe are allowed a certain number of free articles, the sum of which is based on readership characteristics about the surrounding market., for example, allows for 20 free articles per month before requiring a subscription, which costs $12 for digital-only, and $10 for both digital and print. in Lafayette, La., however, only allows for 10: But its subscriptions cost $9 whether purchasing digital-only or both digital and print subscriptions.

As fast-paced, often citizen-based news coverage is on the rise, though, Coffman said news organizations must continue going above and beyond to answer the questions no one is asking. He cited a story uncovered by The Jackson Sun that questioned the suicide of an inmate while he was on suicide watch. The Sun’s coverage, Coffman said, pushed the jail to enact policy changes that may save lives in the future.

“If we, as a newspaper, aren’t asking those questions, aren’t doing that digging, who’s going to?” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to.”

Gannett also positions its papers to maintain readership through market research, Coffman said, that tackles readers’ “passion issues”—like faith or public safety.

“We make sure that our reportage and our structure is aligned to be covering those topics better than anybody else, and I think that we are doing that,” he said.

According to web information company Alexa, Coffman said, ranked last month as 112,000th in the world. (To put it in perspective, a March 2012 survey reported by the San Francisco Chronicle totaled the world’s active websites at around 644 million.)

In January, the site had 3 million page views. It peaked in 2008, when 268,500 individual computers visited it after tornadoes blasted through Union University and garnered national attention.

“That’s a better audience than we’ve ever had as a print product,” Coffman said.

Jackson’s local television station, he said, is about 300,000 places behind The Jackson Sun in Alexa’s ranking, while the local talk radio show goes back about 3.3 million.

“I think there’s a good argument to be made there,” Coffman said, “that we have a lot more room to grow, even as all of these ways of reaching people continue to change and evolve.”

Gannett owns 81 additional daily newspapers, including nationally circulated USA Today. Its broadcasting division reaches 21 million households via 23 television stations and covers 18.2 percent of the U.S. population, according to The media giant also owns the British publisher Newsquest, which produces more than 200 publications.

But as the technological tides change exponentially year after year, will the presses continue rolling?

“I don’t want to let anybody think we’re going to forget (print),” Coffman said, “but obviously, a lot of people want to get their news in different ways, and we’re adapting to that, and changing that. It’s not just about newspapers anymore.”


Kim Lawton cites importance of video in storytelling

“Video has become a key component in journalism, public relations and communications in the world of a digital media,” said award-winning reporter, producer and writer Kim Lawton.  “Video is an important factor in telling a story.”

Lawton, the managing editor and correspondent for the half-hour PBS TV show “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” was the first speaker to take the stage on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Union University. The conference boasted attendance from more than 30 schools from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“(Video is) like a puzzle, or a tapestry,” Lawton said. “There’s a real art to it because I’m weaving together (the story). My friends who are print journalists have to worry about doing concepts, but I have to worry about how to illustrate those concepts.”

Lawton’s showed brief video samples of her work to accentuate her point.  From heart-wrenching, high-definition hospital shots to shards of history with Martin Luther King Jr., Lawton only revealed slivers of her face during her subject-focused broadcasts.

“You need the words to explain, but the power comes from the image,” said Lawton.  “As journalists, if that’s where your power is, that’s what you play.”

Lawton, who earned her bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, urged students to study and utilize video in their journalistic “tool shed” as a method of compelling storytelling.  She cited a UCLA report that segmented the three elements of communication into word choice, vocal tone and body language, which dominated communication impact with 55 percent of the overall influence on the audience.

Her initial focus was in radio broadcasting, but she said she picked up video skills along the way as she progressed in the field. Lawton shared one tip she learned: “Don’t be married to your notes.” She listed crucial keys to successful interviews, such as maintaining eye contact, pursuing the actual conversation, foregoing notes to fully engage, avoiding distraction and making the interview subject comfortable and relaxed to get to the “nut” of the story.

As more and more papers ask reporters to shoot video while on assignment, Lawton said modern-day journalists must accommodate.  She described her work as a “team effort,” because she often works with a producer, editor, camera operator and audio expert while building the story. However, she admitted this is a luxury most publications and papers cannot afford.

“One of my concerns is that in the rush to become a one-man band, I hope that we don’t have a lessening of quality,” Lawton said. “I hope that we have a higher standard because I think that contributes to telling a compelling story.”

Another frustration Lawton said she experienced in her field is what she called the superficial distractions of video.

“Sometimes, the strength of video is also a weakness in that the visual becomes so important,” she said.  “I get frustrated (when) I’m telling this really great story and the only thing people care about is I have this one hair hanging down funny in the middle of the story.  That drives me nuts.”

Lawton said these issues are worth fighting through, because journalists are privileged with the gift of telling stories “that may otherwise be lost.”

“Video certainly has its own universe,” she began, “its own language, and you need to understand what that is.”

McCormack urges photographers to challenge themselves

Almost 300 future photographers, editors, reporters and layout designers crowded into the Carl Grant Events Center at Union University to listen to keynote speaker Larry McCormack’s blunt advice on staying ahead and going the extra mile in a field that is constantly changing: journalism.

“Think differently, (and) challenge yourself,” said McCormack.  “If you have the safe shot, then you have the safe shot. Now, move on.  Don’t stay there. You know who has the safe shot; 90 percent of the people, and if you want to be there, you’ll be with 90 percent of the people.  If you want to be in the top 10 percent of people, you have to do the things that the top 10 percent do.”

McCormack, a 30-year photographer and 14-year veteran of The Tennessean in Nashville, witnessed dramatic changes in journalism, especially the change in photojournalism from black and white to color, as well as the evolution to digital media.  He has also adapted to social media, audio podcasting, video and other multimedia platforms, which he now does on a regular basis.

“In media today, you are going to do all this,” said McCormack. “You’re going to copywrite; you’re going to do video; you’re going to edit; you’re going to do audio.  If you’re not doing that, you’re not going to last long.  If you are a good photographer, a good reporter, a good copy editor, you are going to be sought after.

“Out of this class here, probably about 10 percent of you guys are going to find jobs in the field that you want to be in,” added McCormack. “The top 10 percent are going to come out winners.  The other 90 percent, I’m sorry.”

Although McCormack’s outlook may seem bleak, he did offer advice that could potentially help set the SEJC listeners apart from other fledgling journalists who are entering the field.

“When I was young, I saw a presentation by Brian Lanker, and it changed my life,” said McCormack.  “I liked his style, so I tried to copy him.  Guess what happened.  I’m not as good him, but I developed my own style–a style that I hope brands me as who I am, and allows me a different look at photographs. What you need to do is develop your own style and brand yourself.”

To develop a style, McCormack suggested thinking differently and changing perspectives, along with diligent practice, research and study.

“You want to be on the intellectual (level) of whoever this person is,” said McCormack.  “Not to the point that they are, but you need to know enough, so you can hold an intelligent conversation.  There is a reason most of you guys are getting a liberal arts degree.  It’s so you can communicate. It’s so that you can talk to people, and you can communicate that (what you discovered) back to your community.”

McCormack also reiterated that taking the safe option isn’t going help, especially when trying to create a distinguished piece, and he challenged the audience to go out into the field and take risks.

“If you stay where you are safe, you are not doing your job,” said McCormack.  “Don’t take the obvious.  Don’t take the ordinary. Whatever obstacle you have that shows up in front of you is not an obstacle; it is an opportunity.”


Steve Duin rivets audience with human-interest anecdotes

Steve Duin, The Oregonian’s metro columnist for 18 years, encouraged attendees at the SEJC convention to find the place where “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” a concept he said is at the heart of journalism’s future.

The centerpiece of Duin’s speech was the story of Portland’s Roosevelt High School, a subject he said he discovered after perusing the sports section in January 2009. The box score recounted Roosevelt’s girls’ basketball team’s 88-10 loss in front of a crowd of 10. One player, Togo native Ahoefa Ananouko, scored eight of Roosevelt’s 10 points.

When Duin arrived to write about the team a month later, he said he realized Ananouko’s amazing story, which included living in a refugee camp in Benin for seven years after her father spoke out against Togo’s dictatorship, wasn’t the story he was there to tell. He was there to tell his readers why there were only three parents at the game for the 10 “stubborn survivors” on the basketball team.

“The missing parents had decent excuses — they were working two minimum wage jobs, they couldn’t afford the bus pass or the $6 ticket,” the basketball coach told Duin.

Then, the kicker: there were five seniors on the team the year before, and on the last home game, “not a single parent was there to walk their daughters to center court,” the coach told Duin. “The kids were asking me, ‘Who’s going to walk me down?’ It hurt to look in their faces.”

When he wrote his column about Roosevelt’s basketball team, he ended it with, “The girls’ final home game of the season is next Tuesday against Madison. I promise you, one parent will be there. Anyone care to join me?”

One thousand six hundred people showed up to that final basketball game, where Roosevelt lost by two points.

“What I discovered there convinced me I was at the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met,” said Duin, who is the brother of Union journalism professor Julia Duin (see related story on snake handlers). “I went back to Roosevelt because my newspaper still allows me to share the great stories wherever I find them.”

His columns on Roosevelt, which revolved around a 16-year-old cornerback with a 2-year-old daughter, the struggles of 110 of the 700 kids at Roosevelt who were homeless, and the return of a pro football player who volunteered to help coach the team, created a domino effect.

One reader, Kirsty Dickinson, called the football coach and asked if they ever had team dinners after reading about a player who told the coach he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days because of money issues at home. The coach told her they didn’t have the funds to do it, and she showed up that week with enough pasta and cookies to feed 45, and continued to feed the team every Wednesday, even as other athletes and school employees made the number swell to 85 — a realization of the story of five loaves and two fish.

“’We believe we are called to love the world,’” a volunteer told Duin, a quote he called his favorite line of the year, “’and the older I get, the more love looks like work.’”

Duin’s work, he said, is to write for a daily paper, despite the industry’s outlook.

“It is a daunting time to subscribe to that delusion,” said Duin. “In my lifetime, I have seen the morning paper evolve from the final authoritative word on the matter to a largely irrelevant afterthought. Those of us who remain are left with few illusions about where this is going. We’re playing the dinner music on the sloping deck of the Titanic.”

When the Portland school district was working to redesign the district, the football coach told him Duin saved his job, because after the attention Roosevelt garnered from Duin’s columns, there would be public outrage. That evening, Duin said he realized Roosevelt had saved his job, too.

“Just about the time giving up was becoming fashionable in the newspaper business, you and Roosevelt came along with your deep hunger and somehow found your way to my deep gladness,” he said. “Maybe when we finally find the place of hunger and gladness that was designed especially for us, we can finally relax and devote ourselves to helping others find the place that was designed especially for them.”

Duin said he is able to share his stories because he has “total carte blanche” at The Oregonian, and gleans his topics from friends and reader suggestions. At times, however, he said he does have a shortage, which is when he takes a walk and talks to strangers, “because pretty much everybody has a doggone good story hidden somewhere inside of them.”


How Julia Duin wowed readers about snake-handlers

Julia Duin, a journalism professor at Union University, explained how she used her 40 years of journalistic experience to successfully cover Appalachian snake handlers and captivate the world with her story.

Duin’s story on snake handlers led her to three Pulitzer Prize nominations and articles for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and  Duin gave advice to the SEJC attendees on how to create a story as successful and captivating as her documentation of serpent handling.

“One, don’t be afraid to get out of the box and report on something totally new and different.  What is radical yesterday is commonplace today,” said Duin.  “Don’t be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions.  We live in a world where there is very little moral courage and there are few convictions and no endurance when it comes to standing up for beliefs.  Often it is not the most talented people who get the job done, but it is the most persistent, the most curious, the daring, the ones who didn’t give up.  It means asking question after question and risking unpopularity for bringing truths that people don’t want to hear.”

Duin recounted that she had been laid off in 2010 from the Washington Times and had been working as a freelance journalist when she received an opportunity from a photographer friend to cover fundamentalist snake handlers in West Virginia.

“Newspaper reporters always hope that we find that one big story that makes it around the world,” said Duin.  “I’ve been reporting for newspapers and magazines since I was in high school, so we’re talking about 40 years, but last May I did write a story that went all over the world and it had to do with a radical form of Christianity that most people don’t agree with.”

“So I went to West Virginia; packed my 7-year-old daughter in the car and sat for three days in endless church services and what we saw was this story,” recalled Duin.  “I researched what had been done on serpent handling and I found out that very little had been done in the last 20 years; the only ones I found had been done in the 1990s.  We spent five days in that corner of West Virginia, again the non-touristy region. I was continually either horrified or fascinated.”

Duin recalled the moment she realized the story’s hook had changed.  Once she became familiar with the practice, she realized that 20-somethings were its guiding force and her story shifted, changing the course of her documentation.

“We found out (that) the way that this custom was spreading was not just by visiting preachers, but by Facebook,” Duin said.  “All these young handlers were posting photos on their Facebook accounts. I thought ‘Here you go; this is a new story.’ When I got ahold of the Wall Street Journal, my hook was ‘Hey, this isn’t fading away after all; it’s now spreading among 20-somethings.’ They bought the story; it ran the day before Easter, and it got 37,000 hits over Easter weekend. Folks — that’s the kind of story you want to have.”

Duin said she never  imagined she would become an authority on snake handling, but she was called to continue her narration on the topic after Mack Wolford, one of the 20-somethings spotlighted in her story, sustained a fatal snake bite at an Evangelistic rally.

“The story I put together for his death went online at 8:45 p.m. the next day; within two hours it was trending as a top story on their (The Washington Post) site for about 36 hours,” said Duin.  “It got more than 1,300 comments.  I redid the story for that got 6,500 comments.  Everyone wanted to know how this man had died.  My byline was all over the country and overseas.  I got on Facebook and I read some of the comments from other serpent handlers, and it was clear the people up and down Appalachia were tortured and traumatized by his death.”

Reporters should be narrative storytellers, Simpson advises

Photo by Allyce Andrew, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Photo by Allyce Andrew, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

David Simpson urged college students from around the South to incorporate narrative storytelling into their reporting.

“I became a manager at The AP 11 years after I graduated from college and at that time I would have told you I was a lousy feature writer,” said Simpson.  “I really didn’t have a voice as a storyteller. I had that anonymous journalism voice. You know, that old stereotype of an AP story or just your bland daily news story. That was the only voice I really felt comfortable writing in. Now don’t get me wrong, I thought I was pretty good at it and that I could really go deep into a subject and explain it clearly, but I didn’t really feel like a storyteller.”

Simpson has 31 years of journalism experience.  He began his career reporting for The Crimson White newspaper at the University of Alabama.  He later spent 17 years as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, followed by 10 years as a reporter and editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Most recently, Simpson served as the coordinator of student publications at Georgia Perimeter College, where he helped revive its student run newspaper, The Collegian.

Simpson said his experience editing for The Associated Press gave him the opportunity to study different styles of writing.  He said when he returned to reporting in 2003 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he found it fulfilling and fascinating to tell in-depth stories and started to develop his narrative voice.

Simpson then described the various elements that typically go into a narrative story, but explained that not every story has to have those elements in order to be effective.

“You can actually do some pretty brave narrative-style writing even if you don’t have all of the elements to write the classic, Pulitzer-winning, Rick Bragg narrative,” said Simpson.  “It’s doable, but there is one element that you cannot do without. That is, you’ve got to make the leap that you are the narrator. I think that’s the biggest hurdle that’s stopping students and professionals from really telling their story. What I mean is, you have to make the courageous decision to take responsibility for telling the story. It’s your job.”

Simpson then turned to the audience for an interactive exercise.  Each table of students had a piece of paper with a number and letter written on it.  Depending on what the paper said, each group had to think of campus-related suggestions of either: different kinds of people, time frames, challenges that arise or typical events that are always covered.

After several minutes, groups converged to combine their ideas into various theoretical stories that could be covered on campus and pitched them to Simpson, who provided feedback.

Caitlin Lafarlette, a 20-year-old junior from Arkansas State University, praised Simpson’s message.

“It was really informative,” said Lafarlette.  “I’m the photo editor, so I lean more toward photography, but this is the kind of news writing I want to do. And, now that I know how to do narrative writing, I think it will be a lot easier for me to incorporate that into our newspaper. So, it really helped.”

2011 Best of the South Winners

The Southeast Journalism Conference named Chelsea Boozer, a junior journalism student at the University of Memphis, the 2011 Journalist of the Year and named Dr. Michael Chute, a faculty member at Union University, as the Journalism Educator of the Year, at its 26th annual convention in Martin, TN., Feb. 11, 2012.

Boozer was selected from among seventeen students nominated by faculty advisers and peers for the award from 40 schools eligible to submit nominees. Chute was nominated by fellow faculty in the conference and chosen by a selection committee comprised of former recipients of the award.

In addition to the top two awards, 177 students were ranked in 26 categories as being among the “Best of the South” in the SEJC’s annual journalism awards competition.

The SEJC competition is open to the organization’s member schools from eight states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee —recognized in its constitution as eligible to enter the contest. This year’s competition included 433 entries from 40 eligible member schools. Judges for the competition included 23 journalism professionals from newspapers, broadcast outlets and magazines across the country.

The purpose of the SEJC contest is to function as a journalism teaching-tool, as well as a competition. All entries are given a rating, and judges are encouraged to provide comments and professional advice. The ratings and commentaries are given to each school’s faculty delegate to distribute to his or her students who enter, regardless of whether their entry won top recognition. A comprehensive list of this year’s winners is attached.

2011 “Best of the South” Winners

News Reporter
1. Cain Madden University of Mississippi
2. Ashley Falterman & Katelyn Tibodeaux Nicholls State University
3. Cole Avery University of Louisiana-Monroe
4. Chelsea Boozer University of Memphis
5. Elizabeth Conn Auburn University
6. Elizabeth Rose University of Louisiana-Lafayette
7. Jamie Futral Loyola  University New Orleans
8. Todd Barnes Middle Tennessee State University
9. Alex Brown Union University
10. Hope Rurik University of Louisiana-Lafayette
Feature Writer
1. Miriam Taylor University of Mississippi
2. Leslie Gamboni Loyola  University New Orleans
3. Miranda Dollarhide Auburn University
4. Annalise Kraus Belmont University
5. Erica Horton University of Memphis
6. Hope Rurik University of Louisiana-Lafayette
7. Will Isern University of West Florida
8. Emily Henagan University of Louisiana-Lafayette
9. Clarece Polke Florida A&M University
10. Will Tucker University of Alabama
Arts and Entertainment Writer
1. Becca Andrews Middle Tennessee State University
2. Hannah Jones University of Southern Mississippi
3. Hunter Ingram East Carolina University
4. Jhoni Jackson Georgia State University
5. Savannah Harrison Troy University
6. Chuck  Acheson Tennessee Tech University
7. Mary Margaret Alexander Mississippi State University
8. Caroline Gernhauser Spring Hill College
9. Michelle Corbet University of Memphis
10. Josh Cooper University of West Florida
Opinion – Editorial Writer
1. Tray Smith University of Alabama
2. Nicholas Markopoulos Auburn University
3. Scott Carroll University of Memphis
4. Kristen Kittell Austin Peay University
5. Margaret Brinson Union University
6. Angus McKellar East Carolina University
7. Aston Pittman University of Southern Mississippi
8. W. Paul Smith University of West Florida
9. Jeremy Smith Grambling State University
10. Erina Love Grambling State University
Sports Writer
1. John Martin University of Memphis
2. Will Trusler Middle Tennessee State University
3. James Carskadon Mississippi State University
4. James Summerlin Union University
5. Eric Roberts The University of Alabama at Birmingham
6. MyLinh Hoang Xavier University of Louisiana
7. Travis Thornell University of Southern Mississippi
8. Josh Weiss University of Tennessee at Martin
9. Stephen Wade Mississippi College
10. D.J. Dunson Georgia State University
Special Events Reporter/Editor
1. Lucy Berry University of North Alabama
2. Nicholas BeJeaux Southeastern Louisiana University
3. Melissa Holman Nicholls State University
4. Cameron Gupton East Carolina University
5. Peter Waselkov, Helena Corzan, Jacqueline Chandler University of Alabama at Birmingham
Press Photographer
1. Eli Baylis University of Southern Mississippi
2. Ebbie Davis Union University
3. Austin McAfee University of Mississippi
4. Srdjan Marjanovic University of Louisiana-Monroe
5. Jessica Wethington Louisiana Tech University
6. Drew Hoover University of Alabama
7. Whitney Jarreld Lipscomb University
8. Jordan Moore University of Southern Mississippi
9. Keli Mazza Spring Hill College
10. Eric Evans Mississippi State University
News Graphic Designer
1. David Hoernlen Austin Peay State University
2. Srdjan Marjanovic University of Louisiana-Monroe
3. Brian Pohuski University of Alabama
4. Brandi Wilson University of Alabama at Birmingham
5. Victoria Boatman University of Mississippi
6. Henrique Ruiz Harding University
7. Petre Thomas University of Mississippi
8. Cheryl DeYeso University of Tennessee at Martin
9. Sarah Hutto Troy University
10. Treasure Hightower Union University
News-Editorial Artist/Illustrator
1. Josh Clark University of Mississippi
2. Christy Walker Austin Peay University
3. Nathan Backes Mississippi State University
4. Timothy Weaver East Carolina University
5. Joseph Melancon Troy University
6. Micah Smith/Jeana Davis Mississippi College
7. Antonio Rosales Georgia State University
8. Michelle Chang The University of Alabama at Birmingham
9. Kelsey Hargrove University of Louisiana-Monroe
10. Rachel Suhs – Auburn Auburn University
Newspaper Page layout Designer
1. Miranda Dollarhide Auburn University
2. Patrick Armstrong Austin Peay University
3. Kelly Belton Louisiana Tech University
4. Josh Lemons University of Tennessee at Martin
5. Courtney Polivka Middle Tennessee State University
6. Cole Epley University of Memphis
7. Jenelle Grewell Austin Peay University
8. Sam Winstrom Loyola University New Orleans
9. Kristen Marks Union University
10. Brittany Carr University of West Florida
Magazine Page Layout Designer
1 Wilken Tisdale Florida A&M University
2 Kaitlin Riley Loyola University New Orleans
Magazine Writer
1. Marquavius Burnett University of Alabama
2. Kristen Swilley Florida A&M University
3. Melanie Ziems Loyola University New Orleans
Radio Journalist
1. Alessi Johnson University of Louisiana -Lafayette
2. Zane Hill University of Louisiana -Lafayette
3. Allison Jones University of Tennessee at Martin
Television Journalist
1. Chrissy Carter Southeastern Louisiana University
2. Sammi Bjelland Harding University
3. Stephen Quinn University of Mississippi
4. Rachel Ellis Troy University
5. Kyle Walker East Carolina University
Advertising Staff Member
1. Juan Gonzales Southeastern Louisiana University
2. James Michael Cox Southern Mississippi University
3. Jennifer Taylor Samford University
4. William Rowland Union University
5. Samantha Kendall Tennessee Tech University
Journalism Research Paper
1. Katherine Pullen Union University
2. Miranda Sain Georgia State University
3. Stephanie Katz Southeastern Louisiana University
Public Service Journalism
1. Katherine Pullen, Ebbie Davis,  Margaret Brinson Union University
2. Jenelle Grewell, Patrick Armstrong Ausin Peay State University
3. Hayley Taylor University of West Alabama
College Audio News
1. Louisiana Focus University of Louisiana-Lafayette
2. WJTM University of Tennessee at Martin
3. KDAQ 89.9 Louisiana Tech University
College Video News
1. The Southeastern Channel Southeastern Louisiana University
2. TV-16 News Harding University
3. Lumination News Liscomb University
4. Samford News Network Samford University
5. Studio 96 University of West Alabama
College Magazine
1. Journey Florida A&M University
2. Connect Belmont University
3. Bama Life University of Alabama
4. Exodus Samford University
5. The Wolf Loyola University New Orleans
College Newspaper
1. The Auburn Plainsman Auburn University
2. The East  Carolinian East Carolina University
3. Cardinal & Cream Union University
4. The All State Austin Peay University
5. The Crimson White University of Alabama
6. The Tech Talk Louisiana Tech University
7. The Voyager University of West Florida
8. The Reflector Mississippi State University
9. Sidelines Middle Tennessee State University
10. The Oracle Tennessee Tech University
College Website
1. iPulse Lynn University
2. Belmont Vision Belmont University
3. Florida A&M University
4. Cardinal & Cream Union University
5. The Link Harding University
6. The Voyager University of West Florida
7. The Crimson White University of Alabama
8. The Student Printz University of Southern Mississippi
9. Kaleidoscope University of Alabama – Birmingham
10. The East Carolinian East Carolina University
Multimedia Journalist
1. Katlyn Moncada Union University
2. Dacia Idom Louisiana Tech University
3. Kristen Swilley Florida A&M University
College Journalist Of The Year
1. Chelsea Boozer University of Memphis
2. Hope Rurik University of Louisiana-Lafayette
3. Margaret Brinson Union University
4. Hannah Rogers Mississippi State University
5. Alex Brown Union University
6. Abbey Way East Carolina University
7. Maya Jones Xavier University of Louisiana
8. Chantale Glover Florida A&M University
9. Patricia Lammle Lynn University
10. Amanada Haggard Middle Tennessee State University
College Radio Station
1. WUTM University of Tennessee at Martin
2. WTST Tennessee State University
College TV Station
1. Trojan Vision Nightly News Troy University
2. Campus 31 East Carolina University
3. Lumination News Lipscomb University
4. MSTV – 98, Take 30 Mississippi State University
5. News Watch 99 University of Mississippi

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