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.
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.”
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: http://belmontvision.com/2018/01/thom-storey-as-remembered-by-students-friends-and-colleagues/.
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.
“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, 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.”