Couple Provides Major Support for Fastest-growing Program

John Thomas family creates endowed faculty position for marketing communications major

John and Mary Thomas with Chancellor Dan Jones.

John and Mary Thomas with Chancellor Dan Jones.

OXFORD, Miss. – A new and forward-looking degree at the University of Mississippi will have an endowed chair, thanks to a forward-looking alumnus and his spouse who want others to experience the same inspired boost to their careers as he did.

“This gift is about helping Ole Miss students by investing in the best and brightest professors, those who will ensure the legacy of this great school is passed on through the generation of our children and their children after that,” said John B. Thomas, who with his wife, Mary, created the John and Mary Thomas Chair in Integrated Marketing Communications in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

The Thomas family gift is part of the Barnard Initiative, a faculty support campaign named for Frederick A.P. Barnard, UM chancellor from 1856 to 1861 and later chancellor at Columbia University. The Thomases’ gift will be partially matched by Abbott Laboratories for a total $1.5 million contribution. Annual income from the endowment will enhance the compensation of a leading IMC faculty member in perpetuity.

A 1985 UM graduate, John Thomas recently retired from Abbott Laboratories, where he was vice president for investor relations and public affairs, as well as president of the Abbott Fund, which provides grants to promote science, expand access to health care and strengthen communities globally. Headquartered in North Chicago, the pharmaceutical and medical supply company had 91,000 employees in 150 nations until early 2013, when Abbott Laboratories split into two separate, publicly traded companies: Abbott and AbbVie. The Thomases live in Glenview, Illinois, with their two daughters and son.

“John was an exceptional student,” said Will Norton, dean of the journalism school. “His integrity and transparency were matched by intellectual depth and rich spiritual insight. To me, this is the reason for his uncommon stewardship. Gratitude, whether based on reality or not, is a quality of a person’s character. John exemplifies character and integrity in everything he does. I am so delighted to have known him as a student and now as an alumnus with a wonderful family.”

UM Chancellor Dan Jones applauds the Thomases for their vision and generosity.

“John Thomas is an Ole Miss graduate who pursued exceptional opportunities and achieved remarkable professional and personal success,” Jones said. “We are deeply grateful that through his journey, he never forgot his alma mater and the generations of students who will follow in his footsteps. John and Mary have chosen to make significant investments in an academic discipline and a university they love. The results will come as outstanding faculty members teach and mentor our students, preparing them to perform in an ever-changing global community.”

Integrated marketing communications, or IMC, takes a holistic approach, recognizing that each contact a consumer has with a product or service, intended or incidental, has an influence in forming consumer opinion. Contacts may be through traditional channels, such as press releases and advertising, but also through an array of other means arising in the digital era. Practitioners focus on research, accuracy, consistency and clarity in messaging.

The degree in the Meek School was approved by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning in late 2010 and was first offered to students in 2011. It has more than 500 undergraduate majors, making it the fastest growing degree program on campus and perhaps in UM history. Scott Fiene, assistant professor of integrated marketing, calls the growth “phenomenal,” reflecting the degree’s value in the marketplace.

“It’s a really solid degree,” he said. “It’s an integrated marketing communications degree, but it also comes with a minor in business administration. The business minor resonates with parents, and there is incredible cooperation with the School of Business Administration. Our students are required to take classes there, and some business students are required to take IMC classes. In the industry, there’s a major need for graduates from an IMC program, but there aren’t a lot of undergraduate programs of this kind, nationally.”

Norton and faculty of the Meek School designed the degree to which the Thomases and other alumni and friends have responded with much enthusiasm.

“The spectacular growth and popularity of the IMC program in the Meek School speaks to the hard work that Dr. Norton and others have put into ensuring that Ole Miss remains one of the premier schools in the country for journalism and communications students,” Thomas said.

The faculty endowment follows two previous initiatives supported by the Thomases. A 2013 gift endowed the Thomas Family Speaker Series to help underwrite the cost of bringing leading specialists for campus visits. In 2011, the couple funded the Thomas Family Scholarship Endowment, which will assist its first student with tuition and expenses during the 2014-15 academic year.

“Mary and I consider our gifts an investment in the future of Ole Miss and the Meek School,” Thomas said. “We both strongly believe in the merits of a rigorous education in journalism – both traditional reporting and writing as well as in-depth studies in the new media that are reshaping the way people communicate.”

Mary Thomas, who also had a career in professional communications, said the whole family is happy about the gift. “It has been great for us to see how important the university is for John,” she said. “He’s a testament to what Ole Miss can do for young people. It makes us feel good to be part of it.”

Gifts of all sizes are strengthening faculty support at Ole Miss. Individuals and organizations interested in providing a gift of any size to support faculty can send a check with the Barnard Initiative and academic area noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677; call the Office of University Development at 662-915-3937; or visit online at

Ole Miss Agency Wins $2,000 Award in AT&T Challenge

Competition provides real-world experience for integrated marketing communications students

Students from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media placed second in a recent AT&T student competition.

Students from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media placed second in a recent AT&T student competition.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Agency student marketing group won second place and a $2,000 award in the EdVenture Partner AT&T SEC Campus Brand Challenge.

The University of Mississippi students created and presented an integrated marketing campaign to AT&T to introduce and market the new SEC network on AT&T’s U-Verse services. The campaign is a part of the AT&T Campus Brand Challenge, a program designed to provide students with real-world business experience by designing and implementing an integrated marketing communications plan.

“I didn’t know that I could do so much,” said JJ Townsend, campaign strategy director for the Ole Miss Agency. “I have learned a lot about working on a marketing campaign from start to finish and everything in between. I cannot wait to see the hard work coming to life.”

The campaign was designed to increase awareness and purchase of AT&T U-verse TV and the new SEC Network, which is set to launch in August. The Ole Miss plan features several innovative and engaging tactics to increase awareness of AT&T U-verse by highlighting its features.

The campaign includes the characters Harry and Jerry. Harry has U-verse. Jerry does not. Both characters are avid SEC fans, but only one can win the title of “best SEC fan.” The campaign encourages Twitter users to select whether they are #TeamHarry or #TeamJerry by following @YTYT_OleMiss on Twitter.

Each of the six schools participating in the AT&T Campus Brand Challenge is competing for an opportunity to present its ideas to AT&T executives at the term’s conclusion.

The Ole Miss Agency is a student-run marketing agency composed of students from the UM School of Business Administration and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The agency branched off of the Ole Miss Marketing Association in 2013.

Members of the agency from the journalism school who worked on the project include Chun Wu, a graduate student in the integrated marketing communications program, and Tiffany Odom, a senior IMC major from Richton. Wu led and presented the research that served as the foundation for the campaign, and Odom created the public relations portion of it.

UM Integrated Marketing Communications Program Grows to 500 Students

Meek School of Journalism and New Media created emphasis just three years ago

The University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Photo By Robert Jordan/University Communications

Farley Hall houses the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Meek School of Journalism and New Media’s undergraduate program in integrated marketing communications has swelled to more than 500 students since the course’s first classes were taught in the fall of 2011.

At the start of 2011 fall semester just 80 undergraduate students were majoring in integrated marketing communications, but that number quickly multiplied to reach the 500-student milestone this spring.

Will Norton, dean of the Meek School, said the program has succeeded in part because of the strong industry connections and expertise of program director Scott Fiene and the other members of the faculty.

“Scott Fiene and his faculty colleagues truly know integrated marketing communications, which draws on many fields of study,” Norton said. “They all have a very strong professional network for placement in internships and jobs and the professional opportunities for graduates are broad.

Fiene said the growth has been “phenomenal” and is a testament to the value of the degree.

“It’s a really solid degree,” Fiene said. “It’s an integrated marketing communications degree, but it also comes with a minor in business administration. In the industry, there’s a major need for graduates from a program like this, but there aren’t a lot of undergraduate programs of this kind, nationally.”

Recently, 50 students graduated from the program, which is the largest class yet for the new major.

The undergraduate program puts a strong emphasis on writing, with students taking both integrated marketing communications and journalism courses. Public relations, advertising, market research, account planning, communications law and other similar courses round out the requirements. Accounting, economics, management and business communication are required for the minor in business administration.

“The business minor resonates with parents,” Fiene said. “And there is incredible cooperation with the business school. Our students are required to take their classes, and some business students are required to take our classes.”

Also, a master’s degree track in integrated marketing communications enrolls more than 20 graduate students.

“Integrated marketing communications is a great fit within the Meek School of Journalism and New Media,” Fiene said. “Both majors are about communication, storytelling and content. Stories can be told through the media, and also via brands, customer experiences and many other things. Our approach is very holistic.”

The journalism school’s alumni base has been supportive of the program.

“We hear journalism graduates say they wish there had been something like this when they were in school here,” Fiene said. “It’s marketing communications, but it’s also media/journalism and business. It’s kind of a hybrid of many different things.”

Though the program has grown, it still retains a much smaller feel. Many classes have fewer than 30 students, which makes for an optimal learning environment. Five full-time IMC faculty, several journalism faculty, and a number of instructors and adjuncts teach in the program.

“We’re proud of achieving the milestone of 500 students so quickly, but it’s not about the numbers,” Fiene said. “Both degrees – journalism and integrated marketing communications – are about educating tomorrow’s leaders in the standards of excellence and the pursuit of meaningful careers.”

Journalism Senior Lands Two Final Semester National Fellowships

Bracey Harris gains valuable experience telling compelling stories using multimedia formats

Bracey Harris

Bracey Harris

OXFORD, Miss. – Bracey Harris of Byram is slated to graduate May 10 from the University of Mississippi with an impressive record of achievement, including two recent prestigious national journalism fellowships.

Majoring in broadcast journalism in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, with a minor in business administration, Harris was awarded a CBC-UNC Diversity Fellowship and a fellowship to attend the New York Times Student Journalism Institute.

The former was an intensive weeklong workshop, held in March at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The annual competitive fellowship opportunity, for 12 top students from throughout the nation, is led by UNC journalism faculty and professionals at Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s WRAL in Raleigh. The program is geared toward seniors and graduate students finishing their programs and pursuing careers as producers, reporters, photojournalists and online editors.

The workshop provided valuable hands-on experience, said Harris, who is a student in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Luckyday Scholar.

“I trained as a producer at WRAL-TV, a CBS affiliate,” she said. “At the end of the week, I produced a newscast that was put on by fellows in the program.”

In late May, Harris travels to Dillard University in New Orleans for the New York Times Institute. The institute selects 24 student journalists from throughout the nation to cover real news for two weeks under the leadership of staff from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and the host university.

“I will be responsible for writing an enterprise story about New Orleans,” Harris said. “By the end of the program, we will produce a newspaper. I have seen copies of past publications and can tell the expectations are high. What’s really exciting is that the paper will contain The New York Times masthead.”

The work is in line with her career aspirations, she said.

“Ultimately, I want to produce in-depth multimedia projects,” she said. “Writing and telling stories is what makes me happy.”

Considering Harris’ impressive student resume, reflecting the skills she has gained over her four years at Ole Miss, there’s no doubt she is ready to compete not only at the institute but also in the job market.

At the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center, manned by journalism students, Harris is multimedia editor of The Daily Mississippian newspaper and a former anchor for the live half-hour television broadcast “NewsWatch.”

In summer 2012, Harris and two other Meek School students, enrolled in a magazine writing class, taught by Dean Will Norton, producing a publication with students at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. She was named Best Magazine Writer by the Southeast Journalism Conference, and her internships include print and television work in Jackson.

“Bracey is a student with strong journalistic ability and uncommon insight into human behavior,” Norton said. “She is a person of integrity whose work reflects her character.”

Listed on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll, Harris is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the university’s highest academic honor across all disciplines, and she belongs to Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. She was secretary of the Columns Society, a group of 24 students who serve as official hosts for the university, and she has served on the Judicial Board for Panhellenic and risk chair for her sorority Kappa Alpha Theta.

As Harris looks back on her four years at Ole Miss, she recalls her first attraction to the Oxford campus.

“I came to the campus my sophomore year in high school for the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association and immediately fell in love with it,” she said. “After attending the MOST conference as a senior, my mind was set. I had the opportunity to talk with current students and admission employees and ask important questions. When I left, I knew that Ole Miss was the place where I wanted to spend perhaps the four most important years of my life.”

A graduate of Terry High School, she is the daughter of Rozelia Harris and the late Frederick Harris, both natives of Vicksburg.

Robin Street Receives Top PRAM award

Robin Street, (on right) Meek School of Journalism and New Media lecturer, who coordinates the School’s PR program, was presented the Professional Achievement Award from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi by PRAM President Shannon Coker. The award, given to one PR professional yearly, is given for outstanding achievements in the profession of PR.

Robin Street, (on right) Meek School of Journalism and New Media lecturer, who coordinates the School’s PR program, was presented the Professional Achievement Award from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi by PRAM President Shannon Coker. The award, given to one PR professional yearly, is given for outstanding achievements in the profession of PR.

OXFORD, Miss. – Robin Street, lecturer in the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media who coordinates the school’s PR emphasis, was presented the Professional Achievement Award by the Public Relations Association of Mississippi.

The award, given to one professional yearly, is the association’s top honor. It was presented to Street April 25 at a ceremony in Hattiesburg by PRAM President Shannon Coker. Recipients “embody the highest degree of professionalism, are committed to advancing the profession and have outstanding achievements in the practice of public relations,” according to PRAM.

Street was previously named PRAM’s Educator of the Year, and it is rare for an educator to be honored in the professional category. However, judges selected Street for her continued involvement in the profession, the multiple awards her work has won, and her commitment to ethics and diversity, according to Tara Burcham, PRAM vice president for awards.

“The judges said she is an inspiration to her students and other professionals,” Burcham said. “They also noted that her commitment to the field of PR is unparalleled.”

Multiple former students who are now PR professionals joined in supporting Street’s nomination.

Former student Alex May-Sealey wrote,”Her career achievements speak for themselves, but it is her enthusiasm, energy and ideas that truly make her shine as an inspiration to all. Robin is an excellent mentor and is consistently a favorite among her students and colleagues.”

Other student statements of support included, “(T)he epitome of a public relations professional.” “Trains the next generation of PR professionals while being one of the best the profession has to offer.” “A woman of integrity, keen intelligence, responsibility, calm confidence and compassion.”

“Although Ms. Street is winning this award for one year, she has practiced quality public relations for decades,” said H. Will Norton Jr., professor and dean of the journalism school.

Street’s previous awards include a Silver Anvil Award of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America, the highest award given for PR work, and more than 30 awards in the PRAM Prism and the Southern Public Relations Lantern competitions. Her work previously won “Best in Show” from in both the Prism and Lantern competitions and twice won “Judges Choice” in the Prisms.

As the PRAM winner, Street now becomes Mississippi’s nominee for the SPRF multi-state competition.

For more information on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit their website at or email


Women’s Council Legacy Award Salutes Barksdales

April 11 events honor couple for providing opportunities for young people

Donna and Jim Barksdale

Donna and Jim Barksdale

OXFORD, Miss. – Visionary education champions Donna and Jim Barksdale, of Jackson, have been selected for the 2014 Legacy Award given by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions as philanthropists, leaders and mentors and through these contributions have brought about definitive, positive change in the University of Mississippi, the state and nation.

The Barksdales will be honored April 11 on the Oxford campus. To begin the festivities, they will address students at noon in the Overby Center, followed by a reception with faculty members. The award presentation begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception and 7:30 p.m. dinner at The Inn at Ole Miss.

The couple is being honored because of their extensive and continual efforts to elevate and promote education in Mississippi. They have both initiated and built programs of scholarship and mentoring that have impacted thousands of students. They continue to create new ideas for educational improvement and provide the funds and personal time to see these programs grow and achieve success.

In reflecting on their investments that are changing the future of many Mississippians, Jim Barksdale explained that while working on public education in California, when he was president and CEO of Netscape, he realized his efforts were needed more in Mississippi. He says his home state is a solid investment “because it needs it the most.”

“Donna and I are humbled, proud and delighted to be chosen for the Legacy Award,” Barksdale said. “Happiness comes from knowing we’re doing something worthwhile. We have continued our work because we are inspired by seeing our successes reflected in positive outcomes for thousands of children. We try to make investments in philanthropy efforts where results can be measured.”

Jim Barksdale heads the Barksdale Management Corp., a philanthropic investment company, and Donna Barksdale is president of the Mississippi River Trading Co. Both have served in important leadership roles throughout the state. However, their deep desire to improve education in Mississippi has indeed resulted in effective programs in which they stay closely involved. They both define visionary leadership in education, according to the Ole Miss Women’s Council, or OMWC.

Donna Barksdale initiated and helped establish the Youth Employment Program at Lanier High School in Jackson. The program mentors high school juniors and seniors, placing them in productive summer jobs that help to prepare them for college and/or professional education. Her experiences in helping found and serving as chair of Leadership Jackson, serving as president of the Jackson Junior League and devoting her time to board service such as that for Habitat for Humanity have given her insights into educational needs.

Jim Barksdale led in establishing the Barksdale Reading Institute, which devotes programs, time and energy into discerning ways for all children to read − the basis for success. This program continues to research ways to improve resources and teaching methods that will result in better reading skills for Mississippi’s children. He is also involved with Teach for America and UM’s Principal Corps program, which also positively affects thousands of lives.

The Barksdales continue to support the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, which was key to sheltering a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Ole Miss and is considered among the nation’s top three honors colleges. They have established an extensive scholarship program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, focusing on minority students. They both serve on the board of America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Colin and Alma Powell, and are also involved in other state and national programs that benefit young people,

Mary Ann Frugé of Oxford, OMWC chair, describes the Barksdales as among the most philanthropic couples in the state and nation.

“While there are extremely generous individuals and couples throughout our society, I don’t believe any surpass Donna and Jim Barksdale,” she said. “Their deep-rooted and sincere personal outreach has made and continues to make powerful impacts in many areas. Donna and Jim have used their personal business and life successes to create programs that allow others to flourish. Their separate and individual endeavors and accomplishments epitomize what the Ole Miss Women’s Council tries to teach and support.”

Jan Farrington, a founding member and past OMWC chair, agreed, saying, “Donna and Jim Barksdale are being honored with the Legacy Award because, individually and collectively, they have focused their lives and their resources on making life better for other people. They challenge themselves and others to find ways to make a difference in Mississippi. Both of them have been and continue to be true visionaries as philanthropists, leaders and mentors. Their work in these three areas touches lives in quiet, personal ways but also brings about monumental change that makes our state a better home for everyone.”

The Legacy Award is a focus of the 14-year-old OMWC, which recognizes that meaningful lives and careers in and beyond college rely on strong relationships and nurturing support. Mentorship, therefore, is the cornerstone of OMWC scholarships, and almost 100 students have blossomed under this program.

Previous Legacy Award recipients have been Leigh Ann Tuohy, Olivia Manning, and Gov. William and Elise Winter.

OMWC’s endowments total $10.9 million, and each new scholarship is recognized in the Rose Garden adjacent to the university’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

C-Spire is the presenting sponsor for this year’s Legacy Award. FedEx Corp. is the platinum sponsor, and gold sponsors are FNC Inc., Butler Snow, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Yates Construction. Newk’s, Sigma Chi Fraternity and Sanderson Farms are silver sponsors.

To purchase an award banquet ticket ($125 per person), visit or call 662-915-2384. All proceeds from this event will benefit OMWC mentoring programs and leadership training. To learn more about establishing an OMWC scholarship, contact Sarah Hollis, associate director of University Development, at 662-915-1584 or, or visit

UM Journalism School Offers Narrative-Focused Master’s Degree

Students will take multimedia storytelling, documentary classes

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media has developed a specialized professional master’s degree to train journalists in the art of narrative storytelling.

The new program is aimed at helping media professionals improve their narrative storytelling across multiple media platforms. The new degree comes at a time when journalism is evolving.

“Journalism is changing so much,” said Joseph B. Atkins, UM professor of journalism. “The program is not only for traditional students, but professional journalists who want to raise their skills up a notch and also have the time to do those projects they don’t have the time to do in a newsroom today.”

The new master’s program was approved by the Meek School’s Graduate Faculty Committee in March 2013 and by the UM Graduate Council in October. The school joins a growing number of universities offering the same kind of course and programs, including the University of Texas, New York University and the University of California at Berkeley.

The core classes offered in the program are Multimedia Storytelling I and II, Narrative Journalism and Multimedia Documentary. In addition to those 12 hours of core courses, students will take 12 hours of electives, plus six hours devoted to a thesis project. The Meek School envisions four areas of emphasis within the new master’s track: media management, print media, broadcast media and branded media. Students would take their 12 elective hours in the area they choose.

The program benefits from the rich storytelling tradition found in the UM-Oxford community, which offers the perfect backdrop for such a program, Atkins said. The area was home to noted writers such as Stark Young and William Faulkner and to more modern writers and journalists including Willie Morris and Curtis Wilkie, the university’s Cook Chair of Journalism and a longtime reporter for the Boston Globe.

Meek School Dean Will Norton credits Atkins for starting the valuable master’s degree program.

“Professor Atkins has worked diligently to develop a program that focuses on advanced journalism techniques across multiple platforms,” Norton said. “He has used the writing workshop at the University of Iowa and other professional programs at elite universities to fashion a curriculum that will be taught by a faculty of gifted writers and editors.”

Journalism School to Host Integrated Marketing Conference

Goal is to share campus expertise with journalists and business owners

Rob King

Rob King

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media is hosting the first “Expand Your Brand” conference, an intensive, one-day event for journalists, marketers, business owners and anyone interested in growing their business through the power of social and mobile media.

The event is scheduled for 10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 27 in Farley Hall.

The keynote speaker will be Rob King, ESPN senior vice president of content for ESPN Digital & Print Media, who recently took control of the network’s “SportsCenter” program. King plans to share insights about ESPN branding and editorial strategies across multiple platforms.Read the story …

Mission Accomplished!

UM Engineers Without Borders team finishes school construction project in Togo

The Ole Miss Engineers Without Borders team visited Togo, West Africa over winter intersession to build a school for the children of the Hedome village. Photo courtesy Sudu Upadhyay.

OXFORD, Miss. – January denotes the beginning of the year, but for a team of University of Mississippi students and faculty, the month marked the end of a service project that was years in the making.

Between August 2012 and January 2014, the UM Engineers Without Borders student chapter successfully designed and built a school for the Hedome Village in the West African nation of Togo. Three faculty members representing the School of Engineering and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media accompanied 12 students to the impoverished nation. During two separate two-week trips late last summer and early last month, team members modified the designs they made to accommodate unforeseen complications of inadequate equipment and building materials.

“This has truly been a life-changing service experience for many,” said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of engineering and EWB co-faculty adviser. “I could not possibly be more proud of our students!”

Kendricks and Cristiane Surbeck, associate professor of civil engineering and EWB co-adviser, led engineering students David Austin of McComb, Ontario Berry of Mendenhall, Maddie Costelli of Gulfport, Courtney Cunningham of Chicago, Jamie Douglas of Flowood, Vera Gardner of Memphis, Tenn., Chinelo Ibekwe of Lagos, Nigeria, Diana Kaphanzhi of Oxford, David Pryor of West Point, Tara Shumate of Clinton, Haley Sims of Ridgeland and Joey White of Springfield, Ill.Read the story …

Journalism Students Gain Valuable Media Experience

UM partnerships with media help students get their work published, aired

Rachael Walker and Katie Williamson interviews Frank "Rat" Ratliff in front of Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Miss., March 15, 2013. Ratliff passed away 13 days after University of Mississippi students interviewed him about the hotel. Photo by Phillip Waller

OXFORD, Miss. – Students at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media have been gaining valuable work experience through partnerships with print and broadcast media outlets across the state.

Each year, about 60 students participate in newspaper reporting trips on which they spend a weekend writing stories or shooting photos for different papers. Broadcast students also have been working on pieces for Tupelo’s WTVA-TV and a local news website as part of the program.

In September, several students went to the Leland Progress newspaper and wrote pieces that will be used to create a magazine for visitors and newcomers. The students brought a fresh perspective, as many of them had never been to the small Delta town, said Stephanie Patton, editor and publisher of the Progress. That perspective is particularly useful for the magazine, which is also geared toward people who may not have been there before.

“It’s a great program, not just for the communities and the benefits Leland gets out of it, but it’s great for the students to get out and see different parts of Mississippi they haven’t been exposed to and also have this interaction with real business and city leaders,” Patton said. “That’s great real-world experience that you can’t always get inside a classroom.”

While in Leland, the students did a piece on Muppets’ creator Jim Henson’s ties to the area, the blues music scene and other stories.

Read the story …