Stanley Nelson Rocks with “Freedom Summer” Documentary That Premieres Tuesday Night on PBS’ American Experience

June 23, 2014

It’s Great When Your College Professor Can Still Teach You Something 22 Years After You’ve Graduated.

50LogoSquare_new_450On the edge of my seat tonight learning about what was known as “Freedom Summer,” an effort to secure voter registration for residents in the state of Mississippi.

Honestly, before watching two interviews about a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres tomorrow night, I knew little about this milestone in American history.

And, I’m especially proud that my Media Production Professor from Howard University, Stanley Nelson directed the project.


Stanley Nelson

It’s been nearly a quarter century since I sat in Professor Nelson’s class learning the right way to tell a story with moving images.

Now Professor Nelson’s at it again–teaching– this time his pupils are the millions who will be watching what is destined to be an award-winning documentary.

Between now and next Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of the President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,  I expect I will be learning a lot of American history, the portion that often is relegated to the month of February for so-called “Black History Month.”

freedomsummer-film_landing-dateWhat we’re hearing this week is about the history of all Americans who were involved in ensuring that everyone has equal rights to public accommodations and in the case of Freedom Summer, is able to cast a vote and participate in the political process.

Looking forward to the Premiere of Freedom Summer tomorrow night on PBS’ American Experience.

Hats off to Professor Nelson and the documentary filmmakers at Firelight Media who tell stories about people, places and cultures that are underrepresented in the mainstream media.


Headline Headaches, “Old Fashioned” Journalism Spotlighted in Tuscaloosa News Mishap

June 20, 2014

An incorrect headline about the place where I work and a letter to the editor in today’s Tuscaloosa News raised some interesting points about journalism in the digital age where we post things online and often focus our training on preparing students mostly for content delivery in that online area.

Last week, The Tuscaloosa News included a “staff report” on the new dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences.

The story appears to have been rewritten from a news release published the day before on the University’s web site.

Problem is- the story that appeared in the newspaper incorrectly stated in the headline that Nelson was the new “dean of journalism.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only factual error in the way the story was presented.   But, we’ll save those criticisms for another day.

Here's how the story appeared in the June 12th edition of The Tuscaloosa News.

Here’s how the story appeared in the June 12th edition of The Tuscaloosa News.

Headline Dilemma

Most of us who teach journalism suspected the challenge was in the headline writing.

Anyone with experience working in producing newspaper designs knows the most difficult headlines to write are those that must fit over one column of news copy.  The small space does not lend itself to long names like “communication and information sciences.”

Those of us on the UA campus, usually just say “C&IS”   But, that is not a recognizable acronym to the general public.

Even the word “communication” is too long to fit over that column.

So what’s a responsible newspaper designer to do?



The former director of UA’s School of Library and Information Studies (and a personal friend and colleague) Elizabeth Aversa attempted to set the record straight with a letter to the editor published today.

But, the web version of her letter appears to have been edited down. So one has to see the version in the “print edition” to get the full effect of her critique.  The opening sentences of Aversa’s letter are very telling.

“Although thrilled to hear of the appointment of a dean for the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama, I am writing to correct the impression left by the headline “UA names Mark Nelson as new dean of journalism.” The College that Dr. Nelson will lead is very much more than an old-fashioned “journalism school.”

Aversa is correct that the College consists of five academic units, with the Department of Journalism being the oldest of the units.

But, the irony in her calling a journalism school “old-fashioned” is that those basic print production  skills like writing headlines for newspapers that we have traditionally taught in a copyediting or editing class are claiming less and less attention in our class.

In fact, this fall, our editing classes will be spending a lot of time editing web content in our brand new Digital Media Center.

That leaves one to question– won’t that mean less time and practice in writing one-column headlines?

The answer is probably “YES.”    There are many in our profession who believe newspapers are dying and don’t have much of a place in the “future of journalism.”

So,  it behooves journalism educators to devote more time to instructing students on digital skills that are directed at web-based, mobile platforms as the places where more and more folks are getting their news.

Still, one has to wonder does that mean we will have more editing snafus like we saw last week at The Tuscaloosa News?


So, how would I have rewritten that headline?

Well, given that “communication” is too long, I would have focused on the fact that Nelson is Vice President of Student Affairs.  It’s actually somewhat unusual for a vice president to leave that higher central administrative post and take a leadership role in a single unit.

“Nelson to
trade V.P.
title for
dean’s post’

Remembering My Toughest Journalism Professor- Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone

June 9, 2014
(Sanra Sellars-10/16/13)

Raymond Boone

Just received the very sad news tonight that one of my former journalism professors and former boss,  Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone will be funeralized tomorrow in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

My parents thought I knew that he passed away last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

They remember Boone as the very tough editor who gave me a chance to get started as a reporter right after finishing my journalism degree at Howard University in 1992.

Even before I launched into the world of broadcast journalism as a television news producer, there was the newspaper writing that I had learned to do as a news-editorial journalism major.

If I look back at those Free Press stories now, I will see that almost always my lede (the first paragraph of a news story) was rewritten.   Mr. Boone made sure that I “nailed” the point of the story in that first paragraph.

The heavy editing of my copy did me some good, a lot of good.

The fact is Raymond Boone was well-acquainted (perhaps too acquainted) with my writing as he was a member of the journalism faculty at Howard University, before launching The Richmond Free Press.

The One Journalism Class I Had To Repeat

Even though I graduated cum laude  from Howard U.,  there were two classes I had to repeat.   Professor Boone’s Copyediting class was one of them.

Apparently, I was not acquainted quite well enough with the Associated Press Stylebook.

Yes, as a veteran campus reporter (and later editor-in-chief) for THE HILLTOP, I was insulted when I saw a “D” on my grade report  (You have to make a C- or higher for a journalism class to count toward graduation).

Professor Boone and my father were friends long before I ever stepped foot on Howard’s campus.  But,  that didn’t mean Boone was going to cut me any slack.

Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.

Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.

A Stalwart for Advocacy Journalism

When we talk about what it means to do advocacy journalism,  I will always point to Raymond Boone and his editorials as the best example how it’s done.

He was critical of many of those in power and even his rival newspaper publisher in town.

Boone was proudest of his effort to move the Free Press offices to a location that was within a few feet of the Media General headquarters (former owner of Richmond Times Dispatch) where the “corporate brass” for Times Dispatch worked.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a college intern at Media General’s now-defunct afternoon newspaper, The Richmond News Leader, in 1991.

In a story published last week in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the local daily newspaper in my hometown,  Tom Silvestri, publisher and president of the Times Dispatch, called Boone “a passionate publisher, a hard-charging editor, a frank editorial writer.”

Boone took strong stands on issues through the Free Press’ editorial pages.

To this day, I still receive copies of the weekly newspaper here in Alabama, via the U.S. mail.

Each edition is that good.

Sad, but Stronger

So tonight I’m saddened by the loss of such a strong voice for journalism that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

More than a decade ago, after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication,  I had a chance to have lunch with Professor Boone and tell him about my plans to join the journalism faculty here at The University of Alabama.

So I’m glad he got a chance to see one of his students whose journalism career he helped launch become a journalism professor.

I’m a stronger writer, a better journalist and a better journalism professor because of what Raymond Boone did a quarter century ago.   He will be missed.

Five Biggest Takeaways from 2014 Southern Christian Writers Conference

June 7, 2014

Edna Ellison signs a copy of her new book, Called to Write, for Kathleen Jones (right)

For more than a quarter century, Joanne and David Sloan and family have labored tirelessly to produce one of the best Christian writers conferences in the nation.

The Southern Christian Writers Conference (SCWC) draws 200 or more people to Tuscaloosa each June.

In spite of a busy schedule this week, much of it out of town, I was pleased to make it back to Tuscaloosa in time for some potentially life-changing encounters and insights from the dozens who gathered this weekend at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church.

Here are my FIVE (5) biggest takeaways from this year’s two-day conference:

Edna Ellison shares her principles to become a writer on a mission.

Edna Ellison shares her principles to become a writer on a mission.

1.  Edna Ellison’s SEVEN Principles to Become a Writer on a Mission
I first heard Ellison, the author of 31 books and more than 400 articles, several years ago at this same conference.   It was great to see her back in the conference line-up with a brand new book she co-authored with Linda Gilden, Called to Write: Seven Principles to Become A Writer On Mission.

This afternoon, from her new book, she shared seven principles to become a writer on a mission

  1. Spirituality
  2. Scripture Study: A Biblical Basis
  3. Worldview
  4. Relationships: God, Self, Family and Others
  5. Communication (Including Speaking and Writing)
  6. Ministry  (including our role as a “word professor)
  7. Leadership (including writing for multiplication and duplication

2.  Candie Price’s  Suggestions for Social Media Marketing Strategy
I’m so glad I had a chance to hear Birmingham-based PR, Marketing and Social Media Strategist Candie Price, who contextualized all of the usual social media tips with a plea for the two dozen or so attending her session this morning to have a larger marketing plan.

I say “usual” because the topic of social media– Facebook and Twitter, in particular, has been a part of the SCWC for several years.   (I’ve moderated discussions at past conferences)

But  there are so many out there and many writing consultants simply say “you need to be there” without making a compelling argument WHY.

Candie Price from Priceless PR & Marketing Consulting gave lots of great social media tips at the SCWC this year.

Candie Price from Priceless PR & Marketing Consulting gave lots of great social media tips at the SCWC this year.

Price made that argument and a lot more in her 45-minute seminar this morning.

“Social media is not an island,” Price said.  “It has to be integrated, part of a plan.”

According to Price, that plan starts by knowing exactly who your target audience is for your book or writing.

Gathering that demographic information is a key part of the development of a larger social media marketing strategy.

“Most customers are on social media,” Price said.  “They’re searching and you want to be found.”

3.  Deborah Malone’s Strategies for Marketing My Own Book

Georgia-based fiction writer Deborah Malone gave all of those at her session something to think about when it comes to getting the word out about our books, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Malone left no stone unturned as she explained everything from how to utilize a QR code to send potential readers to one’s web site to the way in which she contacts local libraries to organize events where she can read her books, which are tied to communities at popular destinations around Georgia.

Sometimes we, as writers, can forget the most basic things such as making sure our photos on our social media pages are up-to-date.   Up until recently, I was guilty of that– having the same Facebook photo on my page for more than four years.

4.  Don Aycock’s Suggestions for THINKING like a CHRISTIAN WRITER

A Friday afternoon severe thunderstorm let up just in time for me to get indoors and catch Don Aycock’s evening keynote last night.

“It’s a difficult thing to lose your words, ” Aycock said.  “To write is to find your words.”

He reminded us that words can create and words can destroy.

As a reminder of how important what we do is, Aycock let us know that just like God has called us to be writers, He’s also called individuals to be our readers.

For Aycock, thinking like a Christian writer involves thinking about her writing as a sacred activity.

Quoting Tom Stoppard:


I think all of us at the Southern Christian Writers Conference want to “nudge the world” like Stoppard and Aycock are suggesting we can.

5. A Host of New Friends in the Christian Writing Area

As one of my colleagues noted today at lunch, some of the best lessons at a conference can come not from the speakers or facilitators, but the fellow attendees with whom you interact during breaks and meals.

Carol Weeks, a humorist, told her story at a breakout session Friday for non-fiction writers.

Carol Weeks, a humorist, told her story at a breakout session Friday for non-fiction writers.

Moderating a non-fiction book writer’s breakout session afforded me the chance to meet an author of a book on a Holocaust survivor in the Birmingham area, a Christian humorist and a writer from nearby Berry, Ala. who is preparing the story of her near-death experience.


Like any writers conference, this 2014 edition of the Southern Christian Writers Conference is just the beginning of the change that we as writers want to make in what we do.

We leave inspired to climb to higher heights with what we write hoping that we can report major progress in the days, weeks and months to come.

I certainly left today’s conference inspired, jumping right into a couple of writing projects awaiting me as I arrived home this afternoon.




Baton Rouge Visit Provides Lessons in LSU Lore

June 3, 2014

BATON ROUGE– The Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy provided an excellent opportunity for lessons in all things purple and gold.

In between learning about ourselves and leadership styles,  there have been a few moments to interact with Mike, the LSU Tiger and take in the scenes around the Journalism Building, which houses the Manship School of Mass Communication.

Here's a different vantage point to appreciate the Journalism Building at LSU.

Here’s a wide shot to appreciate the Journalism Building at LSU.

Purple and Gold blooms are part of the surroundings of the Journalism Building, which houses the Manship School of Mass Communication, our home for at least two more days.  The area around this building, only a few feet from Tiger Stadium is just beautiful.

Purple and Gold blooms are part of the surroundings of the Journalism Building, which houses the Manship School of Mass Communication, our home for this week. The area around this building, only a few feet from Tiger Stadium is just beautiful.

An afternoon trip to Mike, the Tiger's habitat turned out to be disappointed as the LSU mascot was napping next to the fence.   we didn't think it was right to try to awaken him.

An afternoon trip to Mike, the Tiger’s habitat turned out to be disappointing as the LSU mascot was napping next to the fence. we didn’t think it was right to try to awaken him.


LSU’s Ceppos Encourages SHALA Attendees to “Fill the Gap”

June 1, 2014
Manship School of Mass Communication Dean Jerry Ceppos hosted a Welcome Dinner for the 17 participants in the Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy Sunday evening in Baton Rouge.

Manship School of Mass Communication Dean Jerry Ceppos hosted a Welcome Dinner for the 17 participants in the Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy Sunday evening in Baton Rouge.

BATON ROUGE–  There’s an acronym in journalism and mass communication education that perhaps  everyone should know- SHALA.

SHALA stands for  Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy.

Tonight the 2014 edition of SHALA began at the home of the dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University.

Jerry Ceppos and his wife, Karen, welcomed 17 of us from around the country to Baton Rouge as we begin an intensive examination of what it means to be a leader of a journalism or mass communication (JMC) program in the 21st century.

In his brief opening remarks, Ceppos noted the large gap at JMC programs in need of qualified talent to provide leadership.  He sees SHALA attendees as the ones who will “fill the gap” as they step up to the plate as department chairs, directors, assistant and associate deans and deans.

He challenged those of us in attendance to get involved in helping our institutions identify what we see as our signature programs or things we do the best.

Over the next three days, we’ll tackle topics such as inclusive leadership, institutional diversity, strategic planning, assessment and leading change.



I’m Beginning June at Journalism Leadership Camp in the Bayou

June 1, 2014

It’s a new week and new month and I’m starting it all in “The Bayou State.”

Later this afternoon, I’ll be joining 16 other journalism and mass communication administrators, professors and communication professionals in Baton Rouge for the 2014 Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy.

It’s kind of a summer camp for college administrators in journalism.

For the next three or four days we’ll be talking about what it means to lead journalism programs like mine in an environment of rapid change both in media industries and in higher education.

“We started the academy to help the nation’s journalism and mass communication schools fill an increasing number of leadership positions,” said Mike Philipps, president and CEO of the Scripps Howard Foundation. “It is gratifying – and encouraging – to see so many alumni at the helm of these institutions where they are distinguishing themselves and improving the profession.”

I’m looking forward to re-connecting with several who I’ve gotten to know in national organizations like the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Broadcast Education Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists and making new friends at mass media programs around the nation.


Marie Hardin

Among those speaking this week is the newly-appointed dean of the College of Communication at Penn State Marie Hardin.

At the same time, I’ll be rubbing shoulders with giants in the journalism field like Ken Paulson, who led USA Today and now is communication dean at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.  There’s also former editor of Montgomery Advertiser Wanda Lloyd, who in another life led the Diversity Institute at Freedom Forum.

Today Lloyd is leading the Mass Communication program at Savannah State University.

As new college administrators, Paulson and Lloyd are joining me as academy participants.

Nearly 100 participants have graduated from the academy and hold various administrative positions at institutions around the country including the University of Florida, the University of Maryland, Elon University, The Pennsylvania State University, Hampton University and Northwestern.

“Nothing is more important to mass communication education than developing future leaders. That is the sole purpose of the academy, and its results already are apparent in dean, director and chair offices around the country,” said Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Manship School at Louisiana State University.


Jerry Ceppos

In a previous life, Ceppos was an editor at the San Jose Mercury News and an executive at what was Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Tonight he’s hosting all of the academy participants for dinner at his home.

It should be a memorable week!


Desegregated or Integrated: Is There a Difference?

May 17, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–  On this the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that supposedly desegregated the nation’s public schools, some have suggested the schools were never really integrated.

The U.S. Supreme Court on this date in 1954 declared “Separate but equal” is unconstitutional.  Later on the court ordered schools to dismantle desegregation “with deliberate speed” by working in five areas:

  1. facilities
  2. staff
  3. faculty
  4. extracurricular activities
  5. transportation

Wait a minute.  Did the dismantling of separate schools for whites and blacks mean those institutions were “integrated” or just “desegregated?”

You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.  During a panel discussion at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute today at a symposium “With All Deliberate Speed; Education Equity 60 Years After Brown,” University of Alabama at Birmingham Education Professor Tondra Loder-Jackson posed the definitional question to panelists.  Loder-Jackson directs the Center for Urban Education at UAB.

Here’s how they responded:

Samantha Elliott Briggs

Samantha Elliott Briggs

DR. SAMANTHA ELLIOTT BRIGGS, Consultant and Curriculum Specialist, Professor, Samford University
Integration conjures up ideas of assimilation.  Desegregation is more “all-encompassing.”  It provides choice, opportunities, and options

“I was part of a desegregation program.  I was part of the first generation of a group in 1984 to desegregate St. Louis County (Miss). Schools.

The schools were already INTEGRATED.

There were black students there, who lived in suburban neighborhoods.  But they wanted to provide a choice opportunity for students who were coming from an inner city urban environment to desegregate to have rare opportunity not only for inner city students going to the suburbs, but for the suburban students to come into the city.

“Integration will allow for us to come together and have a ‘kum ba yah,’ but without desegregation, we’re not really dealing with some of the walls, some of the attitudes and some of the behaviors

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson

DR. MICHAEL WILSON, Principal Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Ala.

“I believe that integration should be a very natural thing.  It should be like integrating ideas.

It’s coming together being a human race rather than looking at skin color and things like ethnicity and where you’re from. .. Like in desegregating the workforce, we were forced to INTEGRATE because it was not happening naturally.

It should come from our hearts, souls and who we are.   The other one (desegregation) someone has to come to tell you do it because you’re not doing it.”

Margaret Zimmerman Beard

Margaret Zimmerman Beard

MS. MARGARET ZIMMERMAN BEARD, integrated Jefferson County, Ala. School System, now retired after 51 years and 10 months 

I think there is a difference.  Desegregation is simply a dismantling or un-doing the segregation.

No thought about the mechanics of the situation, no effort to change things.

We closed black schools and showed a lack of respect for their culture and their tradition.   The culture that existed in those walls.
Integration is fine.  That’s what happened with us.

Cameron Young

Cameron Young

CAMERON YOUNG,  Senior, Spain Park High School, Hoover, Ala.

At my school, we are integrated.  We have different types of races, different colors of skin at my school.

But, there still is segregation in the lunchroom.  You have white people over here.  You have Hispanics.

And then you have black people over here in different parts of the room and they don’t really come together and speak to each other.

They’re just kind of separate.  The only time you see them coming together is in the classroom… I think we should just come together and basically be one.


State School Superindent Bice Touts Change Strategies for Alabama Schools on 60th Anniversary of Brown Case

May 17, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.– On the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated the nation’s public schools, Alabama’s Superintendent of Education has a challenge for every Alabama resident: be the voice that creates change in our schools.


Alabama State School Superintendent Tommy Bice

“If you don’t see things happening in your school system, ask why?.  You’ve been given permission to do so,” said Tommy Bice, in delivering the keynote address for a education symposium commemorating the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The symposium took place this morning at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Bice talked about the importance of 90,000 Alabama residents”reframing the message” for changing schools around what’s best for state’s children and not just about teacher salaries and benefits.

His 40-minute address centered on ways Alabamians can “imagine” the state’s school systems where accountability was based on more than just standardized test scores, where students are involved in project-based learning experiences that exist beyond the traditional 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day.

He touted the differences he’s already made since taking over as the state superintendent nearly three years ago such as the end of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.  In its place, new assessments tied to state standards are being implemented.

The change is part of new statewide effort to ensure students are “College and Career Ready,” part of the state’s “Plan 2020″ that seeks to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate.

Bice says the biggest challenge he faces as state superintendent is “getting the right people in the right seats to teach the children who believe that regardless of what they bring to the table we can make a difference.”

“We can’t continue to do school like we’ve done school.,” he said. “We’ve got to do it very differently.

Mixed Results in This Week’s Media Coverage of 60th Anniversary of Brown Decision

May 17, 2014

On this 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, the mass media have done an ok, though not outstanding, job of explaining the key issues still at play in public education today.
The 1954 decision declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.  It eventually led to desegregation (but necessarily integration) of public school classrooms.

In a story that ran on the front page of my local newspaper here in Tuscaloosa this week, Associated Press Reporters Jesse Holland and Kimberly Hefling mostly focused on Gary Orfield’s “Brown at 60″ report, which was released this week.

ABC News also published this same AP story.

Gary Orfield

Gary Orfield

Among other things, it found that in places like New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more.  Orfield is a perennial expert on the issue of school desegregation.

The report is one of the few that gives a comprehensive look at where we stand as a nation.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA is definitely to be commended for its work in this area.  I just have read an executive summary of the report released this week.

But, in reporting only on this “national” picture of Brown, the media may not go far enough.

These stories do little to make the issue of school desegregation (or in some cases “resegregation”) relevant to most Americans, in terms of their local schools.

With smaller news staffs,  most local news outlets probably didn’t bother to “localize” Holland and Hefling’s story.

While not as recent as the UCLA study,  the Brookings Institution looked at the overall issue of segregation in 2013 and examined the issue of class, which has to be included in any retrospective look at school desegregation.

Many of the pseudo-events  (i.e. rallies and press conferences) staged this week on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Brown called attention to the issue of resegregation.

For example, US News and World Report, on its web site, provided coverage of a rally by the National Education Association (NEA) among others.


WIS-TV recognizes Direct Beneficiaries of Brown

WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.

WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.

I haven’t seen many television stations like WIS-TV, which features Oveta Glover and Millicent Brown, who were among the first South Carolina students to attend all-white schools.

The NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC and perennial top-ranked Raycom-owned station included not only those from their market, but also someone who lived in Charleston (“the low country”) who was involved in desegregated schools there more than a half-century ago.

WIS-TV reporter Meaghan Norman gets a star for her story.

In spite of thin reporter ranks in, local news outlets, especially TV stations in the midst of May ratings sweeps, ought to be enterprising stories that make today’s discussion of race, education and equity relevant for their local viewers and readers.



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