Five Questions to Ask About the Alabama Elections

Wednesday night, journalists from around the state will meet at the Montgomery Advertiser for an SPJ-sponsored forum to look back at the media coverage of the November 2 election.

Now that the 2010 Midterm eection is behind us, the Alabama Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is convening a discussion Wednesday night specifically about what happened here with our statewide elections in Alabama.

As the Birmingham News’ Joey Kennedy wrote, Alabamians woke up to  a different state last Wednesday morning, the day after voters gave Republicans control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 136 years.

What role, if any, did the media outlets around Alabama play in this outcome?   Wednesday night, journalists from around the state will meet at the Montgomery Advertiser for an SPJ-sponsored forum to tackle some of these issues.

Here are five (5) questions, I’d like to pose as I get ready for Wednesday night’s event:

1. Did the news media focus too much of the national elections and not enough on the range of issues in the statewide elections?

2. As for the candidates, how much did the Alabama media “keep them honest” with the relatively new Web site, Bama Fact Check

3.  Were media across the state basically “unenthusiastic” about the candidates for the top offices and that had some effect on the outcome?

4.  What role did all the negative campaigning (especially vicious robocalls) play in the outcome?

5.  What role did newspaper endorsements, or in the case of the Montgomery Advertiser, the lack of endorsement, play in the election outcome?

We’ll see what we can learn from the event on Wednesday.

UGA Makes Big Plans to Mark 50th Anniversary of Desegregation

My alma mater, University of Georgia, is set to mark the 50th anniversary of its desegregation in a major way in January 2011.

How exciting to read today that my two-time alma mater, University of Georgia, is gearing up for a major line-up of events commemorating its desegregation 50 years ago.

Just a day after I wrote about the events last week here at  University of Alabama to honor those who paved the way for African Americans here at Alabama’s flagship public institution,  UGA announced its line-up of activities to take place in January 2011 on the 50th anniversary of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter’s admission to the Athens school.

Check out their Web site promoting the events and key people who have contributed to the diversity at University of Georgia.   It’s remarkable how far things have come there in just 10 years.   A decade ago, as a graduate student, I was involved in  discussions about the need for a diversity officer.

Now they have that and a lot more.    Way to go UGA!  Go Dawgs!

From Pain to Pride to Pedadogy: Alabama’s Schoolhouse Door as a Strategy for Teaching

Today in Tuscaloosa history was made as the place of the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” involving the late Governor George Wallace was officially dedicated as the University of Alabama’s new Malone-Hood Plaza.

The plaza, which includes the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower, named for the first African American student who attempted to enroll here at the University in 1956, has just recently become a center of activity as the building where it’s located, Foster Auditorium has reopened after it was re-modeled to house women’s athletic programs.

The adjective “infamous” has often been attached to Foster Auditorium because it is where members of the National Guard were called in as a governor attempted to block the admission of the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood to the University in 1963.   Thankfully, Governor Wallace was not successful.

The brief confrontation, which sparked national media attention, presented one of the South’s best universities with a bit of a black eye.  And, for many, it was a painful experience they would rather forget.

Still, up until this year, this spot on the Tuscaloosa campus of 30,000 students has been absent from the places of which many are most proud. No more. The pain associated with change that happened at Foster Auditorium and all across the South in the 1960s has been replaced with pride because of what the admission of Malone, Hood and Lucy meant for opportunities for African Americans in Alabama and around the country.

I was in class at the time of today’s dedicatory activities for the Malone-Hood Plaza. But, I used the occasion of the dedication of this public space as a teaching tool, a strategy I hope many of my University of Alabama faculty colleagues will employ as we move forward beyond November 3, 2010.  Educating prospective and current students and faculty about the significance of Foster Auditorium will be a little bit easier now.

As I thought about the events of today, another reality came to mind.

A CLASS REFLECTING UNIVERSITY’S NEW REALITY ON RACE

My Fall 2010 JN 325 multimedia journalism class is also the most racially diverse multimedia journalism class I’ve ever taught in my eight years at the university. Of the 16 students enrolled in this lecture-lab course, five are African-American, one of whom is the second African-American editor in the history of the campus daily newspaper, The Crimson White.

Some members of the class were featured in an Aug. 18 news report by Birmingham television station WIAT CBS 42.


The racial background of the students has never come up in our classroom discussion. And, why should it? The class is not a class about race or diversity right?

WRONG.

While a student’s racial background is not necessarily important, every class should embrace diversity as a component of everyday teaching and learning. In fact, we’ve already had a unit on reporting on diverse audiences. On Monday, November 8, this class will present a University-wide program to the  on Latino depictions in the media as they have been part of a national project evaluating media coverage of immigration.

The trailblazing that Autherine Lucy, Vivian Malone and James Hood did almost 50 years ago has resulted in teaching and learning experiences like I have today.   That’s the TRUE significance of a Malone-Hood plaza.. to pay tribute to those who started the journey to the rich, diverse learning environments we have in the 21st century.

A JOURNALISM LESSON IN THE MALONE HOOD PLAZA

Today’s lesson was on how to use our new pocket video cameras to shoot an interview story.   I was the guinea pig for their first video interviews and I used that opportunity for answer questions about the significance of the opening of the Malone-Hood Plaza.

The student who volunteered to ask the questions (without a script, I might add) didn’t hesitate to ask about the role of race in her “framing” of her questions.   We also talked about the importance of understanding why Foster Auditorium is a landmark worth visiting when one comes to our beautiful campus.

My answers became an opportunity to share with a new generation of students the significance of  now Dr. James Hood, Mrs. Autherine Lucy Foster and relatives of the late Vivian Malone Jones being on campus today.  But, it was also a chance to talk about how we maintain or increase diversity in both our faculty and student ranks.

THE WAY FORWARD

The dedication of the Malone-Hood Plaza is over.  But, as we look ahead the public space is an ideal conversation starter for visitors to the campus.  It also is an opportunity for those of us who teach to develop pedagogy strategies that educate students about this period in our university’s history.

Even before the plaza was under construction, in Spring 2010, I invited the plaza’s architect to visit our diversity class and discuss what factors went into designing the space.  Students who watched a documentary about the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” were challenged to write about their reactions to the plans for the Plaza.  They also were introduced to the public debate that occurred in the pages of the local newspaper.

Next semester, as I teach that same diversity course, we’ll be journeying to the Plaza for an “on-location” class so that students can see and appreciate this public space that means so much to what makes this University great.   Our mindset has changed from pain to pride and now in the way we teach (pedagogy).

The end result: the legacy of  determination, courage, and excellence in Vivian Malone Jones, Autherine Lucy and James Hood can be transferred to another generation of students who appreciate the accomplishments of these UA alumni nearly a half-century ago.

 

Alabama’s Election Day 2010 Ends Not a Moment Too Soon

If you’re like me, you are tired of all the robocalls with all the nasty attacks, the reminders from everyone from President Obama to State Senator Hank Sanders.

Did they actually think I would forget to vote?

Perhaps so since this was a rather low-key election cycle for those of us here in Alabama. None of the candidates for statewide office made this a very bitter or newsworthy race. The end result was predictable.

That’s why minutes after the polls closed. there were projections that our Tuscaloosa homeboy Richard Shelby had been re-elected. Duh? Did we really expect he wouldn’t be sent back to Washington?

Alabama was never really “in play” as the political analysts like to call states or places where the political control could shift from one party to another.

So, the yawner of a 2010 election cycle in Alabama is over. While I’ve had my ear to the cable news channels listening to returns, I’m not all that focused on Alabama.

I will be interested to see who won some of our local races in the West Alabama/Tuscaloosa area. But, then, it’s on to planning for the 2011 legislature, putting these candidates to the test to see if they will do what they said they will do.

We’ll know the names of the players in a matter of minutes.

Stay tuned.