SPJ National Staff Looking Good on Eve of Excellence in Journalism Opening Day

NEW ORLEANS– If you’ve ever been to a convention for the Society of Professional Journalists, you know there are always a great of volunteers who are dressed alike posted at all of the sessions to tell you where to go.

They’re always helpful in answering questions.

They are constantly breaking down and setting up areas during the convention.

Tonight the staff was all decked out and looking great for the Sigma Delta Chi Awards Banquet.

University of Alabama Represented in Early Arrivals at “Excellence in Journalism”

We’ve arrived in New Orleans for Excellence in Journalism ‘2011, a joint meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio-Television Digital News Association.

Professor Cummings and I were pleased to have one of our outstanding journalists, Amethyst Holmes on site for Excellence in Journalism '2011.

NEW ORLEANS– The people who make up the nation’s largest, most broad-based organization for journalists were streaming in all afternoon here at the Sheraton New Orleans, site of Excellence in Journalism.

We’re excited about being on-site for at least part of this unprecedented gathering of journalists as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) team for the best training experience of the year for journalists.

Arriving so far from Alabama delegation includes Meredith Cummings, secretary of the Alabama Pro Chapter of SPJ,  Chanda Temple from The Birmingham News,  Amethyst Holmes from the UA SPJ Chapter.

Text messages, social media employed in University of Alabama’s latest conversation about race, diversity


A student at "Check Yourself" holds up his card responding to a True-False question.

It’s not every day that students are invited to take out their phones in a large lecture hall while someone is talking or presenting.

But, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at University of Alabama’s Alston Hall where the campus chapter of the NAACP and the Student Government Association team up to challenge students to “check yourself” when it comes to handling issues of diversity on campus.

Nearly three dozen organizations sent representatives to this forum that had no panelists or experts.  Instead, everyone got involved in the discussion through responding to a series of TRUE-FALSE questions about the climate for diversity on the University of Alabama campus.

The dialogue was vigorous, yet democratic in nature as the most outspoken were in the audience, but at the front of the class.

I was invited by the NAACP chapter leaders to be one of four faculty mediators to help keep the discussions on track and step in if things got heated.

SGA President Grant Cochran spoke to those in atttendance at the "Check Yourself" forum.

SGA President Grant Cochran also addressed those in attendance.

Thankfully, we mediators did not have much to say as the discussion was more than civil.    It was refreshingly orderly and everyone kept his or her calm, an important ingredient when taking on the emotionally charged issue of race and ethnicity.

The Questions

Here are the nine True-False questions that the students tackled, many of which came from those in the audience submitting their question by text or via Twitter using the hashtag “#CheckYourself”

  1. Our campus is not diverse
  2. Greek life makes it impossible for non-Greeks to take part in the leadership on campus.
  3. Our campus is not accepting of the LGBT-Q (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning) communities.
  4. It is not acceptable for African Americans to join white fraternities and sororities.
  5. There is a substantial amount of advocacy groups for Asian students on campus
  6. Hispanics are a sub-group in the black-white spectrum.
  7. Minority groups on campus are insular and need to do a better job of making space for allies to join and participate in their groups.
  8. We as minority students are afraid to defeat The Machine (a system of white fraternities and sororities that reportedly collaborate in SGA elections and in selection of homecoming queen)
  9. The University of Alabama administration is hesitant when dealing with racial or minority issues.

Race is Still A Problem

On the same campus where former Governor George Wallace staged his infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” confrontation as Vivian Malone and James Hood integrated the UA in 1963,  there is still much to be done to ensure diversity in the student population and then to bring racial groups closer together  once they are here.

More Racial Incidents Reported

Apparently the incident this past February involving an African American student who reports being called the “n-word” by members of a white fraternity was not isolated.

Joyce Stallworth, president of the University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), of which I am a member, said she had fielded at least two reports of similar incidents at the beginning of this school year.

Stallworth told the crowd Wednesday night that both UA President Robert Witt and Provost Judy Bonner had invited the students to speak with them about the unfortunate incidents.

More than 100 people participated in the "Check Yourself" forum in Alston Hall on the University of Alabama campus.

Timing is Everything

Wednesday night’s forum came on the same day as the UA student newspaper, The Crimson White, reported on an African American female student’s unsuccessful bid to join a predominantly white sorority during the most recent rush last month, the largest in the nation.

Freshman Sherles Durham of Douglasville, Ga. reported being “dropped” in the third round.

“I think race might have come into play,” Durham told The Crimson White, which included comments from Melody Twilley Zeidan, who was rejected in the sorority rush in both 2000 and 2001.

The integration of the Greek system was a major topic for discussion at Wednesday’s forum, where one speaker made specific reference to the Crimson White article.

Leadership Tuscaloosa 2011-2012 Launches At Phelps Center Near Lake Tuscaloosa

The first workshop for Leadership Tuscaloosa involved taking a group picture, getting to know members of my class and learning about Tuscaloosa County’s history.

One of the highlights of the first full day of the program is posing for our official Leadership Tuscaloosa photo. As you can see from this shot taken moments before we were all in place, getting all 42 of us in the photo was not easy.

I’m excited to have been selected for the new class of local residents going through the Leadership Tuscaloosa Program, sponsored by the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

Actually, my colleague Lynn Brooks from our own WVUA-TV, former co-worker Tamika Alexander (now at the United Way of West Alabama) and I are among the “media types” in this year’s class.

The 29th year of the program began in earnest yesterday with the first of our monthly gatherings.   As expected, I met lots of new people right here in Tuscaloosa who were right in my backyard.

Steve Sikes talks about what his team learned in reading about the history of Tuscaloosa County while Patricia Evans Mokolo, a former broadcast journalist, assists him.

When I say backyard, I MEAN backyard.  One of my classmates is Steve Sikes, who works in the University of Alabama’s Development department  in  Temple Tutweiler, right behind my building.

A big part of our first day was spent identifying turning points or key dates in the history of Tuscaloosa County.   We put our key dates on flip charts that were posted on the wall.  Each team who worked on this assignment got up to present what they had learned in reading about a particular era in the Tuscaloosa County history.

The afternoon hours were spent getting directions about upcoming Leadership Tuscaloosa meetings and talking about leadership strategies.

Tom Harris, who retired just last year from the our faculty here at the University facilitated this part of our daylong meeting.

David Reynolds of Capstone Bank is chairing this year's Leadership Tuscaloosa class. He's our coordinator. Dr. Tom Harris, professor emeritus in Communication Studies facilitated our leadership sessions Wednesday afternoon at the Phelps Activity Center near Lake Tuscaloosa.

Listening in on Tuscaloosa Schools Listening Tour

The new superintendent of Tuscaloosa City Schools Paul McKendrick made the second stop on his listening tour at Central High School Tuesday night.

In the same room where he was interviewed by community members as a finalist for Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent two months ago, Paul McKendrick gave the mic to the community Tuesday  night.


The auditorium at Central High School was not quite as full as it was in early July when McKendrick was one of two candidates in the running to head the new school system.

But it’s safe to say the crowd of nearly 100 topped the number of those reported by the Tuscaloosa News who attended the first of three stops on McKendrick’s listening tour.

” Our purpose for tonight is to sit and listen to you.  We need to hear from you, ” McKendrick said as he invited those in the auditorium to come to one of two microphones.  “What do you want us to stop doing? What should we start doing?”

One of the highlights of the 90-minute question-and-answer session was when an impassioned industrial arts teacher from Westlawn Middle School urged McKendrick to let him use more traditional methods for teaching his classes instead of places so much emphasis on computers and technology.

“Our kids need more hands-on activities,” Harold Body said.  “The technology is fine.  It’s not meant for all kids.”

Body told of how he started industrial arts programs at the former Eastwood Middle School and how the generation of students since then have changed.

Ironically, only a few blocks from Body’s school, the old Westlawn Middle School on Martin Luther King Boulevard was razed last month to make way for the new Tuscaloosa Center for Technology.

Many of the parents and other teachers who spoke gave McKendrick an earful on a variety of topics:

  • Teachers should be ABA-certified (Applied Behavior Analysis) for those working with students with Autism.
  • Central High’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program needs the community’s support.   Teacher says: “We need you all to believe and have faith in us.”
  • The achievement gap (between students of various racial groups and various schools) needs attention — There is a “culture of  low expectations”
  • Kids today need more attention and after-school programs is one way to get them the necessary attention

Briggs to release entrepreneurial journalism book, speak in New Orleans

Mark Briggs, author of JournalismNEXT, has completed and release later this fall a new book on entrepreneurial journalism.


As a big fan of Mark Briggs, I am excited to learn that he’s about to release another book.  This one will be focused on a topic that we all need to be giving some attention– entrepreneurial journalism.

And, best of all, we will get to hear him at the upcoming Excellence in Journalism conference sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio-TV Digital News Association later this month.

This semester my cross-media reporting class is using his latest book, JournalismNext for the second fall semester in a row.

I also enjoyed his e-book, Journalism 2.0 a few years in teaching a digital media workshop course.

Briggs, like me, has a background in television news.  (He’s on the west coast, while I worked on the East Coast in the Richmond, Va. market)

We all need to understand more about starting news operations that are viable and that are able to sustain themselves in tough economic times.

What’s in this new book

According to Briggs, who is director of digital media for King 5 Television in Seattle and a Ford Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism,  we must few understand the news ecosystem and the idea of disruption.

Based on what I could find on the publishers Web site, in eight chapters, readers of Entrepreneurial Journalism learn how to go where the money is, innovate and turn their ideas into a business.

This is exactly the kind of knowledge that journalism students need to have if they are going to make their own way in our profession rather than beg someone to hire them.

A few years, I used to encourage students to read about disruptive innovations.   a term coined by Clayton Christensen.      This kind of information is certainly still relevant today.

What appears to be different is that Briggs is applying these ideas of innovation to the situation we have in

Mark Briggs' newest book is expected to be released this fall.

journalism where the business model is broken.

People are not reading the newspaper the same way they did 10 years ago or watching television newscasts the same they did in the era of the network evening news.

Our challenge as educators is to connect students who are passionate about journalism to the tools they need to find and bring existence the NEW way of delivering news and information, whatever that is.

Interestingly enough, I will be teaching a class related this topic next semester.  Can’t wait to see Brigg’s new book.

Briggs Headed to New Orleans

As a member of the SPJ National Board, I take great pleasure in knowing that Briggs will be among the keynote speakers at our annual convention, which kicks off in about three weeks in the Big Easy.

The list of speakers for the conference is awesome.  But, Briggs is among those I would love to hear.


Did Soledad O’Brien Show Too Much Leg On Magazine Cover?

The depiction of CNN anchor and correspondent Soledad O’Brien on the cover of the August 4, 2011 edition of Diverse Issues in HIgher Education raises some interesting questions about the unintended impact of magazine covers, especially those related to gender and racial diversity.

I usually don’t pay much attention to the ‘letters’ section of Diverse Issues in Higher Education when it arrives in my mailbox twice a month.

But,  after the great journalism-themed August 4 edition that came out last month,  I was interested to see the reader reaction.

Instead of responding to the story about CNN Correspondent Soledad O’Brien’s upcoming “In America” specials (Latino in America 2 airs September 25 and Black in America 4 premieres in November) the reader was concerned about the depiction of O’Brien, on the cover.

Was the former NBC “Weekend Today” anchor and Harvard graduate presented in a pose that was too provocative?

Did it send the wrong message?

The photo credit only says the image was taken by Greg Miles, presumably just  for Diverse Magazine.   It was unlike the images of O’Brien inside the magazine, which were provided by CNN.

It’s certainly a valid question to pose to Diverse Issues Photo Editor Erica Antonelli.

Here’s the letter from Dr. Laina King, director of Diversity in Life Science Programs Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology  as it appears in this week’s (Sept 1, 2011) issue of Diverse:

I have gotten some comments from individuals who read Diverse about the cover of the issue on journalism.  It is fairly suggestive.  We are not in the publishing industry and so claim no expertise in this area.  I just thought you might want to know what some reactions were to the cover.

It does beg the question if we are trying to get students, especially women and minorities, into college and graduate program, what message does the cover send? Why couldn’t the woman on the cover be sitting behind a desk?

What the Experts Say

While I don’t teach magazine design classes in my role on the journalism faculty at The University of Alabama, I do know a little about publication design as it is part of having formal training in journalism and mass communication.

This is what Sammye Johnson and Patricia Prijatel, authors of The Magazine From Cover to Cover,  call a “Multi-theme, one-image” cover.   It’s the prevailing approach for magazines today designed to grab attention with the image and “clinch the sale” with the cover lines.

Elsewhere in their magazine textbook, Johnson and Prijatel, remind us that magazine cover have the ability to “create cultural images through their covers,” often creating a bond between readers and  movie stars or celebrities.

Soledad’s Star Power

In this instance, the reasonably attractive and well-known anchor and reporter O’Brien, not unlike other television on-air personalities, helps to sell DIVERSE Magazine.

She’s recognizable by many who watch television news (an increasingly smaller part of the American population)  and a celebrity in the broadest sense of the word.    Like all on-air “talent,” she’s part of the brand image associate with CNN’s “In America” documentary unit.

In past years, this same publication has featured other broadcast journalists on its cover– CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux was on the cover a few years ago.

Last year, CBS/60 Minutes Correspondent Byron Pitts was their cover for the annual journalism edition.

You’ll notice that Pitts is presented standing in a conservative business suit,  more consistent with the work-oriented/administrative portrayals of most academics who appear on the cover of this magazine twice a month.

My two cents

I think Dr. King and her colleagues have a point.   When considered in context of most magazine covers for DIVERSE Magazine  (click here to see recent covers),  the lady in the red dress with her legs crossed is a little unusual and could have an unintended effect.

Would I put O’Brien behind a desk next time?  No.

Maybe a tighter (more close-up) photo would be a better choice.   That’s just a matter of Antonelli and her staff taking a little more time editing the cover photograph.  It’s just one suggestion to the DIVERSE Magazine designers.

Since DIVERSE Issues in Higher Education is not really a popular press magazine,  but a trade magazine for those in higher education, I think we ought to focus a little bit more on the information about the trade and not the superficial issues like how much of the cover subject’s leg is showing.

That’s just one African-American male broadcast journalist’s opinion.