University of Alabama Student Film on Journey to Integration Wins National Award, Showcases Student Journalists’ Role Then and Now

Daniel J. Roth’s film, “Stepping Through,” on University of Alabama’s 50-year-old journey to integration has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists at the “Best Use of Multimedia.” It spots the role of UA’s student journalists in 1963 and 2013.

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I suppose we should just be excited that UA Telecommunication and Film Student Daniel J. Roth beat out students at several of the nation’s top journalism schools to win the Society of Professional Journalists’ First National Student Award for “Best Use of Multimedia.”

The 17-minute film, “Stepping Through” was chosen as the National Winner in the Mark of Excellence Awards,  an annual recognition of the top student work in journalism.

It was chosen from among 11 other regional winners that included student work at the Missouri School of Journalism, Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State and the Merrill College of Journalism at University of Maryland.

In "Stepping Through," Abbey Crain and Matt Ford recall why they wrote they published their story about Alabama's segregated Greek system in September 11, 2013.
In “Stepping Through,” Abbey Crain and Matt Ford recall why they published their story about Alabama’s segregated Greek system in September 11, 2013.

While SPJ has recognized online student work for several years, this is first time an award is being given specifically for the “Best Use of Multimedia.”

While I did not serve on the awards committee or as a judge this year,  I know there has been an ongoing discussion about the best way to judge journalistic work that is produced online, given that most student publications have a website.

But,  my excitement is not about The University of Alabama being the first to win in this brand new category.

As both a multimedia journalism instructor of 11 years here at UA and an advocate for diversity, I am most excited that this award recognizes a film showing the role student journalists played in the integration of the University of Alabama 50 years ago in 1963 and in 2013 when the University’s Greek system was integrated.

In the film, Hank Black, editor-in-chief of The Crimson White 1963-64 recounts his involvement in the integration aspect of the University of Alabama.
In the film, Hank Black, editor-in-chief of The Crimson White 1963-64 recounts his involvement in the integration aspect of the University of Alabama.

Roth’s film includes extensive interviews with Hank Black, the editor-in-chief of The Crimson White from 1963-64, who spoke of his own personal role in encouraging students from the all-black Stillman College here in town to make the move that would make history.

His words today about showing his friend, the late Dr. James Hood (who Black knew as “Jimmy Hood”) around campus prompted the name of Roth’s film, “Stepping Through.”

“I went through this period of integration frankly shaking in my boots every day.  Yet there was nothing to do except go through it.  You have to just step through,” Black said.  “What I did was nothing compared to what Vivian and Jimmy did in facing their fears and stepping across that line into a world they didn’t know.”

Yet Black’s courage seems to have been repeated five decades later when Crimson White Culture Editor Abbey Crain and Magazine Editor Matt Ford published their award-winning story “The Final Barrier” on the still segregated Greek system.

“It was the right thing to do and it needed to be talked about, ” said Matt Ford.  “These barriers stopping change needed to be addressed,”

Roth’s film also included interviews with Melody Twilley-Zeidan, who was twice denied a chance to be in a traditionally white sorority and Wendell Hudson, the first black scholar athlete at the university.

The award for the best use of multimedia had an unintended impact in shining the light on the University’s diversity efforts and the students here both in the past and the present who are integrally involved in making the University of Alabama an inclusive campus.    I can think of so many other students who are not only concerned about diversity, but also producing media projects that are directed at effecting change.

We have  Daniel Roth to thank for capturing the University’s 50-year journey from integration to Greek system integration on film.  It’s exciting to know his film, which is our story as a University of Alabama family,  is being recognized as THE BEST student multimedia work in the nation this year.

Roth will be presented his award in September in Nashville at the 2014 Excellence in Journalism Conference, sponsored by the Society of Professional  Journalists and Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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