10 Reasons I AM Thankful Today

Time to pause on this Thanksgiving Day 2014 to list just how many reasons I have to say “I’M THANKFUL.”

thanskgivingiamge RICHMOND, Va.–    As we reach the noon hour on this Thanksgiving Day 2014,  time to pause briefly and reflect on the reason our nation breaks with routine to celebrate each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

Millions like me travel back to their hometowns to re-connect with family and join together in giving thanks. There’s no place like your home to remind of who you of how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go. I came up with 10 REASONS I am giving thanks today.

How many of them do you share with me?

A crowd of more than 300 packed the lower level of the sanctuary at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church for Thanksgiving Service 2014.   The historic Sixth Mount Zion is located in Richmond's Jackson Ward community.
A crowd of more than 300 packed the lower level of the sanctuary at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church for Thanksgiving Service 2014. The historic Sixth Mount Zion is located in Richmond’s Jackson Ward community.

1. I am Thankful for Life and Health

So many people have come and gone since last Thanksgiving.   In today’s Thanksgiving Day Message, Dr. A. Lincoln James, reminded us of the importance of just celebrating being here.   We cannot take for granted life itself and good health.

2. I am Thankful for A Family and A Home

Later this afternoon, I’ll sit down at a Thanksgiving Table with my extended family, some of whom have encountered health challenges over the past year.  But, it’s a joy to be able  to break bread with them another time.  My home of 44 years is intact, something a lot of people cannot say this Thanksgiving Day.

3. I am Thankful for A Great Work Environment and Co-workers

While I’m a long way from it today– Reese Phifer Hall where I work with a fantastic faculty as the assistant dean of administration for the College of Communication and Information Sciences is place of pleasure.  I am thankful to have a job and to be able to work every day with students, faculty and staff who are truly committed to what they do. This past year I’ve worked for both an interim dean and a new dean who challenged me to be better at what I do.  They’ve set a standard of excellence and lead by example.    I look forward to getting back to my co-workers and students next week.   I don’t take for granted this opportunity to love going to work every day at The University of Alabama.

4. I am Thankful for Safe Travels.

So far 2014 has been characterized by a good bit of travel to places near and far.   In spite of lost luggage along the way, I am thankful that I have arrived at each destination safely and mostly, on time (smile). Even in the hustle and bustle of my journeys, I have seen and experienced parts of our nation and world for the first time.  From Western Canada to Western North Carolina or two different regions of Texas and parts of Central Alabama, the travels have expanded my view of the world around me. Whether by car, train or plane, I thank God for safe travels to all of these places. gratefulgraphic

5. I am Thankful for the Opportunity to Make a Difference

I like the fact that in my work, I have the privilege of working with dozens of students every day.  I have an opportunity to make a difference in their lives and the lives of those in the community where I serve.   So I am thankful for the chance to see that I can make a difference every day that I’m alive.

6. I am Thankful To Be A Mentor and Be Mentored 

Both in my role as a faculty member and in various community organizations, I am blessed to be able to mentor young men and women even as I look to those who ave more experienced in life and can mentor me.   Both roles- mentor and mentee– are equally important and I’m grateful to be positioned to be and do both.

7. I am Thankful for Four Seasons

Here in Virginia, not too far from here, there was snow yesterday.   Early talk of a White Thanksgiving for Central Virginia went away even as those west of here experienced snowy weather 24 hours ago.  Usually I have to come home to Virginia to see snow, but in 2014, I experienced measurable snow in West Alabama last winter.   For the first time, I have leaves to rake in the backyard of my Tuscaloosa home and we’ve had our share of 90-degree heat.    It’s nice to have the four seasons even in the Deep South.

8. I am Thankful for A Vision to Make An Even Greater Impact on the World Around Me

God has given me a vision to be great at what I do so that I can impact those with whom I come in contact.  That vision has yet to be fully realized.  But, I am thankful that God has picked me to do such great things.

9. I am Thankful for Wisdom of  12 years in West Alabama

While many of my colleagues have shifted and re-adjusted in their work from place to place, now for more than a decade, I’ve been able to call West Alabama home away from home.   There’s something to be said for stability and being settled where you are even as you take in the wisdom of those around you.  I am thankful for job and career that places me in contact with those who have wisdom to share and shape my whole  lived experience. 2014image

10. I am Thankful for 33 More Days to Get It Right in 2014

For all of those things I still need to and want to do this year,  I still have time to make waves, accomplish more great things THIS year.   Even as I write this,  I am setting some 4 1/2 week personal goals for what I believe God will have me do before the New Year begins. Stay tuned!

UA Journalism Student Comments on Immigration Debate While Attending Hispanic Journalists Conference

UA Student is interviewed on her thoughts about immigration issue by KENS-TV 5 in San Antonio.

Ellisa Bray, a journalism and international studies major at University of Alabama is interviewed by KENS-TV reporter Jeremy  Baker.
Ellisa Bray, a journalism and international studies major at University of Alabama is interviewed by KENS-TV reporter Jeremy Baker.

SAN ANTONIO– A University of Alabama journalism student is offering some insight on the ongoing immigration debate.

Ellisa Bray, a Houston native, is representing the University at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) meeting here in South Texas this week.

Bray drew on her background as an international studies and journalism double major in providing her perspective on the major issue on the agenda at the NAHJ’s 30th convention.

Here’s a link to the story by KENS-TV Reporter Jeremy Baker:

UA Journalism Student Weighs on Immigration with San Antonio TV Station

San Antonio River Walk OK, but Not All That

Sorry if I’m a bit underwhelmed by San Antonio’s River Walk.

SAN ANTONIO–  What do the River Walk in San Antonio and Bryant-Denny Stadium on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa have in common?

Drum roll ……

They’re both the top tourist attractions in their respective states.

I was shocked to learn that the River Walk, which I took in Wednesday night at the end of my first day of my first visit to San Antonio, was the number-one tourist attraction in Texas.

Here's what I saw in San Antonio last night as I checked out the number-one Tourist destination in Texas.
Here’s what I saw in San Antonio last night as I checked out the number-one Tourist destination in Texas.

Really?

I mean — it’s nice and a great place to get some exercise and step away from the air conditioned convention center or hotel meeting rooms.

But, number-one in a large state like Texas?

I’m not sure this is quite the “destination” that the home of one of the top college football programs in the nation is.

I haven’t walked the entire route yet.   I only experienced part of it.   I haven’t visited The Alamo.    Maybe that’s what will seal the tourist deal for me.

Stay tuned.

 

San Antonio Express-News’ coverage of Becky Hammon Worth Going the Extra Mile To Hold In My Hand

The centerpiece on Becky Hammon in The San Antonio Express-News exemplifies the appeal of reading a national news story in the local newspaper where the story originated.

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While people could find the text and perhaps a photo with this story online, reading it as it was “packaged” “above the fold” on page A1 of Wednesday’s San Antonio Express-News was part of its appeal.

SAN ANTONIO–  Call me old-fashioned.

But I took special delight in reading San Antonio Express-News‘ Mike Monroe’s front page story Wednesday about WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon being selected as the first female paid assistant coach in the NBA.

The announcement of Hammon’s hiring by the San Antonio Spurs made national news.

The historic nature of her hire makes it a national news story.

Local Makes a Difference

But, the national media coverage (i.e. Andrew Keh’s story buried on page B13 of The New York Times) of it does not compare to the way the story was played in the paper in the hometown of the Spurs.

Along with the front page story  that included more than the expected quotes and statement from yeah management, there was Terrence Thomas’ “reaction piece” featuring Hammon’s female teammates and a perspective offered only by Roy Bragg, who’s been a Texas journalist for more than 30 years.

Those other related stories were in the SPORTS section of the Express-News.

On page A2, the paper promotes “Tomorrow’s front-page stories now available at 10:30 every night, exclusively on ExpressNews.com.

Discovered veteran sports journalism Roy Bragg while reading a print edition of The San Antonio Express-News Wednesday.
I discovered veteran sports journalist Roy Bragg’s work while reading a print edition of The San Antonio Express-News Wednesday.

Why was it important for me to read this piece Tuesday night?  I’m not sure SPEED was the motivation for me to know the story.

The perspective that only this publication provides is reason enough for it to land on my front step the next day.

And, I know the issue is not one of medium, but reader preference.

The business model doesn’t work if people like me are in the shrinking smaller and smaller minority.

But, daily newspapers all over the country are hastening their demise by making their product harder and harder to find.

Go the Extra Mile

The absolute shame is that I had to go to three locations just to find the publication.  At my hotel, I was told the Express-News delivers so few copies that if you don’t come to the gift shop within 1 hour of it opening, the papers are gone.

What’s wrong with this picture?    Is the Circulation Department at The Express-News that afraid that they will have leftover papers, so they don’t deliver many copies so they sell out in an hour?   Why not deliver 3 times as many newspapers?

I know when I’m on a plane or sitting in a restaurant, I’m usually the only one turning the pages of a newspaper while others are tapping away on their smart phones or tablets.

So that explains why this Hearst newspaper, traditionally one of the four largest papers in the state of Texas, is hard to find.

They say All Politics is Local. I enjoy reading about those politics when I visit a town in the local paper, especially when it has a national reputation.

The story in Wednesday’s Express-News about a controversial proposal to increase the storm-water utility fee was interesting to me.   It was “packaged” along with a column by David Hendricks on the BUSINESS page.

I know I’m old-fashioned.

But,  reading the local paper has an appeal that will never be replicated in an e-edition or on Twitter or some other electronic means.

 

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

Stanley Nelson, an award-winning documentary producer and leader of Firelight Media has a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres Tuesday night. Nelson taught me media production in the early 1990s at Howard University.

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-Headshot_EDIT
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

Letter to the Editor sets the record straight on a home of journalism at University of Alabama.

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?

Aversa-copy
Aversa

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?

REWRITING THE HEADLINE

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

Mourning the loss of one of the nation’s best advocacy journalists, Raymond Boone, Founder of The Richmond Free Press, whose funeral takes place Tuesday in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

(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.