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School of Journalism and New Media
University of Mississippi

Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Charles Overby

Protecting the First Amendment: Charles Overby Oversees the Freedom Forum

By Macey Baird and Robin Street

Charles OverbyFor Charles Overby, journalism has been a lifelong calling.

Overby began his self-proclaimed “love affair” with newspapers at age 11 while delivering The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger each day at 5 a.m.  Then came his high school journalism class.

“On the second day of class I remember turning to my friend and saying, ‘If they pay you to do this, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,’” Overby says.

Today, Overby is chairman and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum foundation and CEO of the Newseum, a major museum in Washington, D.C. that informs and entertains 700,000 visitors annually about history, news and freedom.

At Ole Miss, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics is named in his honor and funded through a $5 million grant from the Freedom Forum. The center brings his career full circle back to Ole Miss, where he finished in 1968, six credit hours short of a degree.

Overby credits his days at Ole Miss with preparing him for his career. He was editor of The Daily Mississippian and paid for his education by working for the sports information office of the Athletic Department and as Ole Miss correspondent for several news operations.

“I love Ole Miss in the sense that I have a lifelong passion for appreciating for what it has done for me and what it continues to do for so many people,” he says.

After leaving the university, Overby moved to D.C. to work for Sen. John Stennis from Mississippi before becoming the Washington correspondent for the Nashville Banner. Overby met Al Neuharth, owner of Gannett and founder of USA Today, when Gannett purchased the Banner.

“For whatever reason he gave me many opportunities both at the Gannett Company and the foundation,” Overby says of Neuharth..

He went on to spend 16 years working for Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper company, as a reporter, editor and corporate executive.

In 1982, Gannett appointed Overby as executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger where he led the newspaper’s news and editorial coverage of the need for education reform in Mississippi.  The result was a Pulitzer Prize in 1983.

In 1989, he became president and chief executive officer of the Gannett Foundation, later renamed the Freedom Forum. The Freedom Forum promotes First Amendment and media issues, and funds the Newseum, an interactive museum devoted to educating people about the First Amendment. It also funds the Diversity Institute, which works to keep a diverse workforce in newsrooms.

Today, Overby divides his time between Washingon (the Newseum), Nashville (the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University) and Oxford (the Overby Center).  He also travels around the country to speak about the future of newspapers and a free press.

“The future of newspapers is good.  It’s going to have a strong future in a multimedia sort of way,” Overby says. “I think we will see print for a long, long time, but we will also see news delivered on many new platforms.”

He believes the Meek School of Journalism and New Media will be a vital part of preparing students for that future.

“Journalism is one of the recognized areas of excellence at Ole Miss,” he says. “It teaches you and prepares you for a lifetime of many different opportunities. The Meek School has the right resources and the right leadership.  Now it ranks among the top journalism schools in the country.”

Overby suggests that journalism students gain a broad knowledge base early in their career.

“Pursue what you love and then the rest will fall into place,” Overby says. “It is the greatest blessing to my life and my family to find something I love doing and get paid for something as exciting as journalism.”


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Otis Sanford

Otis Sanford: The Day’s not Complete for this Commercial Appeal Editorial Editor till Someone’s Angry with Him

By Toni Lepeska

Otis Sanford spends part of his days hearing from angry people.

Despite the angry folks, though, he loves his job as editor of opinions and editorials at The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal.

Almost daily, he gets an ear full from people who don’t agree with what he said in his column or with what someone else wrote in the editorial pages. Sanford takes it all in stride.

“You can’t have a thin skin,” said Sanford, a member of the University of Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame.

Sanford, 57, said new reporters should not even consider writing opinion columns until they have done plenty of well-written, accurate reporting.

A 35-year newspaper veteran, Sanford began his love affair with newspapers as a child on the family farm in Como, Miss. Since his father was busy on the farm, Sanford would read the newspaper and report the contents to his father.

“He loved news, and I loved news,” Sanford said.

Sanford’s first reporting gig was in seventh grade when he wrote a sports story for the school paper. He later became editor of the high school paper, then joined the staff of the Ranger Rocket at Northwest Mississippi Community College. The newspaper won state awards, and Sanford became executive editor.

He then transferred to Ole Miss where he worked for The Daily Mississippian.

His first job out of college was in 1975 at The (Jackson, Miss.)Clarion-Ledger. He then worked as a reporter and assistant metro editor at The Commercial Appeal, then left in 1987 to become assistant city editor at The Pittsburgh Press. He went on to be deputy city editor of The Detroit Free Press before his return to The Commercial Appeal in 1994.

Former editor of The Commercial Appeal, Angus McEachran, hired Sanford. ““He’s the embodiment of integrity,” McEachran said of Sanford.

Sanford strongly recommends students immerse themselves in the field of journalism, getting as much hands-on experience as possible.

“The teachers were most helpful to me, but beyond that, working on the school paper … that was the most helpful,” he said. “I learned how to do journalism. I learned the value of good copy editing.

“I learned to pay attention to news. There’s no substitute for it. You have to do it to learn to do it.”

At the end of the 2010, Sanford will leave the newspaper to become the Helen and Jabie Hardin Chair of Economics and Managerial Journalism at the University of Memphis College of Communications and Fine Arts. He also plans to study urban journalism and hopes to create a course studying the role the media has had in Memphis politics and race.

He will continue to write a weekly column in The Commercial Appeal, though, so he’ll likely continue to deal with those angry people. But he sees even the anger as a positive force for journalism, because at least those people are reading the newspaper.

“People respect what you have to say whether they agree with you or not,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article was written by UM journalism graduate Toni Lepeska, a former Commercial Appeal reporter, now a freelance writer. Many thanks to Toni for donating her time and talents.


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Dennis Moore

Dennis Moore Mixes it up with the Movies in his job as Deputy Managing Editor for the Life Section of USA TODAY

By Stuart Johnson and Robin Street


Many people enjoy getting away from work by going to a movie. But what if work requires going to the movies?

Ole Miss alumnus Dennis Moore, class of ‘75, says his job as deputy managing editor for the Life section of USA TODAY is the ideal career.

“I have the best job because I get paid to go to movies, to watch TV and to read books,” Moore says. “If I weren’t paid to do this for my job, I would be doing this anyway.”

His job may sound glamorous, but overseeing entertainment coverage requires the same dedication and hard work as covering any other beat.

““We offer insight into the production of a variety of entertainment genres and into the lives of celebrities, for whom everyday people have an insatiable appetite,” Moore says. “When done well, this requires sharp reporting skills and engaging writing. It’s real news but with movie stars.”

Moore spends much of his time planning and coordinating with the editors and reporters who cover television, movies, music, books and celebrities. “I guide the collaboration that creates and distributes content on our three platforms: print, online and mobile,” he says.

Moore says he and his staff are dedicated to giving readers insight into entertainment topics. “I see movies and TV shows, and listen to music to help make decisions that will focus our coverage, to identify trends and to allow me to suggest stories that will inform our readers on how the entertainment industry works and which performers[dm1], directors and productions are worth their attention,” he says.

Because of their trusted reputation, Moore and his staff often see movies and television shows being made.  “We are proud that readers and people in the entertainment industry trust our standards of reporting, which allows us access to actors on sets and musicians in recording studios that other publications are denied,” Moore says.

Getting the facts straight gains the trust of readers, a lesson Moore learned from his time at Ole Miss. “Everything comes back to detail and attention to being correct, I learned at Ole Miss,” Moore says.

Moore’s work history includes serving as arts and entertainment editor for The Baltimore Sun and editor of Florida magazine at The Orlando Sentinel. He also worked as a reporter and features editor at The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

“Classes in reporting, feature writing and magazine production and my work on The Daily Mississippian gave me a strong foundation for the variety of jobs I have had over the years,” Moore says.  “And in my work here at USA TODAY, I continue to learn how to use new media just as students do at Ole Miss.”
For example, during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games,  Moore and a videographer created a “first” for USA Today: a daily video blog about the scene in Vancouver and the games on the newspaper’s website.

Moore says students need to take initiative to similarly think “out of the box,” He also urges them to get involved in campus media because that is where they will learn the true art of reporting.

“The experience outside the classroom is important,” Moore says. “You learn the accountability and skills and learn the impact you can have as a journalist.”


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Kevin Seddon

From the Press Room to the Board Room: How one Ole Miss Journalism Alum used his Degree to Become a Businessman

By Stuart Johnson and Robin Street

Kevin Seddon’s accomplishments have ranged far afield from his Journalism degree.

His business experience has included companies dealing with subjects as diverse as computer programming, termite inspection, acoustics and many other topics he never learned in Journalism classes.

So how did an ’88 journalism graduate get into these fields?

He began as a copywriter with several advertising and marketing  firms.  Then he was hired at Oxford Publishing, Inc. as vice-president by its founder and owner Dr. Ed Meek, for whom the Meek School of Journalism and New Media is named. While there, Seddon developed his marketing skills and learned business strategy.

Seddon left Oxford Publishing to found Vision Creek Enterprises, a marketing and business development firm.  Then he also became part-owner and vice president of operations for Sair Linux & GNU, which became the leading developer of training materials and certification examinations for the Linux computer operating system.

Then, in 2001, after selling his two previous businesses, he returned to Oxford Publishing as CEO. There, he managed what became the largest food and beverage trade show in the United States and its three market-leading publications. The company’s gross revenue increased by millions of dollars under Seddon’s leadership.

In 2003, Seddon launched his own business, HomeSafe Inspection, Inc.  The company specializes in home, energy, air quality and termite inspection using infrared and acoustic technologies and procedures that allow building inspectors to “see” and “hear” through the walls, floors and ceilings of a property.

“We developed the HomeSafe Inspection business concept around technology that my business partner, Peng Lee, developed for the USDA while working at the National Center for Physical Acoustics,” Seddon said. “Eventually, we were able to expand into multiple business sectors with our technologies including energy auditing, air quality assessments, home inspection as well as termite inspection.”

HomeSafe has since become a technological leader in the residential inspection business.  Seddon is also president and owner of Sanus Medical Acoustics, a company which developed acoustic hemostasis devices for the United States Department of Defense and assisted in development of a home tornado warning alarm.

Recently, Seddon joined Environmental Service Professionals, Inc. (EVSP.PK) as acting director of all their U.S. Divisional Operations but remains president of HomeSafe Inspection, Inc.

Seddon says that the key to his success has always been his ability to communicate effectively, a skill he learned in his Journalism classes.

“Journalism taught me how to better analyze a situation, how to understand the core of any concept, and, finally how to communicate that concept or idea to others,” Seddon says. “In business, you have to communicate at a high level. You have to know which questions to ask and quickly assimilate information and size up an opportunity.  We learned the basics of these skills in journalism.”

His former employer Meek agrees.  “His skills as a journalist made him successful in his business,” Meek says. “He has to synthesize and then communicate information in making his business successful.“

Seddon’s advice to students, whether they want go into journalism or business, is simple.

“You have to know how to write and communicate a thought that will generate a desired response to be a good journalist, and it works the same for business,” Seddon says. “Learn not just to write, but to write well and don’t settle on perfecting your art in one communication medium. Radio, TV, Print, the Internet – all must be learned if one wants to achieve success.”


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Sellers Shy

Sellers Shy: Emmy award-winning broadcast sports producer

By: Stuart Johnson

Sellers Shy turned his love of sports and competition into a broadcasting career.

Today, Shy, class of 94, produces a variety of sports under the CBS Eye.  But it all began for this Memphis native when he volunteered as a runner for CBS Sports at the FedEx St. Jude Golf Classic in 1987. Shy, a two time player of the year in golf at Memphis University School, dressed catering stations, set up the network’s towers and drove people around as needed.  Basically, he did whatever he was asked to do.

After high school, Shy majored in broadcast journalism at Ole Miss, where he quickly caught his professors’ attention.

Ralph Braseth, former director of Student Media at Ole Miss, says Shy stood out.

“I could tell by his enthusiasm he was going to be good at whatever he decided to do,” Braseth says. “He possessed a great quality: curiosity.  He is a great story teller.”

At Ole Miss, Shy directed the campus student newscast.

“During my two year stint at the campus station, I recognized that everyone isn’t like you and you aren’t like them,” Shy says. “The dynamic of ‘give and take’ is real and should always be acknowledged regardless of how high you are on the production tree.”

During his summers, Shy continued to volunteer at the Memphis Classic and other golf tournaments including the Heritage Classic in Holton Head, S.C.  and the PGA Championship. His initiative paid off when he was offered a job with CBS in 1997.

Since then, Shy has covered sporting events including the Men’s NCAA Basketball Championship, SEC Championship and even the Winter Olympic Games in Norway.

In 2005, Shy was an integral part in CBS’ coverage of The Masters which garnered an National Emmy for “Outstanding Live Sports Special.”

What has helped Shy in his career?

“I’ve always reverted back to the word persistence,” Shy says. “Persistence doesn’t require hours in the library or a coat and tie. It digs deep in the soul and asks how bad do you want to do this?  If you’re not willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done then find something else to do with your career.”

Braseth noted that quality in Shy during college.

“He had a remarkable work ethic,” Braseth says. “I look at him now, a major producer. I am very proud of him and Ole Miss should be proud of him.”

Today, Shy continues to travel around the country producing prestigious golf tournaments, college football and basketball games. When he is not, he resides in his hometown of Memphis with his wife Stephanie and his three children -Sellers, Edwin, and Gracie.


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Lee Ragland

Lee Ragland: Former Newspaper Reporter, now PR Director

By Stuart Johnson and Robin Street

Lee Ragland’s career in journalism has ranged from reporting on sports and business to his job today in public relations. But his jobs share the need for one main skill: writing.

“Learn how to write. Even in PR jobs, you need the writing samples,” Ragland says. “You have to be able to write in a concise manner. Write and write often.”

Ragland is a vice president and director of public relations at GodwinGroup in Jackson, Miss, the state’s oldest and largest communications agency. He credits his training at Ole Miss with giving him the fundamentals of those writing skills.

“Ole Miss gave me a good foundation in journalism,” Ragland says.

A ’78 graduate, he was in one of now Dean Will Norton’s first classes, News Reporting. And it was that class and the Advanced Reporting class that challenged him to become a reporter, he recalls.

“Dr. Norton understands how newspapers work and journalism works,” Ragland says. “Advanced reporting was a great learning experience that really pushed me.

Norton says Ragland really knew his stuff when he came to sports reporting.

“Lee was an exceptionally knowledgeable sports reporter when he was in school,” Norton says. “He really knew so much behind the scenes in the Southeastern Conference that he understood what angle to take on his stories.”

Ragland also worked at The Daily Mississippian as a sports reporter.

“I always thought I’d be a sports writer,” Ragland says. “As a freshman, I walked right into Brady Hall (where Journalism was formerly housed), applied and next thing I got a job.”

Ragland’s first job after he graduated was again as a sports reporter, this time for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

“I thought I would be a reporter,” Ragland says. “I didn’t think I would do anything else in my life. Ink was in my blood.”

He spent 19 years at The Clarion-Ledger as a reporter and later, an editor. For his last seven years, he switched beats to business. There, he gained knowledge he would later apply in when he moved to the GodwinGroup

“I wasn’t looking for a job, but Godwin contacted me and asked if I would be interested,” he says. “ After 19 years in the newspaper business, I probably needed a new challenge as the stories were starting to run together.”

Today, at GodwinGroup, Ragland oversees a staff of seven PR professionals who provide variety of services including public relations, issues management, media training, reputation management, litigation support, web content crisis communications.

“My background in journalism helped me understand what reporters need,” Ragland says. “I understand the thinking, the deadlines and the time management a reporter needs to get the story.”

During his 13 years there, he has worked with a wide variety of clients, including financial services, law firms, telecommunications and energy companies, hospitality industry, government agencies and trade associations.

“The aspect of the job that is most appealing that I get to work with a variety of clients and businesses with assorted needs, so no two days or alike,” he says. “ I might be working on web content or media analysis for a client and the phone rings and it is another client who has an crisis that needs immediate action.

“When you pick up the phone you never know what the client’s needs are going to be, I think that is what keeps you fresh. It is almost like a rush a reporter gets when working on a big story.”


Meek School Welcomes Board of Directors – Marcus Foster

Television Producer Extraordinaire: Marcus Foster

By: Stuart Johnson

Marcus Foster, who produces the No. 1 rated morning news show in the country, began his career in student media at Ole Miss.

“Working in student media was the best experience I had,” Foster says. “It is close to real world experience at a university setting.”

A Mississippi native, Foster first enrolled at Itawamba Community College where he worked on their school newspaper. “I’ve wanted to be a journalist since high school,” Foster says.

He transferred to Ole Miss where he was awarded a scholarship. “Ole Miss has a rich history of producing national writers and solid newspaper and broadcast journalists, including network anchors Sharon Alfonsi and Shepard Smith,” Foster says. “For me, the choice was easy.”

While at Ole Miss, Foster worked closely with Ralph Braseth, former director of the student media center.

“He [Foster] lived in Student Media,” Braseth says. “It didn’t matter what he was doing. No job was too small or too big. Marcus was there five days a week.”

Braseth describes Foster as “the best utility in fielder to come out of Ole Miss” because of his versatility and dedication to his work.

“He did everything. He was a strong writer and a strong producer,” Braseth says. “Of all students, he had everything. In terms of broadcasting, he was a remarkable student.”

Not only did Foster work at student media, but he began interning in the middle of his college career at WLBT, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, Miss.  That internship turned into a job that he worked while he traveled back and forth from Oxford to Jackson. “Unlike most college students, I had an actual job with WLBT before I officially graduated college in May 1998,” Foster says.

After college, Foster continued to produce in Jackson for almost a year, then moved to Memphis to work as a producer at WMC-TV. There he produced the news shows at noon and 6 p.m. and later became the executive producer for those programs.   Then he spent almost two years in Washington, D.C. producing at the Fox Owned station WTTG-TV.

Although his time in D.C. was worthwhile, Foster wanted to be closer to home so he took a job as as producer at WSB Television, the ABC affiliate in Atlanta, where he has now been for three years.

Today, his typical day on the job actually begins at night. He arrives at the station at 10 p.m. to begin planning the next morning’s newscast.

“Our viewers expect us to provide them with a fair, balanced and accurate summary of the important overnight news they missed while sleeping, as well as any breaking news throughout the morning,” Foster says. “My job is to select the editorial content and story placement for the two-hour newscast. Think of me as a newspaper editor for television.”

He leads a team of two anchors, two photographers, three writers, two directors, a meteorologist and the three traffic reporters it takes to cover Atlanta’s busy roadways.

If students want a career like Foster’s, he encourages them to learn everything they can by getting involved in student media.

“Students should do whatever they can at student media,” Foster says. “Get involved with organizations such as SPJ to start networking with other journalists and potential employers.”

Foster even attributes much of his success to Ole Miss.  “I owe it all to Ole Miss for having the No. 1 status morning newscast in country,” Foster says. “I am proud to be an Ole Miss graduate.”