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Former CBS journalist to join University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media as visiting professor

Posted on: September 9th, 2021 by ldrucker

A veteran, award-winning journalist, who has worked as a White House correspondent for CBS and as a reporter in Mississippi and throughout the U. S., will soon join the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media faculty as a visiting professor.

Randall Pinkston will teach a course in international reporting after his arrival in January.

“Prof. Pinkston will bring a level of expertise and experience to our school that only someone who has operated at the highest levels of the profession can contribute,” said Interim Dean Debora Wenger. “He has covered plane crashes and presidents, wars and severe weather — the skills he developed as a reporter and anchor — from Jackson, Mississippi to the CBS Evening News, Randall is just the guy that some of our most talented students need to learn from. We are delighted to have him in our classrooms.”

Pinkston was born in Yazoo County. He grew up in Jackson and attended public schools. He was also an active member of Mt. Helm Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson, and he participated in school organizations at Rowan Junior High and Lanier Senior High.

Randall Pinkston

Randall Pinkston

He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and transferred to Millsaps after the death of his father.

“I majored in history, intending to go to law school,” he said. “My father’s minister, the Rev. Wendell P. Taylor of Central United Methodist Church, suggested that I apply for a news trainee position at WLBT-TV. I was not accepted as a trainee, but did receive a job offer as a part-time announcer on WLBT’s sister station, WJDX-FM.”

Pinkston’s work at the radio station, while attending Millsaps, eventually led to a part-time job in the news department, as a weekend and 10 p.m. anchor and reporter.

After graduating from Millsaps, he attended a summer training program for minority journalists at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He later returned to Jackson and was promoted to 6 p.m. anchor at WLBT, becoming the first Black anchor of a major newscast at the #1 station in Mississippi

Today, Pinkston is a widely respected journalist who has worked in local and network news for more than four decades. He joined CBS as a White House correspondent and later was a general assignment reporter covering national and international stories. Along the way he also earned a J. D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Since retiring, Pinkston has taught journalism at Stony Brook University in New York, City University of New York and Morgan State University in Maryland.

Pinkston has also taught classes at UM. Throughout his career as an educator, he has taught media performance, communications law and ethics, financial reporting and international reporting.

“As a journalist and a Mississippian, I consider it an honor and privilege to be invited to serve as a visiting professor at the state’s ‘premier university’,” he said. “Based on my professional background and my experience as an instructor, I think I can assist students in preparing for careers in journalism and related fields. My goal is to provide students with instruction and exercises that will give them tools they use on the job. Overall, I hope to enhance their educational experience.”

Pinkston will also serve as an advisor for NewsWatch Ole Miss, the student-run TV news program produced from the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center, and he has been named as a fellow in the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

To learn more about the School of Journalism & New Media’s programs, please visit  jnm.olemiss.edu or email jour-imc@olemiss.edu

AP reporter Emily Wagster Pettus wins Silver Em award

Posted on: March 31st, 2019 by ldrucker

The Silver Em Awards Ceremony was held Wednesday, April 3, at the Inn at Ole Miss, the same evening dozens of journalism and integrated marketing communication students received awards for excellence.

Emily Wagster Pettus, who has been reporting on Mississippi government since 1994, was selected as the 2018 Silver Em winner.

As news staffs shrink across the country, state government reporters like Pettus have become an endangered species. Those who remain in the role understand the importance of their work in our democracy.

Emily Wagster Pettus

“When there are fewer news outlets sending local reporters to cover the state capitol, there is less coverage of local issues considered by the Legislature,” she said.

Pettus, who grew up in Texas, spent a year between high school and college as an exchange student in West Germany, then attended the University of Mississippi, majoring in journalism and German. She graduated in 1989 and worked for nearly a year at the Vicksburg Evening Post.

In May 1990, she began working for The Clarion-Ledger as the Rankin County reporter. Two years later, she moved to Ocean Springs in 1992 to work as the newspaper’s one-person Gulf Coast bureau reporter.

“It was a great job because my editors were hours away and they trusted me to cover the biggest stories in the region,” Pettus said.

During the fall of 1993, Pettus was on loan from The Clarion-Ledger to USA TODAY in Virginia, working as a copy editor for the international edition of USAT. In 1994, she was back in Jackson working as a legislative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger.

She began working for the Associated Press in January of 2001 covering mostly Mississippi politics. Pettus said she’s aware the job is particularly important during challenging times for news organizations.

The latest Pew Research Center study about statehouse reporters found that there were around 1,500 U.S. journalists who work to inform the public about the actions and issues of state government. Of those, nearly half do it full time, averaging 15 full-time reporters per state, even though numbers vary per state, often depending on population.

Emily Wagster Pettus during a recent Overby Center program about Mississippi Politics.

“I always think it’s better having more reporters covering state government, obviously, to hold the government accountable to the general public,” Pettus said. “In Mississippi, we used to have a full-time press corps of eight people. That declined a while, but it has actually gone back up in the last couple of years.”

Pettus estimates the number of Mississippi statehouse reporters is equal to the Pew Research Center study’s national average of 15 per state.

The Pew study also reported:

  • Fewer than a third of U.S. newspapers assign any kind of reporter – full time or part time – to the statehouse.
  • A majority of local TV news stations – 86 percent – do not assign even one reporter – full or part time – to the statehouse.
  • About one in six, or 16 percent, of all statehouse reporters work for nontraditional outlets, such as digital-only sites and non-profit organizations.
  • Students account for 14 percent of statehouse reporters.
  • Around 9 percent of all state legislative reporters work for wire services like Pettus. The majority of wire service reporters work for the AP.

While her main responsibility has been covering Mississippi government – (you can read her observations in real time at the hashtag #msleg on Twitter) – Pettus said she has covered a variety of stories.

“One of the greatest things about having a general assignment job is I’ve gotten to cover some interesting civil rights stories,” she said. “In 2005, I covered the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted for the 1964 killings of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County. In 2007, I covered the federal trial of (Ku Klux Klan member) James Ford Seale, who was convicted in the kidnapping that led to the death of two young black men, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, in Southwest Mississippi, also in 1964.”

Pettus said she is honored to be among other Silver Em award winners and proud she spent part of her career working for UM’s campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian and The Oxford Eagle.

Will Norton, Ph.D., dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media, said Pettus is smart, a hard worker, and a terrific reporter.

“She has more than a quarter of a century experience,” Norton said. “She has devoted herself to covering Mississippi. She has reported in-depth, on deadline and always accurately . . . Emily is a person of integrity. She can be trusted.”

Curtis Wilkie, Overby Fellow and assistant professor of journalism, agrees that Pettus has earned the trust of her readers.

“She is one of the best reporters around and has been for as long as she has been reporting, quickly and reliably, all the news out of Mississippi for the Associated Press,” he said.

The Silver Em award dates to 1958, and recipients must be Mississippians with notable journalism careers or journalists with notable careers in Mississippi.

This article was written by LaReeca Rucker. For more information about the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media’s programs, email jour-imc@olemiss.edu.