Our 2020-2021 University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media student leaders were selected before anyone knew how much change would take place this academic year. Meeting and producing content remotely. Distribution disruptions. Making decisions about what to do when your staffs are exposed to COVID-19. Figuring out how to tell stories without in-person interviews. Trying to keep advertisers interested. And so much more. They are rising to meet the challenges.
BRIAN BARISA – NewsWatch Ole Miss Manager
After four years of broadcast classes and production in high school, Brian Barisa was immediately intrigued when he toured the University of Mississippi and realized he could become involved with the Student Media Center as early as his freshman year.
Barisa – from Frisco, Texas – is a senior broadcast journalism student spending 2020 as NewsWatch Ole Miss station manager. And what a year it’s been.
Barisa started his manager stint in January. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his student staff had to quickly adapt and change some of the original plans for this year.
Normally, NewsWatch Ole Miss would be a half-hour live broadcast on cable Channel 99 five evenings a week.
“We have switched to a once-a-week format and mostly online-only, so it allows for a slower-paced take on the high-speed world of news,” Barisa said. “The new weekly format allows us to be a hub for weekly content and gives us new ways to experiment with new ideas for the show when things are back up and running normally.”
From staff member to manager, Barisa said he’s learned numerous lessons during his time at the SMC, but most importantly, he’s learned how to share the workload with his staff.
“I have had to learn how to lead, be a leader, and delegate work down,” Barisa said. “Being so used to having to do everything on my own made me more self-reliant, and I needed to learn how to lead and give people jobs to do.”
When not at the SMC, Barisa is working as the content coordinator for Ole Miss Esports, as well as playing Rainbow Six: Siege for the varsity team.
“Esports is a new market that has been steadily emerging across the country, especially since even in a world where COVID-19 has kept people indoors, Esports tournaments are still able to go on with strong viewership,” Barisa said.
After he graduates in May 2021, Barisa wants to be able to look back to see NewsWatch return as a daily show that remains successful and maintains viewership. For this year, though, Barisa said anyone interested in joining the SMC family should be ready for new challenges each day.
“Every day is a new experience, some are slow, some are crazy fast,” Barisa said. “Be ready to work and to work fast. It’s a big news year and it’s important to stay on top of everything going on.”
Barisa’s dream is to be a news producer in Dallas or to continue working in Esports after he graduates in May 2021.
JESUS ESCOBEDO – Rebel Radio Station Manager
Senior Jesus Escobedo has been on the Rebel Radio staff since 2018. The senior digital marketing major from Zacatecas, Mexico, isn’t letting COVID-19 ruin his year.
“The pandemic has certainly affected my plans for this semester,” Escobedo said. “I have had to go back to the drawing board and readjust to the new safety guidelines. With the time I have as station manager, I want to leave Rebel Radio in a place that everybody wants to join.”
Some of his goals for the year include producing new content for the weekends and implementing a new music hour block.
Escobedo, a student in the School of Business, found the Student Media Center after a friend encouraged him to apply for a marketing internship with the station. Now, he wants to encourage other students to take a look at what the SMC has to offer.
“I would say 100% do it,” Escobedo said. “The SMC is a great place to work and get experience for your future careers. A lot of students who have worked at the SMC have gone on to do great things in life.”
Escobedo started his duties as manager this summer, and Roy Frostenson, radio station adviser, said Escobedo has done a great job.
“Jesus is a true Rebel Radio veteran having previously been a DJ and then promotions/marketing director so I was thrilled when he got his chance to be station manager and he has not disappointed,” Frostenson said. “He’s brought great diversity to our programming and his dedication and enthusiasm for the radio station is easy to see.”
Escobedo also serves as a social media ambassador for the university. After graduation in December, he plans to move to Texas or Chicago to work in the marketing field or with a music record label.
Over the last couple of years in the SMC, Escobedo says he has learned to be more of a leader and has many fond memories of working at Rebel Radio.
“My favorite thing about the SMC is that everybody is so welcoming,” Escobedo said. “My favorite memories would have to be getting to go on air in the booth and playing music for Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month.”
ASIA HARDEN – The Ole Miss Yearbook Editor-in-Chief
This year’s editor-in-chief for The Ole Miss yearbook is making history as only the second African American editor-in-chief since its first publication in 1897.
Asia Harden, a senior from Greenville, Mississippi, majoring in integrated marketing communications, is excited to lead the staff to create this year’s annual edition.
“I randomly found the Student Media Center website the summer before my freshman year, which led me to find the yearbook,” Harden said. “I tried out writing for The Daily Mississippian during freshman year, but yearbook is where my heart was so I decided to stick with it.”
Harden has not only the yearbook on her slate this year, but also serves the university campus as an orientation coordinator, a member of the Columns Society, and vice president of her sorority.
She has worked hard to hire a staff of editors, photographers, designers and writers while finding new ways to complete tasks, documenting this unusual school year.
“I was definitely expecting to be physically present in the SMC, working alongside my staff of editors, a lot more than I am, but luckily in this digital age, we’ve been able to stay on the same page as we work toward the finished book,” Harden said.
Atish Baidya, editorial director at the SMC, works with Harden.
“Asia’s dedication and enthusiasm toward this year’s The Ole Miss and her ability to handle all the uncertainty of the year so far speaks to her leadership and maturity,” Baidya said.
Many meetings for the yearbook staff have to take place through Zoom or over the phone, but that isn’t dampening Harden’s spirit or her plans to create a memorable book and experience for her staff. After graduation in May 2021, Harden wants to pursue graduate school, focusing on publishing.
“Book publishing is really my dream industry,” Harden said. “I’ve been obsessed with all things books, reading and writing since I was a kid, so I’d love to work in editorial or publicity for that.”
Distribution for the 2020 yearbooks was abruptly postponed spring semester. They arrived on campus in July, and Harden, a writer for the yearbook last year, helped the SMC staff this semester as they arranged for students to pick up their annuals or have them mailed. She hopes the 2021 The Ole Miss will have a normal distribution at the Student Union or Pavilion at the end of spring semester.
“My yearbook memories always revolve around distribution,” Harden said. “This year was a little different than usual but the feeling of holding a finished copy of the yearbook in your hand for the first time, and then sharing that joy with others, is second to none.”
ELIZA NOE – The Daily Mississippian Editor-in-Chief
Eliza Noe was impressed when a student editor from The Daily Mississippian spoke to her Honors 101 class.
“I was a little nervous to put myself out there, so my friend and I joined the staff together,” Noe said.
A native of Amory, Mississippi, Noe is a senior Honors College student majoring in journalism and minoring in art history. Noe started at the DM as an Arts and Culture writer her freshman year before moving up the ladder to become Managing Editor last year and this year’s Editor-in-Chief.
“I think it’s so beneficial to have served in all of these roles, so now I feel like I know each level’s perspectives and expectations,” Noe said. “It’s been a blast, and honestly, it’s flown by.”
While the late nights at the SMC with the other editors will be missed because of pandemic restrictions, Noe said the decision to produce only one print edition each week this semester has allowed the staff to expand its “Digital First” mentality by exploring and focusing on the growth of the online and social media community.
“Even though the pandemic was not what we were expecting, it’s given us an opportunity to meet where most of our audience is: online,” Noe said. “We are focusing on in-depth stories, an impactful front page and the growth of our online presence.”
SMC editorial director Atish Baidya noted: “Now more than ever, the work by Eliza and her staff at The Daily Mississippian is crucial to keeping the campus community informed. Eliza’s calm and strong leadership has been vital during these unprecedented times.”
Outside of working on The Daily Mississippian, Noe enjoys being around friends and family, even though that’s been more difficult because of the pandemic. She’s also involved with her sorority and the LuckyDay Scholarship program.
One of Noe’s favorite things about working at the SMC is the strong bond she’s made with the people she’s worked with, including the staff, faculty and student colleagues. She hopes to encourage younger staff members to grow as journalists, and that the work they do leads to growth at the university.
“Growth is the major goal I’m heading toward,” Noe said.
For those who might at first be nervous to join the SMC like Noe was, she said that students should push themselves to do it no matter what.
Noe’s advice: “Just do it. Send that email, send that social media DM, whatever. You’re always welcome somewhere, no matter your major or interest. It does seem a little intimidating, especially if you were like me with relatively no journalism experience, but the editors at the SMC love molding and shaping new storytellers to take over after we’re gone.”
Noe’s future plans are to find a job in reporting or attend graduate school. Her dream job would be to work at a publication like Rolling Stone.
CONNER PLATT – Advertising Sales Manager
The sales team of the Student Media Center works hard, building advertising revenue for the SMC platforms. This year, sophomore Conner Platt is leading the team.
Platt is a double major in risk management & insurance and finance from Biloxi, Mississippi. He found his way to the SMC following in the footsteps of his older brother, who worked on the student sales staff eight years ago and is now a marine insurance broker in New Orleans.
Platt started the year by working with his adviser to teach his team marketing and sales techniques.
“I really learned the ins and outs of advertising in my first year and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be manager this year,” Platt said. “I was hoping to be able to come back to school and have a normal sophomore year but unfortunately that hasn’t been able to happen. It has been very strange but I have been able to figure out everything online and am trying to make the most of this semester.”
Besides being a member of a fraternity, Platt focuses his time on his double major as well as the advertising team.
“Conner has really stepped up for us,” said Roy Frostenson, SMC assistant director for advertising. “He’s done a great job trying to drive sales and keep the sales team motivated in what’s been a tough business climate. Conner has a lot of enthusiasm and is very organized and task oriented which is exactly what you want in a sales manager – he’s driven to be successful.”
Platt said that when he looks back on 2020-21, he wants to be able to see that he and his staff hit their sales goals. “Especially with the current circumstances, that is something I would be very proud to say,” he said.
Platt’s long-term career plans? “I hope to get into insurance immediately out of college and hope to one day open up my own marine insurance firm.”
—By Lucy Burnam and MacKenzie Ross, School of Journalism and New Media graduate students and SMC alumni