Brittany Brown, a senior Meek School broadcast journalism senior from Quitman, Mississippi, was recently awarded a News21 national investigative reporting fellowship for student journalists.
The documentary she helped create, “American Hate,” was shown Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium. It was sponsored by the School of Journalism and New Media’s Common Ground Committee. Pizza was served following the film.
Read our Q & A with Brown below.
Q. Tell us about your University of Mississippi experience. Are you involved in student media?
A. I have been involved in the Student Media Center since my freshman year. I’ve written for The Ole Miss yearbook and The Daily Mississippian. I’ve also been a reporter and anchor for NewsWatch Ole Miss. Last year, I was the digital content producer for NewsWatch Ole Miss, and I am currently an assistant news editor at The Daily Mississippian.
Q. Describe the fellowship you won.
A. News21 is a national investigative reporting fellowship for student journalists. This summer, I spent a few months in Phoenix, Arizona at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University reporting on hate crimes, hate groups and their victims.
The program included a semester-long seminar (January to May) learning investigative reporting techniques and researching incidents across the U.S. I spent the summer mainly reporting on the African American community and doing video storytelling. I helped team-produce the “American Hate” documentary, helped co-write “A Violent Legacy,” traveled on a nationwide road trip and produced interactive storytelling.
Q. What did you learn or take away from the fellowship?
A. I learned that this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. It was such a great experience working in such a collaborative newsroom and working alongside such talented journalists and editors. I sharpened many of my technical skill, such as my efficiency in Adobe Premiere Pro, but I also learned how to properly research and build for an in-depth story.
Q. What do you hope others learn from the documentary you helped produce?
A. I hope that others realize how relevant the issue of hate is, still, in America today. It is not a thing of the past, and it is something we need to face as a country. I just hope this project expands people’s views of the world.
Today, it’s more important than ever for businesses and organizations to have a crisis management plan. And though no one likes to relive a crisis, you can learn from doing so.
In 1982, consumer research specialist Leslie Westbrook was in the “war room” during the Tylenol poisoning scandal that became a textbook case in the field of crisis management. What she learned is still important today. When dealing with controversy, it’s important to put humans first, business second.
Q. Can you take us back to the time of the Tylenol controversy? Where were you working? What was your job position at the time? When did you first hear about this controversy?
A. In 1982, at the time of the Tylenol poisoning, I had already created my consulting firm, Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates, Inc. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1968, I worked for Procter & Gamble for three years, where I was trained in classic consumer research. I then worked for a nationally prominent new product consulting firm for nine years. In 1980, I founded my consulting firm. I am a consumer research specialist/marketing strategist working with primarily Fortune 500 companies.
Joe Chiesa, then president of McNeil Consumer and makers of Tylenol, had been my client at another J&J company. I watched Jim Burke, then CEO of J&J Worldwide and the parent company of McNeil, announce on television that J&J would no longer make capsules (Too easy to tamper with. Who knew?)
All Tylenol capsules were being pulled off the shelves. Seven people had died as a result of Tylenol, which had been tampered with, and J&J did not want any more harm to their customers. They were cooperating with authorities, shutting down Tylenol capsule plants, interviewing employees . . . until the mystery was solved.
I was so impressed, so touched that the CEO of a major international consumer company was willing to lose millions in order not to hurt any more people. I wrote to Joe Chiesa to volunteer my services in any way needed. I volunteered to do their consumer research to help Tylenol, no charge. They had already done so much. I was summoned to Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania, McNeil headquarters, for a meeting with the director of market research.
I was hired (they never accepted my offer to volunteer) to be the consumer specialist to work with the Tylenol Team (the war room) to stage a Tylenol comeback. I worked with R&D as they began to develop safety packaging for current Tylenol tablets (capsules were gone) and future Tylenol line extensions to replace the Extra Strength Capsule: what it must look like, how it should be described and named … to develop trust and confidence.
R&D also was charged with replacing the much-preferred capsule form vs. tablets for Extra Strength. (They) preferred it to be shaped like a capsule for swallowability, but it must be pure white like tablets (compressed powder) to visually communicate that it “cannot be tampered with.” (Decisions had to be made about) form, nomenclature, how to motivate capsule purchasers to buy Extra Strength Tylenol again … in this new form. The caplet form was born, along with Triple Safety Sealed packaging. It changed the consumer landscape forever.
Q. For those who may not be aware of what happened, can you give us a bit more background?
A. In September 1982, seven people in the Chicago area mysteriously died. It was discovered that each of the seven (random, not related) had taken Tylenol Extra Strength capsules. Police and FBI confiscated the Tylenol from all seven homes and the stores where these were bought.
Forensics discovered that the capsules had been tampered with: capsules opened, active ingredient powder removed and replaced with cyanide powder. J&J ran full-page ads not only in Chicago papers but in all major papers around the country.
Tylenol Extra Strength Capsules were pulled off every retail shelf around the country. All Tylenol Extra Strength Capsule manufacturing plants were shut down and scrutinized. All Tylenol ES capsule packages were sent to a central location for tedious examination to see if any other capsules were tainted. There was a massive manhunt, search for a “madman” who was behind the poisonings.
Q. What were some of the strategies that you helped implement to turn this controversy around? It seems it took strategic thinking to prevent the company from being distrusted after the controversy? Can you talk a little bit about your team’s action plan?
A. Burson-Marstellar PR Agency, founded by our own Harold Burson (another Ole Miss graduate), was already working for several J&J companies. The firm was hired to handle what is now called “crisis management.”
Jim Burke, J&J CEO, worked closely and directly with the agency. He set the parameters: totally transparent, no waffling, only straight talk. Key was also to promote the actions: All Tylenol capsules removed from all retail shelves … $100 million loss in one day.
Consumers were to take any Tylenol ES capsules to any local grocery/drug to turn in (back to J&J for examination) and given a choice:
1. Refund (no sales receipt necessary), which was given as a coupon for store credit to buy anything (or)
2. Full bottle of Tylenol ES Tablets (white compressed powder/no tampering)
The news coverage was all positive due to the unfathomable humanitarian non-profit-oriented approach taken by J&J. I tested various approaches/ads/PR articles to guide J&J and Burson in the selection of the most positive, most reassuring and viable.
I was working closely with R&D on a fast-track to get the new form (caplet) and new Safety Seal Packaging in the market. I conducted focus groups in the Chicago area first, three months after the poisonings, to assess consumer attitudes toward Tylenol, J&J.
Trust was building. Consumers responded very favorably to the company’s open, transparent, humanitarian approach. We eventually conducted these focus groups around the country.
Q. The Tylenol controversy is now a textbook case for marketing and public relations classes. What do you think marketing executives learned as a result of this problem that they now teach students about?
A. Crisis management is now an industry. Crisis management is taught in universities. Crisis management agencies have proliferated. In my experience, and in my observation of corporations, when a consumer crisis occurs (and there have been many over the 36 years since Jim Burke was a human being first), no one has even attempted to follow Jim Burke. The vast majority of corporations only focus on the Bottom Line … profit, stock prices, no transparency. It is shameful.
Jim Burke was a human first, a businessman second.
In the end, Tylenol staged an unprecedented comeback and went on to far surpass the original profit projections for Tylenol ES capsules. So, J&J won on all levels.
It is heartbreaking for me to see how all subsequent CEOs of J&J have not followed the “Burke Playbook” for crisis management.
Q. What did you learn personally or take away from your experience of being involved?
A. First, I was privileged to see from the inside how dedicated all of J&J and McNeil were to the Johnson & Johnson Credo … Putting the people we serve first (www.jnj.com/credo) … Shareholders (profit) last.
>Jim Burke became and still is my hero. I have never met, worked with or read about any corporate head with his integrity and beliefs. It was an honor to work with him, the Tylenol team.
For years, I worked with the J&J family of companies. I was recommended by my clients at McNeil to other J&J companies. When I began to experience a change in the mentality/work ethic/attitudes of various J&J company management persons … less humanistic, less ethical … I stopped taking J&J clients.
Meek School students recently got the opportunity to explore the world when they participated in Global Communication Day Sept. 20 at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Students were invited to learn about opportunities to travel abroad and explore.
Zenebe Beyene, a professor and director of international programs, said the event was intended to inform students about opportunities available to them.
“The event (was) not only about study abroad; it is about internships, jobs, etc. at the international context,” he said. “For example, we (had) signed an MoU with a Jerusalem based institute that would provide internships for journalism majors or anyone who would like to write and publish stories.”
While the event was mainly for students, Beyene said it didn’t exclude adults who can study in a number of places. He also hopes it was a way of connecting other professors who could collaborate internationally on research projects.
“One of the plans I have is joint research projects with instructors and staff in other countries,” Beyene said. “There are so many interesting research projects in other countries. So, we can collaborate.
“For example, in some countries, a very serious alcohol consumption is affecting their workforce, or in others, traffic accidents are killing the workforce. How can we engage in joint research projects that would target the issues in a coordinated manner (IMC/journalism)? What kind of communication strategy would be effective to tackle such kind of issues in those countries?”
Beyene said the event was an opportunity for students to learn more about the exciting opportunities that are available to them.
Study Abroad Advisor, Rock Ford, briefs students about opportunities to travel and study abroad.
“They will be motivated to go out, explore and learn,” he said, adding that he hopes students learned that traveling abroad and learning in a new environment will significantly contribute to their professional and personal development.”
Check out this video of Curtis Wilkie, a Meek School of Journalism and New Media Overby Fellow and associate professor of journalism. Meek School graduate Adam Ganucheau, who is now a reporter at Mississippi Today, is also featured.
Becoming a book editor had always been a dream for recent Meek School graduate Hannah Fields. However, fate worked its way into her life to lead her down a different career path.
Originally from Jonesboro, Arkansas, Fields moved to Clinton, Mississippi, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in English writing at Mississippi College (MC) with hopes of landing a job among book editors in Nashville.
Before attending The University of Mississippi, Hannah Fields received her bachelor’s degree in English writing at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Hannah Fields.
She searched for jobs in the publishing industry, but came up empty handed. She said she learned that lack of networking gave her a setback chasing her editorial dream. With her background in English writing, Fields was able to land a job as a sports columnist for Rantsports.com—a professional and college sports website—which allowed her to sustain a living in her new city.
“I was covering the Tennessee Titans and some SEC football,” she said.
Before landing the job as a sports columnist, she said she never really had a passion for football until she was introduced to the sport while attending MC. Realizing the popularity of the sport within her friend group, Fields had to jump on board if she wanted to spend quality time with her friends.
“I didn’t know a lot about [football],” she said, “But when I started writing that sports column it reinforced this idea that I wanted to work in sports.”
While reading Paul Finebaum and Gene Wojciechowski’s book, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” Fields started to regret not attending an SEC school with her newfound love for football. She said she wasn’t going to make a career out of her sports column, and becoming a homebody while writing allowed depression to creep in. She realized she needed to make another career change.
Fields said she gained the confidence to follow her new passion after becoming more sports-confident.
“I said ‘I know enough to write this sports column, so why don’t I know enough to work for an [NFL] team?’” she said.
Steps In the Right Direction
Leaving the Music City behind, Fields was on a search for not only a graduate program to further her newfound career, but one with a football program she could grow to love and support.
After looking at several SEC schools with programs in the journalism field and competitive football teams, it was only natural she chose The University of Mississippi since her sister attended Rebel Nation for her undergraduate degree.
“I knew Oxford and the campus,” she said. “Then Ole Miss also had integrated marketing communications (IMC), which turned out to be the perfect fit for what I wanted to do…plus it got me back to Mississippi.”
Fields thoroughly immersed herself in the program by writing class papers on women in sports, said Chris Sparks, associate professor of IMC.
“She is a great example of someone who sets a goal and goes after it,” Sparks said. “She decided she wanted to be in sports marketing at the beginning of her first year in the graduate program at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and committed to making it happen.”
Sparks said Fields is an excellent example of someone who not only followed her dream but made it happen.
Fields graduated from the IMC program in May 2018 with the goal of being a social media coordinator for an NFL team in sight. Upon graduation, Fields applied for a position with the NFL Green Bay Packers through teamworkonline.com—a website designated to connect people to sports jobs with professional sports teams.
Having experience through an internship with the WNBA Atlanta Dream, along with her background in writing, Fields expertly landed the job. She now had her foot in the door working her dream job in the NFL.
Now as the e-commerce marketing intern for the Packers, Fields assists with promotional marketing for the Packers Pro Shop—the official retail store of the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers since 1989. She said she has mostly been writing copy for products, emails and social media.
“Hopefully this will be a launching pad from which I can do what I want to do, which is social media,” she said.
Reminiscing Over Her Roots
Although she’s on track in her dream field, Fields said there are many things she does miss about the South and Mississippi, such as the southern hospitality.
She said Southerners like herself are known for being extroverts, which seems to be lacking in her new Midwestern home.
Wisconsin might be known for its cheese and dairy, but according to Fields, midwesterners do not relish in starches, carbs and savory delights like their southern neighbors. She said the difference in food variety was something she expected when she made the move to the cheese state, but she didn’t realize it was something that would be so drastically different.
“Little stuff like food… you don’t realize is unique to where you live until you move out of [your state],” she said.
Fields might miss the warm temperatures, sweet tea and foods indicative to Mississippi, but she said she’s excited to embark on a new journey to achieve her goals as a social media coordinator in the NFL.
The freshman experience at Ole Miss is a one-of-a-kind adventure most have the opportunity to share with their mothers and fathers. However, Meek School student Madeline Quon will have to share the newest chapter of her life from across the globe as her parents Shannon and Elizabeth and brother, Jackson, settle into Tokyo for their second stint.
The Quon family has strong ties to Ole Miss. It began when Elizabeth’s father, Greg Doiron, attended Ole Miss in the 1970s. Elizabeth followed the tradition and began her undergraduate degree in 1996 where she met her husband, Shannon Quon.
(From left to right): Elizabeth Quon, Jackson Quon and Madeline Quon at one of their favorite places in Tokyo—Cinnamon’s. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Quon.
Although the path to Ole Miss looked like an obvious one for Madeline, her mother said she ventured across the country visiting several universities before finalizing her decision. Madeline eventually made her way to the Harvard of the South where she was able to scope out what would become her college of choice.
“First and foremost, it just felt the most like home to me,” Madeline said regarding her decision to attend Ole Miss.
Madeline was born in Oxford but never actually spent much time in the city. However, she knew it would be a good decision to attend Ole Miss because she has other family nearby.
“Knowing that my parents and brother are going to be in Japan, it will be nice to know that my grandparents are in New Orleans and cousins in Olive Branch,” she said.
With her family a far 6,782 miles from Oxford, Madeline said she looks at it as an opportunity to gain independence.
“If I have a problem I have to learn to solve it myself,” she said. “I can learn how to get out into the adult world.”
Madeline was able to move onto campus earlier than most students due to her acceptance into the Sally McDonnell Honors College. As her mother helped her move into her residence hall, they both knew it would not be until Christmas before the two would see each other face-to-face.
Elizabeth Quon left Tuesday morning on a flight back to Japan. Madeline said the feeling of her family being gone would not hit her until she realizes her mother cannot immediately respond to a text message or phone call.
The Quon family lived in Japan due to Shannon’s job he had in 2011. During that time, Madeline and her mother both recall the Great Sendai Earthquake that ignited a nuclear accident. It caused the family to move back to the U.S.
“I don’t think it really hit me how serious of a problem it was at the time until [officials] said there was radiation,” Madeline said.
As the Quon family separates and begins new chapters of their lives, all are excited for the adventure that will ensue. Madeline said she is excited to attend the Meek School of Journalism and New Media where she plans to receive a degree in print journalism in hopes to one day work for the New York Times.
Elizabeth said she will have a hard time leaving her daughter behind, but she is excited to return to a country that has essences of the South.
“[Tokyo] has the humidity and it has the wonderful welcoming culture full of traditions. Even though it is a foreign country, it is very familiar feeling when you are there,” she said.
By Talbert Toole, lifestyles editor of Hotty Toddy.
Devna Bose, journalism major and Daily Mississippian managing editor, was selected by the Chronicle of Higher Education for its reporting workshop in Washington, D.C.
During the workshop on Sept. 6 and 7, Bose networked with talented editors and student journalists from all over the nation, and learned tips for reporting about higher education, like how to find and read college form 990s. The Chronicle paid all expenses for the students selected.
“I applied not only because I was eager to improve my own reporting skills, but also to discover resources to bring back to the Daily Mississippian newsroom,” Bose said. “I learned a multitude of things that will allow me to more efficiently serve the LOU community as a journalist.”
In the photo above, Bose is getting help finding resources for a story from one of the Chronicle editors. The photo below is of all the students participating in the workshop.
The Meek School of Journalism and New Media faculty and students were rooting specifically for two Miss America contestants when the pageant aired Sunday, Sept. 9, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
While Miss Mississippi Asya Branch and Miss Tennessee Christine Williamson, both who have Meek School ties, were not selected among the final 15 contestants, Meek School leaders were proud that they represented the Meek School and the University of Mississippi in the competition.
Branch, a University of Mississippi junior, is a current Meek School student. According to her pageant bio on the Miss America website, Branch said the competition empowered her to embrace her past while helping children of an incarcerated parent find their way.
“Having the backbone and financial base of our family stripped away through incarceration and arrest left me hurt, confused, scared, bullied, and withdrawn,” she said. “Through the Miss America Organization, I have been able to face my fears and insecurities brought on by my father’s imprisonment. Now, I am boldly working to help other children who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances fulfill their greatest potential and realize they have an uninhibited future.”
Williamson, 22, attended UM and the Meek School as a broadcast journalism major. While at Ole Miss, she was a news anchor for NewsWatch.
According to Williamson’s pageant bio, she is an advocate for Alzheimer’s because she has lost four family members to the disease, including her grandfather, who she helped her mother take care of for 11 years.
“I watched the lengthy demise of someone I loved, and vowed to be a catalyst for change,” she said. “As a National Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Association, I have lobbied U.S. and state congressional leaders for three years on Alzheimer’s initiatives. I have raised $25,000 for Alzheimer’s Association to help the 5.7 million Americans and their caregivers fighting America’s most expensive disease.”
Meek School leaders also helped lead a Miss America watch party sponsored by the Student Activities Association inside the Student Union ballroom. Debbie Hall, a Meek School instructional assistant professor, said the watch party was organized to give UM students a way to celebrate the Meek School’s two Miss America contestants. Refreshments and games were offered.
Hall said the Meek School’s Event Planning class conducted a fundraiser for the two contestants’ platforms prior to the pageant as a way of recognizing and honoring them.
Students, faculty and alumni were encouraged to use the hashtag: #MeekMissAmerica Sunday night.
“I think this is just a further indication of the quality students we have in our Meek School programs,” Hall said.
Dr. Zenebe Beyene, a Meek School of Journalism and New Media instructional assistant professor and coordinator of international programs (second from left), is pictured with Dr. Oyvind Aadland, a representative of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and Ethiopian leaders at a meeting on nation-building in the Charles L. Overby Boardroom at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Participants were primarily from the East Coast: New York, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. with one each from Memphis, Atlanta and North Carolina. They are lawyers, IT experts, software developers, political scientists, economists, a graphic designer, theologians, etc.
The Meek School is grateful to the Freedom Forum for making the boardroom available. The boardroom is named for Charles Overby, a graduate of Ole Miss.
They’ll be rooting for Miss Mississippi Asya Branch, a University of Mississippi junior, who is a current Meek School student; and Miss Tennessee Christine Williamson, 22, who attended the Meek School as a broadcast journalism major. While at Ole Miss, Williamson was a news anchor for NewsWatch.
Dr. Iveta Imre, a professor of visual storytelling, is taking three students to Atlantic City to cover the event.
“The three students, Brian Barisa, Bryanna Bynum, and Sara Doan, will be working on stories about the girls for The Daily Mississippian, Newswatch, and Hotty Toddy,” Imre said.
The Meek School group left on Wednesday, and they will be staying through Saturday covering all activities leading up to the main pageant on Sunday.
“We applied for and received press passes, and we are planning to cover the preliminaries, other activities such as the Shoe Parade on Saturday, as well as create stories about road Rebs who are going to Atlantic City to support Asya,” Imre said.
Imre said she hopes the students learn from the experience.
“I am hoping that the students will experience reporting under pressure and on deadline as we will be Skyping live for Newswatch every night, as well as creating stories to meet DM’s and Newswatch’s daily deadlines,” she said. “We are trying to anticipate and prepare for the events, but many decisions will have to me made once we arrive on location.”
Imre said she hopes the students will create contacts with other journalists covering the pageant, and learn from observing.
“I think that it is phenomenal and pretty unusual, and I am happy this is happening as I am starting my first semester as a professor at Meek school,” Imre said. “No matter what happens on Sunday, I think this is already a great success for our girls.”
Meek School leaders are also helping lead a Miss America watch party sponsored by the Student Activities Association. The pageant will air at 8 p.m. CST on ABC. The watch party will be held at the same time inside the Student Union ballroom. All are invited.
Debbie Hall, a Meek School instructional assistant professor, said the watch party will give UM students a way to celebrate the Meek School’s two Miss America contestants. Refreshments and games will also be offered.
“When we first started talking about the Meek School sponsoring a watch party, it was to be sure that we honored the two Ole Miss contestants,” Hall said. “However, we did not want to compete with a campus-wide event. Therefore, we are encouraging our students and faculty to attend the SAA event.
“We are especially excited that the two contestants represent the Meek School. Miss Tennessee Christine Williams graduated in May as a broadcast journalism major. Asya Branch is a current IMC major.”
Hall said the Meek School’s Event Planning class will be conducting a fundraiser for the two contestants’ platforms as a way of recognizing and honoring them.
“Asya’s platform is Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents,” Hall said, “and Christine’s is the Alzheimer’s Association. We will be seeking donations to split between the two platforms.”
Hall said the class will use the hashtag: #MeekMissAmerica. Donations can be made for one platform or the other, or both platforms. Donors will be given a “Team Christine” or “Team Asya” sticker to wear.
“What are the odds?” Hall said, that two Meek School students are in the pageant. “More seriously, I think this is just a further indication of the quality students we have in our Meek School programs.”