Melanie L. Stone1
Georgia Southern University, USA
The National Press and the University of Mississippi: Forty Years After
October 1, 2002, the University of Mississippi launched a year-long
celebration titled "Open Doors" commemorating 40 years of
desegregation. Three major national newspapers in the United States - The New York Times
, The Washington Post
, and USA Today
- published articles on the event. The New
1,575-word article appeared on page one of section A. The Washington Post
published a 6,275-word feature story
that appeared on page one of the style section, and USA Today
published the shortest story, 463 words,
that was featured in the Life section on page two. The three national
news networks, ABC, CBS
, and NBC
also covered the
event. Colleges and universities throughout the United States hold
celebrations for a variety of events that do not receive this kind of
coverage. So what made this event so spectacular to be worthy of
receiving national media coverage?
William Doyle, author of An American Insurrection: The Battle of
Oxford, Mississippi, 1962
, penned an article for The New York
posted on September 28, 2002. The article stated:
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Oxford, Miss, will be coming to terms with one of
the major events of its past. Forty years ago on that day, in the early
morning, a force of nearly 30,000 American combat troops raced toward
Oxford in a colossal armada of helicopters, transport planes, Jeeps and
Army trucks. Their mission was to save Oxford, the University of
Mississippi and a small force of federal marshals from being destroyed
by over 2,000 white civilians who were rioting after James Meredith, a
black Air Force veteran, arrived to integrate the school (Doyle, 2002,
Over forty years ago, the University of Mississippi was in a heated
battle involving not only the university, but also former Governor of
Mississippi, Ross Barnett, former United States Attorney, Robert
Kennedy, and former United States President, John Kennedy. An NBC
report described the scene as "a shameful and bloody night that left a
deep scar on the town and the school" (Teague, 2002, p.1).
This article is a case study which analyzes the national media coverage
of the University of Mississippi from 10 months prior to the Open Doors
celebration to 14 months after the celebration. In it, I examine the
salient features of the articles that were published in The New
, USA Today
, and The Washington Post
during 2002 and 2003 concerning the University of Mississippi. All news
reports published by these news producers referring to the University
of Mississippi during these two years were included in the sample.
Over the past 79 years, education has gained slow but increasing
attention in news coverage. In his dissertation concerning image
changing in higher education, Hassan (1989) wrote, "Brown University
Vice President for University Relations Robert A. Riechley notes that
the media plays an important role in distinguishing among various
institutions" (p. 3).
magazine began covering issues regarding education in
1923. Within 15 years, Newsweek
and The New York
followed suit. In 1947, educational journalists organized the
Education Writers Association (Gerbner, 1967; Henderson, 1993). Gerbner
stated that there was an increase in media coverage of education after
Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. The Associated Press hired a
full-time education writer in January 1958 thereby giving education a
presence in one of the wire services.
Research regarding early coverage of education found that although some
newspapers did assign reporters to cover educational issues, there was
little success in publishing material that dealt with the more serious
issues the educational community was facing (Henderson, 1993). Hynds
(1989) criticized newspapers for being "inconsistent and inadequate"
(p. 692). In 1983, the results of a study conducted by the National
Commission on Excellence in Education were released in a report titled A Nation at Risk.
The report was highly critical of primary,
secondary, and higher public education in the United States. Henderson
generalized that overall, due to the lack of educational coverage in
the news media, the majority of adults were taken by surprise when A Nation At Risk
was released. Hynds stated that A
Nation at Risk
had an enormous impact on the coverage of education.
"The reform movement that has made education a major national issue in
the 1980s may also be responsible in part for the improved coverage of
education and the improved status of the education beat" (Hynds, p.
Henderson (1993) argued that, in this case, the media was a powerful
influence in shaping public opinion. In turn, public opinion helped
influence policy makers and legislators regarding grants and other
sources of funding for education (Landrum, Turrisi, & Harless, 1998).
In 1963, the President of the University of New Mexico, Tom Popejoy,
told a group of state university presidents, "I doubt if many of you
have realized that the image of your university has for the most part
been formed by the news media in your community and in your state on
the basis of controversies, contests, contentions, and
conflicts ..." (as cited in Gerbner, 1967, p. 212).
Hilton (1996) claimed that the media is a powerful source in
communicating ideas about institutions of higher education that impacts
feelings and how people act towards specific colleges or universities.
One of the more widely researched theories regarding audience, effects,
and news coverage is Agenda-Setting Theory. In a classic study
concerning voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina during the 1968
presidential campaign, McCombs and Shaw (1972) quoted Cohen as stating
"the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people
what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers
what to think about" (p. 177). This landmark study found that the
media had an impact "on voters' judgment of what they consider the
major issues of the campaign" (p. 180). In addition, regardless of the
ideal of objectivity as a goal, reporters did have a point of view. The
reporter or the editor decided which topics were reported and what
content was included in the report.
Fico and Freedman (2001) stated, "Agenda-Setting research has
established that news media attention to issues subsequently influences
the public's assessment of the importance of those issues" (p. 437).
Most of the research conducted on Agenda-Setting Theory involved
political coverage as opposed to educational coverage. Regarding higher
education, Hilton (1996) claimed that "agenda setting theory would
suggest that what kinds of higher education issues that people discuss,
think about and worry about are powerfully shaped by what the news
media choose to publicize" (p. 3).
Kim, Scheufele, and Shanahan (2002) compared agenda setting with
attribute agenda setting. Whereas agenda setting reinforces the
importance of issues in the public mind, attribute agenda setting
consists of repeating specific attributes, and thus, the specific
attributes become prominent in the public mind.
Agenda Setting Theory and Attribute Agenda Setting Theory are important
in regards to the type of coverage received by colleges and
universities. Some institutions may receive more coverage than others
and some institutions may only receive coverage on a single topic such
as sports. Clendinen (as cited in Hassan, 1989) wrote in The
New York Times
, "what football is to Alabama, or academic success is
to Harvard, curriculum is to Brown" (p. 84). Public perception of an
institution of higher education is greatly influenced by the topics the
news media chooses to present.
Journalists are charged with gathering information and composing that
information in a way that represents truth. While editors have the
control of which stories get published, editors and reporters share the
responsibility of the words and phrases that are chosen to depict the
actual event. The word and phrase choices that editors and journalists
make impact how the reader interprets or visualizes a story. Gunter
News is a representation in the sense of construction; it is not a value
free reflection of `fruits' ... each particular form of linguistic
expression in a text - wording, syntactic option, etc. - has its
reason. There are always different ways of saying the same thing, and
they are not random, accidental alternatives (Gunter, 2000, p. 88).
The desegregation of the University of Mississippi, an event that
occurred 40 years prior to the time frame of this study captured the
attention of the national press. In 1961, an African American student
named James Meredith began seeking admission to the then, all white,
University of Mississippi. After being denied admission to the
university twice, Meredith filed a complaint with the courts stating
that he was being denied admission due to his race. The case was
finally decided on September 10, 1962, when the Supreme Court of the
United States found in favour of the plaintiff and ordered the
university to admit James Meredith. Former Mississippi Governor Ross
Barnett ignored the court order and blocked Meredith from enrolling. In
a personal telephone call to Barnett, President Kennedy ordered Barnett
to allow Meredith to register and attend classes at the university. On
September 30, 1962, U.S. Marshals escorted Meredith to the university,
where he could enroll for classes the following morning. Riots ensued
and Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered approximately 30,000
National Guard to the Oxford community to protect the university as
well as the town. Two men were killed, well over 100 injured and many
French news reporter Paul Guihard [was] shot between the shoulder blades
by an unknown assassin, and Ray Gunter, a maintenance man felled by a
stray bullet. Among those injured were 166 marshals and 40 soldiers;
200 individuals ... had been arrested (Cohodas, 1997, p. 86).
James Meredith enrolled at the university on October 1, 1962, flanked by
U.S. Marshals and his struggle to attain admission to the university
reached the national media. Forty years later, the story still captured
the attention of the media.
The newspapers in this study published 179 articles that mentioned or
featured the University of Mississippi during the two-year period. The Washington Post
published the most articles that included
reference or featured the University of Mississippi with a total of 79
articles. The New York Times
published 59 articles, while USA Today
published 41 articles.
The national press referred to the University of Mississippi through
eight themes: 1) Students, 2) Faculty/Staff/Administration, 3) Events,
4) Funding, 5) Tuition, 6) Collection/Exhibitions, 7) Policies/Law, and
8) Symbols (Stone, 2005). Eighty-six percent of the newspaper
articles that made reference to the University of Mississippi were
limited to the themes of Students, Faculty/Staff/Administration and
Events. The public relations practitioners at the University of
Mississippi identified "Southern culture" items as being the hook to
attract national media. In keeping with Tuchman's (1978) analysis, the
stories the national media published that featured the University of
Mississippi were often entertaining and tended to be driven by events
more than by issues. Above all, the national press directly assigned
one attribute to the University of Mississippi. Out of 179 articles or
transcripts, 79 of the articles (43%) that featured the University of
Mississippi, directly tied the university to racial issues including
the violence that occurred in 1962 when James Meredith enrolled in
classes. An additional eight percent, or 17 articles, indirectly tied
the university to racial issues or the events of October 1, 1962. It is
these articles that I examine for the remainder of this article. There
were no articles or transcripts in the categories of Gifts/Fundings,
Collections/Exhibitions, or Tuition that tied the University of
Mississippi to race, and hence these themes play no part in the
analysis below. Three articles in the category of Policy/Law, (total of
five articles), were concerned with affirmative action. One of the
articles labeled the university as being "historically white" (Nation
in brief, 2003, p. 9).
The Washington Post
published three articles that mentioned the
University of Mississippi through the theme of symbols. Two of the
articles were concerned with university mascots. The University of
Mississippi is one of 12 universities that are in the Southeastern
Conference (SEC). Traditions and symbols, including tailgating,
mascots, songs, and chants are a part of the culture of the university.
However, some of these symbols are problematic to the national media.
For instance, although the university "disassociated itself from the
Confederate flag in 1983" (Supreme Court declines to hear, 2001, p.7),
small Confederate flags were carried by students and fans to athletic
events until sticks-carrying-flags were banned in 1997. Similarly,
the university band plays "Dixie
" during the various ball
games; a monument of a Confederate soldier remains on the university
grounds; and the mascot for the university was an older southern
gentleman, Colonel Reb, who resembled a plantation owner. In 2003,
the university administration and athletic department campaigned
against the school mascot, claiming that Colonel Reb was outdated. In a
short feature article of The Washington Post
, an unknown
writer wrote on the most recent controversy involving Colonel Reb.
A certain reverence for the past might seem like a given at the
University of Mississippi. After all, the school is best known as Ole
Miss. But every few years, it seems, something happens to distance the
school from years gone by (Ole Miss considers a colonel's retirement,
2003, p. 2, 3, 4).
The article mentioned some of the changes that had taken place at the
university over the years, and claimed that Athletic Director Pete
Boone did not think Ole Miss should be "represented by a symbol from
the 19 century" (Ole Miss considers a colonel's
retirement, 2003, p. 8). University of Mississippi professor, Charles
Ross was quoted as stating, "As an African American and as an African
American historian I find those symbols are extremely problematic. To
ask me to embrace those kinds of symbols is unacceptable" (Ole Miss
considers a colonel's retirement, 2003 p. 10). Although Colonel Reb is
no longer the official mascot, a new mascot has not been chosen.
Faculty and Students
The national media presented the University of Mississippi through the
category of Faculty/Staff/Administration in 50 articles. Faculty
represented the university as an expert source in forty-five articles
and five articles featured faculty sources on some issue of race.
However, the issue of race was a dominant theme through the category of
students. Of the 73 stories, over 54% or 40 stories linked the
university to racial issues. The sub-themes in which race was an
issue include obituaries, book reviews, James Meredith, race relations
in general, and politicians.
One of the obituaries was a feature on Albin Joseph Krebs. Krebs was a
journalist and wrote "obituaries of prominent artists, performers and
politicians" (Martin, 2002, p. 1) for The New York Times
Albin Krebs, graduated from the University of Mississippi, where he was
the editor of the student newspaper, The Mississippian. After
Mr. Krebs wrote editorials in 1952 advocating that black students be
admitted to Ole Miss, a cross was burned outside his window. Later he
reported for Newsweek on the 1962 admission of James Meredith,
the university's first black student (Martin, 2002, p. 4).
Two book reviews featured non-fiction books, each included racial
problems that occurred during earlier years at the university. Former
student Handy Campbell was featured in a Washington Post
review of the book entitled Confederacy of Silence
. The author
of this book, Richard Rubin, was a journalist who covered Greenwood,
Mississippi, high school sports in the late 1980s. During his tenure, a
black high school student named Handy Campbell led the Greenwood team
to a state championship. Campbell received a scholarship to play
football at the University of Mississippi, but ended up dropping out
due to an injured shoulder. Campbell was later charged with murder.
Rubin's interest in Campbell drove Rubin to investigate what happened
to such a promising athlete.
[Rubin] suspected, though he could not prove, that Ole Miss had signed
Campbell to a football "scholarship" merely to keep him from playing
for its rivals and had never intended to start a black quarterback (It
would have been a first.) (Yoder, 2002, p. 4).
The second book review was an autobiography written by Ralph Eubanks. In
the book, Eubanks described his experience of growing up in
Mississippi. The author of the review stated:
Were Eubanks inclined toward bitterness, he'd have plenty of excuses
- his parents' listing by the Sovereignty Commission, the violent
confrontations over civil rights that took place throughout the South
during his boyhood, the slights and discrimination he suffered at Mount
Olive School and then at the University of Mississippi - but he
declines bitterness at every turn (Yardley, 2003, p. 6).
The New York Times
also published two articles that dealt with
students at the University of Mississippi and race relations. One
article discussed the efforts of historically Black Alcorn State
University to recruit white students from overseas. In an interview
with a former white Russian student who played tennis for and graduated
from Alcorn State, the student claimed that while racism was not
evident at Alcorn State, the University of Mississippi painted a
different picture. (Halbfinger, 2003, p. 23). A second article in The New York Times
dealt with the issue of interracial dating.
The author had visited the University of Mississippi and described what
he observed: "Whites and Blacks can be found strolling together as
couples even at the University of Mississippi, once the symbol of
racial confrontation" (Kristof, 2002, p. 1, 2). The author continued the
article quoting University of Mississippi student C.J. Rhodes,
"I will say that they are always given a second glance," acknowledges
C. J. Rhodes, a black student at Ole Miss. He adds that there are still
misgivings about interracial dating, particularly among black women and
a formidable number of "white Southerners who view this race-mixing
as abnormal, frozen by fear to see Sara Beth bring home a brotha "
(Kristof, 2002, p. 3).
In an article on an affirmative action issue in New York City, The New York Times
referred to James Meredith and the
integration of the University of Mississippi.
Go back to 1966, the air charged with racial discord and protest. James
Meredith, who caused riots when he enrolled as the first black student
at the University of Mississippi is shot by a sniper during a civil
rights march (Archibold, 2002, p. 6).
In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Mississippi Judge Charles W.
Pickering to the federal appeals court. According to the newspapers,
while Pickering was a student at the university law school in 1959, he
wrote a paper that pointed out the discrepancies in Mississippi's
anti-miscegenation law - the law that prohibited marriages between
black and whites. In the paper, Pickering showed how the law was
unsound and would not stand up in a court trial. The publication of his
paper resulted in changing the law in Mississippi. USA Today
quoted a source who claimed that Pickering currently served on the
"board of directors of the University of Mississippi's Institute for
Racial Reconciliation" (Biskupic, 2002, p. 20). Despite the 43 years
that had passed, the newspapers deemed the nomination controversial due
to Pickering's past views on race.
Two months following the inauguration of the Open Doors Celebration,
Strom Thurmond celebrated his 100 birthday which
Senate Majority Leader, and former University of Mississippi student,
Trent Lott attended. As a tribute to Thurmond, Lott said the following:
"I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for
president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the
country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems
over all these years." Following Lott's comment, the newspapers
published 26 articles that referenced his student days at the
university. The press dredged up events which occurred shortly after
the riots in 1962 that had never been reported. As president of Sigma
Nu fraternity, Lott helped to keep his fraternity brothers away from
the violence. As a member of the inter-fraternity council, Lott
worked to keep his fraternity, on a national level, all white. The New York Times
published an editorial entitled "Dunces of
Confederacy," in which the author stated that Lott was a "coddler of
racists" (Dowd, 2002, p. 6).
founder, Al Neuharth, wrote an editorial on the
impact of the Trent Lott-Strom Thurmond debacle:
The winner of what has become the Trent Lott lottery may not be known
until Senate Republicans meet behind closed doors on January 6, but
these, regretfully, already are the losers: 1. University of
Mississippi, Ole Miss. Lott's alma mater ... by and large, the public
and public officials have accepted or embraced racial integration as
the right way of life. That's certainly true at Ole Miss, where white
supremacy reigned during Lott's student days. Now under the steady and
resolute leadership of university Chancellor Robert C. Khayat, that
campus has become a stellar example of integrated civility and respect.
Twice in recent years an African-American has been elected student
body president. The integrated faculty includes a black vice chancellor
and head basketball coach. It is unfortunate and unfair that the Lott
legacy is recasting the shadow of desegregation on places where the sun
actually shines (Neuharth, 2002, p. 1, 2, 7, 8).
A University of Mississippi public relations practitioner responded,
I think that the Trent Lott thing probably wrecked half of what we had
accomplished with the good PR on the Open Doors. And Open Doors was
huge. But that business with Trent Lott probably hurt us, probably cut
us in half. It may have been worse than that. You'd like to think it
wasn't that bad, but it was pretty bad. It was as bad as it could get
(Personal communication, December 2004).
Of the 38 articles that mentioned the university through the category of
events, 31 of the articles, or just over 81%, mentioned the
integration of the University of Mississippi. Eleven of these 31
articles were obituaries published in The Washington Post
and The New York Times
. The integration of the university was
frequently related to the positive contributions made by certain
prominent individuals. Journalist Ed Turner was remembered for
receiving "accolades for his coverage of the violent integration of
the University of Mississippi ... The War at Oxford" (Bernstein,
2002, p. 17). The Washington Post
, The New
and USA Today
published a variety of articles
which referred to the integration of the University of Mississippi in
various contexts. In a feature on the life of Ramsey Clark, a Washington Post
story stated, "Impressed with Clark's guts,
his bosses dispatched him to the scenes of the great civil rights
battles of the era - Ole Miss, Birmingham, Selma" (Carlson, 2002,
p. 20). All three papers published reviews of Sons of
, a book concerned with the events that surrounded a
photograph that was taken just prior to the integration of the
University of Mississippi.
So tied is the issue of racial problems to the University that the topic
comes up in most unexpected places. The New York Times
mentioned the integration of the University of Mississippi in an
article concerned with desegregation in the North.
Americans who have memories of the white riots following public school
integration in Little Rock and at the University of Mississippi
commonly believe that opposition to desegregation was centered in the
South. The most stubborn resistance was in the North, where
recalcitrant districts sometimes even declined to furnish statistics
that would allow the government to make judgments about racial policies
(Staples, 2002, p. 5).
In the middle of a 1,429-word article on the Southern Foodways
Alliance Annual Conference, which featured variations on barbeque and
was held at the University, the author wrote:
Oxford still stands mostly for racial strife. There are still a few
reminders of those dark days, including the Mississippi state flag,
prominently displayed at the symposium, which incorporated part of the
Confederate flag. But Robert C. Khayat, the university's chancellor
since 1995 has worked hard to promote racial harmony, and Mr. Meredith
returned to Oxford for an anniversary commemoration earlier this month,
along with many of the federal marshals who protected him in 1962. An
oral history project is under way, and a civil rights monument will be
dedicated in April at a prominent site on campus. (Apple, 2002, p. 22,
All of the newspapers covered the Open Doors event that took place on
October 1, 2002. The Washington Post
6,275-word feature story that appeared on page one of the style
section of the paper.
There is so much Mississippi in Mississippi. So much of yesterday that
chases today ... For so many reasons, the place- its cities,
country towns, its Delta, even its nighttime darkness - claims a
huge swath of the American imagination. The blood here is no redder
than anywhere else, but the stain seems deeper, has survived longer
(Haygood, 2002, p. 1).
The article told the story of the integration of the University of
Mississippi, as well as the celebration, from a variety of angles. The
story began by describing occurrences of racist acts that had taken
place in Mississippi prior to the integration of the university. The
author gave a brief description of James Meredith 40 years later and
then began telling the story of the night Meredith arrived on the
campus. The author told about what occurred at the governor's mansion
through the memories of Ouida Barnett Atkins, daughter of former
governor Ross Barnett. The story continued with a description of what
took place on campus. The author included interviews with the memories
of soldiers sent to protect Meredith, the university, and the town of
Oxford. The author continued by reinforcing the racial atrocities that
took place in Mississippi after the integration of the university and
identified the turning point in racial acceptance as the 1998 football
game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt when Chucky Mullins, a Black,
defensive back, was seriously injured in the game. White and black fans
donated $300,000 to Mullins for his recovery. Haygood noted that in
1999, students voted in favour of a black student body president.
Following all of the positive events, the author mentioned an incident
that occurred the previous year at one of the fraternity houses.
So all the wounds are healed. Except: last year some fraternity members
of Alpha Tau Omega did a skit, one of its members in blackface being
menaced by another frat member dressed as a police officer and holding
a gun. "And boom! Soon as that happened," says Khayat, "Alpha Tau
Omega was shut down." Of course the snake is dead. Has been dead a
long time. But every horrific incident is like a drop of venom from the
past. And venom is venom (Haygood, 2002, p. 97).
The author also credited the chancellor with his efforts to increase
minority attendance at the university.
The main article published by The New York Times
page one of section A. "University officials want America to
appreciate that this is a very different campus now" (Halbfinger,
2002, p. 3). The author pointed to Meredith's son who earned a
doctorate in the spring, the number of Black students enrolled at the
university, and the leadership positions that were held by Blacks at
the university. The author quoted Chancellor Robert Khayat, claiming
that Khayat believed that "Ole Miss, in effect, has earned
emancipation from its historical burden. `Forty years ago, the nation
wanted us to treat everyone the same way. Now we just want to be
treated the same way everyone else is treated"' (Halbfinger, 2002, p.
4). The author defined Khayat as having "struggled since 1995 to make
the university more hospitable to minorities" (Halbfinger, 2002, p. 5).
The author then pointed out the symbols that were still apparent on the
university campus such as the Rebel flag "on the handkerchief that a
young man waves after the Rebels score a touchdown, on the cover of a
cellphone clipped to a middle-aged alumnus' belt" (Halbfinger, 2002,
p. 6). The author also referred to the playing of "Dixie
during football games. The article continued by describing the
importance of the 1962 riot as part of the civil rights movement.
Even as Ole Miss relives the 1962 riots, a debate is continuing -
involving current students and teachers and people who were here then
- about how much more the university must do to put its ghosts to
rest (Halbfinger, 2002, p. 17).
In an interview with university historian, David Sansing, the author
asked how long it might be before the university hired a black man or
woman as chancellor. "David G. Sansing, the university's historian,
quickly said, `Oh, that'll never' before catching himself and
reconsidering. State politics, he said, would make it very hard for the
foreseeable future" (Halbfinger, 2002, p. 21). Charles Reagan Wilson,
Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, was asked the
same question and responded by saying:
More is expected of the university because of its history. But that can
be an incentive to make the university a leader in race relations. That
is the next stage: to take that special burden of the past and make it
a responsibility, to be a place where race is discussed and initiatives
are begun that can make a difference (Halbfinger, 2002, p. 22, 23).
Discussion and Conclusion
This article has examined news reports the tie the University of
Mississippi to issues of race and racism - links that are the result
of intentional choices made by the journalists and editors. McCombs
defined a second level of agenda setting as "the transmission of
attribute salience" (McCombs, Llamas, Lopez-Escobar, & Fey, 1999,
p. 5). Whereas agenda setting research theorized that the press set the
agenda for what people talked about rather than directly influenced
their opinions or beliefs, concerning the second level of agenda
setting, McCombs asked, "Could the consequences of this be that the
media do tell us what to think" (McCombs, et. al., 1999, p. 5). It is
evident that the national newspapers in this study ascribe issues of
race to the University of Mississippi. However, there are several
factors at work reinforcing that relationship.
Closely related to the agenda setting function of the press is agenda
building. Gandy (1982) questioned the value of agenda setting and suggested that research was needed to pursue the role of the sources, or what Gandy
labeled "information subsidies" (p. 8). "The notion of information
subsidies is based on a recognition that the price of information may
be reduced selectively by interested parties in order to increase the
consumption of preferred information" (p. 30). Gandy was concerned
with who gets to be the source and why. He suggested that entitlement
to the press increased power and helped to shape values.
Gans (1979) identified the group of people that helped supply ideas for
stories as "story suggesters" (p. 90). These individuals could be a
part of the news organization or belonging to another organization.
Public Relations practitioners are among this group of people. Gans
stated, "The relationship between sources and journalists resembles a
dance, for sources seek access to journalists, and journalists seek
access to sources" (p. 116). However, Gans claimed that in order for a
public relations practitioner to impart their ideas for a story, the
practitioner must have access. Gans claimed that story suggesters
outside of the organization who do not have power can gain access only
if the event is unusual or extraordinary.
The "Open Doors" celebration was a staged public relations event. A
public relations practitioner at the university described the event as
The attention of the national press is vital to the university for lots
of different reasons ... people draw their opinions from the national
media. A good story in The New York Time is worth millions of
Forty years later, the story of desegregation remains "extraordinary"
and the "dance" between the "story suggesters" and the media
remains the same:
There is a cache or aura, good or bad, about Mississippi that national
publications will bite into a story a lot quicker than if it were
coming out of Iowa. Race, culture, food, writing ... all the things
that Ole Miss does well, and hasn't done so well. The national media
just never get enough of those kinds of stories. People in the rest of
the country and around the world are fascinated by the phenomenon of
the south, the lost cause; all the things that emanate from the South.
Selling the South is easy because it's a good story in so many
different ways. It is mysterious. They love to hear how people down
here talk, how they think. Yeah, it's mystery to them.
This research did not include viewing the news releases or press kits
that were distributed for the "Open Doors" celebration however, it is
very unlikely that the information contained reference to more current
racial incidents or symbols of racism that still existed on the
university campus. In selling stories that identify the university with
the culture of the South, the university had no control over what was
written, the angle of the story, nor did they have an impact or voice
two months later when the Trent Lott debacle followed the celebration.
And yet, the selling of Southern culture is what the practitioners at
the university were promoting - repeatedly identifying the
university with the same stereotypical values of the South - which
includes racial strife. Journalism chair, Samir Husni, trademarked
"Mr. Magazine," is internationally renowned for his work with the
magazine industry. The national media began contacting Husni as a
source for stories in 1986 after he published his first book, Samir Husni's Guide to the New Magazine
. In an interview with
Husni, he stated:
One of the editors of a leading newsletter in our business told me at
one stage, "Samir," and he's been reporting on my activities since
1986, and he said, "Samir, it's so amazing that now when the topic of
Mississippi comes in any discussion in the media circles among us
reporters, the first thing now we think about is magazines as opposed
to racial relationships that we used to always recall and remember in
Mississippi. I don't want to tell you that you single handedly changed
the discussion, direction, but you did when it comes to Mississippi."
(Personal communication, December 2004).
Husni was the most widely quoted faculty source from the university. The
public relations department should take note, change the tune, and
dance another dance.
A second factor that reinforces the relationship between the university
and race is the news industry. Tuchman (1978) questioned whether news
provided a window to view the world. She defined news organizations as
"social institutions" (p. 5), which publish articles that do not
mirror reality. Tuchman asserted that the focus of news gathering and
reporting was "on events, not issues" (p. 34). Additionally, Tuchman
claimed that editors tended to enjoy stories that depicted that plight
and, in turn, protected the underdog. The chosen stories, selection of
sources, and angle of the stories helped to reinforce societal values,
identifying behaviours that were acceptable as well as those behaviours
that were unacceptable or forbidden.
Gans (1979) defined two types of values that were not obvious, but
nonetheless, underscored most news stories. Topical values were those
that dealt with certain individuals or activities that are currently in
the news. Enduring values
are values which can be found in many different types of news stories
over a long period of time; often, they affect what events become
news ... Enduring values are not timeless, and they may change
somewhat over the years; moreover, they also help to shape
opinions ... (Gans, 1979, p. 40).
The story of desegregation is a good story. It contains all of the
elements that are listed in beginning journalism texts defining a news
story. There are heroes, villains, blood, gore, and - extremely
unacceptable behaviours. The press had an opportunity to expound on the
American virtues of equality. Additionally, the story has been
repeatedly told in news reports as well as books. It is a part of
American history to which at least two generations can relate. It is
also a story into which journalists do not have to put much effort. The
story exists. The remnants of the story, the way they have been told by
journalists in this research, are relatively easy to flesh out.
Pointing to artifacts, such as the civil war monument, are surface
examples of existing racism. Halfinger (2002) criticized the university
for playing "Dixie"
at ballgames. The first time I sat in
the stands and heard the band begin to play "Dixie
crowd rose as I remained seated and felt like crawling under my seat.
However, the group of African Americans seated to my right, stood up
and began to clap their hands and stomp their feet to the rhythm of the
music. More difficult to probe are the underlying feelings and thoughts
of all races that attend, teach, and administer at the university.
Christie (2008) quotes author of "The Race Beat," Gene Roberts:
"Such dogged, skeptical reporting, so common in the civil rights era,
is what's missing from racial reportage today" (p. 5).
A third factor that strengthens the relationship between the university
and race is simply the location of the university. The state of
Mississippi is well known for racial strife. At least two movies,
"Ghosts of Mississippi" and "Mississippi Burning," have justifiably
taken the state to task for the crimes committed against African
Americans and civil rights workers during the civil rights era.
Interestingly, forty years after the crimes, African American actor,
Morgan Freeman penned the introduction to a book titled, "Proud to
Call Mississippi Home:"
I wanted to leave Mississippi and never return ... Funny how things
turn out ... Back in Mississippi, a person knew where he stood:
racism was out in the open, an `in-your-face' strain of segregation
and denied civil rights. What I encountered upon leaving the state,
however, was a more deceptive form ... In the North, I encountered
racism that was insidious and painful. I wanted to think I was freer
there, but I was not. (Herrington, Perkins, Kirkpatrick, Freeman, 2006,
p. 13, 14).
The fourth factor is concerned with how the press covers race.
(2003) claims that covering racial issues in this day and time is
difficult. Prior to, and during the civil rights movement, racism was
visible. Today, racism is not so easily defined or outwardly portrayed.
Arlene Morgan, Director of the "Let's Do It Better! Workshop On
Journalism, Race and Ethnicity," wrote, "Race remains our most
Shah and Nah (2004) conducted a study to determine how U.S. newspapers
"constructed and conveyed the idea of racial oppression" (p. 259).
The researchers searched U.S. newspapers that had been published over a
10-year period and found that the majority of articles focused on
racial oppression in South Africa. The articles that were concerned
with racial oppression in the U.S. were primarily either based on past
events or focused on symbols of racism.
In August 2006, three white students at a high school in Jena, Louisiana
hung nooses from a tree in the front schoolyard after a group of black
students went to sit under the shade of a tree that was traditionally
seating for white students. While disciplined, the three students were
not expelled and racial tensions began to mount. During the next two
months, a white student beat up a black student at a party and another
white student threatened at least two black students with a shotgun. On
December 4, a fight broke out at the high school and one white male was
beaten unconscious by black males. The white male was taken to the
hospital, but released. Six black males were charged with attempted
second-degree murder. Although the Associated Press covered the story
and distributed the story throughout the state, regionally, and
nationally, the national press did not pick up the story until May
2007. Roberts stated:
Race is still an issue in society, but it's difficult for newspapers to
get handles on it. These usually aren't the kinds of events that lead
to sort of inverted-pyramid, hard news kinds of stories. They're more
ooze and seep racial stories. And it requires a lot of time and
attention to do them with the nuance they deserve. And a lot of papers,
in an era of cutbacks and short staffs, are shortchanging the race
story (as cited in Chrisie, 2008, p. 15).
Director of Diversity Programs at Poynter Institute, Keith Woods,
heavily criticized the media for not stepping up and covering this
story from the day the nooses were hung.
There is a huge story here - of uneven justice, racial
estrangement, unexamined suspicion and unabated bigotry. It is the
story of our everyday lives. If it's complex, then
it's inherently more interesting. If
it's confusing, then the media should do what
they're there to do: help us figure it out (Woods,
2007, p. 18).
As stated previously, the integration of the University of Mississippi
is an easy story to tell. Retelling the story provides journalists the
appearance of covering racism without having to look too deep or spend
too many resources. In the 1960s and 1970s, reporters were assigned to
a "Race Beat." Today, few newspapers continue that line (Christie,
2008). The current coverage of racial relationships in the U.S. is
relatively superficial or focused on immigration.
Journalists are in the business of gathering information. Their reports
are intended to give an objective view of the world, a representation
of truth. In this case study, the truths to be found are partial
truths. They present a very specific portion of the picture. The
university, however, presents a form of that same picture to the
national press. In this case study, it is apparent that the national
media continues to attribute issues of race and racism to the
University of Mississippi - a truth of the past. From a Jeffersonian
perspective, the press is responsible to be a watch-dog over the
government. It is a good thing when the press can affect positive
change. Since 1998, Columbia University has hosted "Let's Do It
Better! Workshop On Journalism, Race and Ethnicity." Broadcast and
print news organizations from throughout the U.S. submit their best
work concerning race relations in the U.S. Keith Woods was asked to
write a report on the quality and content of the entries.
With the significant exception of the New York Times' summer 2000 series,
"How Race is Lived in America," there was not enough imagination or
depth brought to bear on the issue of race relations. Though the
stories of racial profiling, school inequities and environmental racism
got a lot of appropriate coverage, the daily realities that define race
relations - brought to life in many of the Times' stories - got
short shrift (Woods, 2001, p. 7).
The various issues of racial relations in the U.S. are compelling
stories that must to be told with compassion and with depth. The
stories need to be investigated and developed into meaningful articles
that can serve as a basis for understanding and discussion. When racism
exists, it should never be relegated to past events past or discussed
in terms of symbols that the writer might not fully understand. The
University of Mississippi is owning up to its past. The university is
slowly divesting of the symbols that connect it with racism. Because of
past sins and a history so mired in racism, the university has an
obligation and responsibility to participate and lead discussions on
racial reconciliation - discussions that have the potential of making
an impact on how citizens in the U.S. talk about and understand race.
Based on history, the national press would pay attention.
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Melanie L. Stone, Georgia Southern University, Communication Arts Department, Box 8091, Statesboro. Georgia 30460, 662-801-9715, firstname.lastname@example.org