Department of Journalism College of Communication and Fine Arts
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2012-13 Year in Review

Dr. Arant

Dr. David Arant, Department of Journalism Chair

As we begin the fall 2013 semester at the Department of Journalism, we look back on one of our busiest years. In fall 2012 the Department of Journalism completed its every 6-year reaccreditation review as a six-member team from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication examined our professional news, public relations and advertising programs and found us in full compliance on every standard. The site team's recommendation for reaccreditation was affirmed by the ACEJMC Accrediting Council at its May 2013 meeting in Phoenix.

We're delighted to welcome two new assistant professors, Ashley Furrow and Matthew Haught, who begin their teaching careers with us this fall. In addition we hired lecturer Tori Cliff as the first journalism faculty member at the U of Memphis Lambuth campus in Jackson. Please see their profiles in this eNewsletter.

This spring we received a partial resolution of the funding crisis at the Daily Helmsman, a controversy that has captured the attention and activism of many University of Memphis journalism alumni as well as friends in the larger journalism community.

In May 2012 The Daily Helmsman had $25,000 cut from its student activity fee funding, a third of the funding from this source. The cut appeared to be related to the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee's dissatisfaction with the way The Helmsman covered the programs funded by this committee.

Prior to the cut, Helmsman editor Chelsea Boozer led some aggressive reporting of University issues, such as stories on special perks that student government and student activities council officers receive as well as the failure of the university police to issue timely information of on-campus crime. For her work Boozer won the national Investigative Reporters and Editors top award for student reporting, and she and other Helmsman reporters have won Hearst, SPJ Mark of Excellence and Southeast Journalism Conference recognition for their excellent reporting. In October 2012 at the National College Media Convention in Chicago, the Student Press Law Center presented the Helmsman its College Press Freedom Award.

In response to the funding cut, national press organizations including the Associated Press Media Editors, the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists sent letters of protest to University President Shirley Raines. In response, Dr. Raines appointed her executive assistant, Professor David Cox, to conduct an inquiry. After interviewing the university administrators and students involved in the funding decision, Cox found that dissatisfaction with the newspaper's content might have been a factor in the funding cut. In media law cases, courts have found university attempts to censor content by cutting student media funding a violation of the First Amendment rights of college students. After the investigation, Dr. Raines restored the Helmsman funding to the previous year's level.

What remains to be done is establishing a new procedure for the allocation of student fee funding for the newspaper. President Raines appointed a committee to suggest an appropriate method for Helmsman funding. Our College of Communication and Fine Arts Dean Richard Ranta and Chair of Excellence Professor Otis Sanford were both on the committee. The Committee, headed by Business Associate Dean Thomas Miller, recommended that Helmsman funding become independent of the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee. President Raines referred the report to Vice President for Student Affairs Rosie Bingham. No action has been taken on the report.

The Daily Helmsman is an independent student newspaper at a public university. In my role as department chair and journalism professor, I respect its independence. I never tell student editors and reporters what to publish or what not to publish. We do our best to teach our students best practices in reporting and writing. Then it's up to them to do good journalism. The students may sometimes make mistakes, especially minor misspellings that are hard to spot at midnight on deadline. It was not the mistakes, however, but dogged and courageous reporting – instead of a diet of light, fluffy event stories – that drove last year's pushback against The Helmsman. With your help The Helmsman has emerged stronger than ever. And Chelsea Boozer, by the way, is now a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.

I thank all the Journalism Alumni Club board members, alumni and friends for coming to the Helmsman's defense and for your continuing support of the journalism, public relations and advertising programs at the University of Memphis. I encourage you to join us for the Journalism Alumni Awards Luncheon, 11:30 a.m., Friday, Oct. 18, at the U of M Holiday Inn. And anytime you on campus, stop and visit the Meeman Journalism Building. Look forward to seeing you.

David Arant, chair, Department of Journalism

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Last Updated: 9/30/13