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OM Students Win RFK Journalism Award

Group wins for multimedia project documenting student efforts to build roads in Belizean community

UM Journalism Students win RFK Award. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications
UM Journalism Students win RFK Award. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A multimedia project from the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media has been selected as the 2013 college journalism winner of the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights awards the RFK Journalism Award to recognize outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert Kennedy’s dedication to human rights and social issues.

The winning project, “M-Powered: University of Mississippi students learn through service in Belize,” was led and edited by Patricia Thompson, director of student media and assistant professor, who created the “Multimedia Storytelling” study abroad course.

The multimedia course was a partnership with the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.

Five students – Margaret Ann Morgan, Jajuan McNeil, Aubry Killion, Cain Madden and Katie Williamson – traveled with Thompson and assistant professor Mikki Harris to Belize during the 2012 winter intersession to report on the interdisciplinary service learning projects of Ole Miss Study Abroad students.

Thompson says she received news of the award in a phone call from Ethel Kennedy.

“This was a wonderful and unique opportunity for our journalism students to work as multimedia journalists in an international, very diverse setting,” Thompson said. “It’s one of the things I love about working here. Students who are driven to be the best can get opportunities here they won’t get at other journalism schools.”

The journalism project focused primarily on documenting the work of Ole Miss students who helped build a road in Belize as part of the San Mateo Empowerment Project. The result was a print depth report, videos and a television series, produced to raise awareness of this Belizean community but also providing a humbling experience for the students.

“I wanted to bring their living situations to light as well as the ways they are improving themselves,” said Morgan, who graduated in May and is a reporter for WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg. “I knew that by working with the journalism school and the Office of Outreach that the likelihood for our magazine to land in the hands of someone who could give back to the San Mateo community would be multiplied. I hope we have accomplished that.”

McNeil, whose photography ended up as the cover of the magazine, felt more like a “global citizen.”

“It seemed weird to me at first when thinking about a road as a state-of-the-art thing,” said McNeil, who graduated with a master’s degree in May and works as a marketing professional. The people of San Mateo “longed for something better, and as they created their ‘something better,’ life changed, inch by inch,” he said.

In the last four years, the journalism school has won two Kennedy awards, Dean Will Norton said.

“Winning two Kennedy awards is an indication that the Meek School is moving in the right direction by attracting top students and the faculty are focused on teaching writing and reporting at a quality level,” Norton said.

Some other recent and upcoming student projects from the Meek School include a tour of food of the Delta and a 50-year reflection on the Voting Rights Act.

Norton credits faculty like Thompson for developing young journalists at Ole Miss.

“Professor Thompson has spent decades working with young reporters and editors,” he said. “She is an experienced teacher who communicates how to achieve excellence. She is nationally known and respected. Ole Miss is fortunate to have her leadership.”

Thompson said the project would not have succeeded without the inspiring work of former Ole Miss social work professor Kim Shackelford and the dozens of students who have participated in service-learning work in Belize for many years.

The 33rd annual RFK Book awards ceremony is Sept. 26 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where winners will receive a cash award and a bust of Robert F. Kennedy. The Meek School won the only college award. Winners of the professional categories include NBC News, The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times and CNN.

For more information about the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visithttp://meek.olemiss.edu.

— Misty Cowherd, Ole Miss News Desk

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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