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USA Today Editor Dennis Moore Talks Ole Miss and John Grisham

Photograph courtesy of Robert Bianco, TV Critic for USA TODAY. Dennis more in the Life newsroom. There are always six networks playing on the wall in order to keep up with any news that breaks.
Photograph courtesy of Robert Bianco, TV Critic for USA TODAY. Dennis Moore in the Life newsroom in front of the televisions that always have six networks playing in order to keep up with any news that breaks.

Dennis Moore graduated from the University of Mississippi with a journalism degree in 1975.  A Memphis native, Moore now serves as the managing editor of USA TODAY’s Life Section, after previously working at The Clarion-Ledger earlier on in his career.  The Life section covers all things entertainment. Moore says he enjoys the national stage and believes it to be a big responsibility because “so many people are watching what you do, and also a real high because you know that so many people are watching what you do.” Although he has long since left the university and now resides in Washington D.C., Moore enjoys the fact that the university welcomes alumni participation.  He’s remained a part of Ole Miss through organizations like the College of Liberal Arts Board of Directors Alumni Chapter.  The bond of the Ole Miss community is something Moore says he hopes all graduates experience. We talked with him to get a little insight on what it’s like to be an entertainment journalist and his Ole Miss roots.

Hotty Toddy: What brought you to Ole Miss?

Moore: I grew up in Memphis so I was always aware with the university. And I will have to say that it was a friend who convinced me to go there. And it was the best advice I ever took. It was a high school friend, someone I had known since I was 5 years old and remained a friend. And that is one of the best things about going to Ole Miss is that you meet such wonderful people and that you are able to maintain those relationships over the years.  My best friends are still people I went to Ole Miss with.

Hotty Toddy: Why did you major in journalism?

Moore: Journalism wasn’t my first choice. Well, I thought I was going to be a dentist and then I was going to be a psychologist. And then I was going to be (laughs) an accountant. And again, a friend was taking journalism classes and said, “Why don’t you take one of those? See how you like it.” And it was a perfect fit from the beginning; I didn’t feel like I was having to study, I felt like I was getting to enjoy myself — writing, taking photographs working on The Daily Mississippian.  It just piqued my interest more than anything else I thought about doing.  Clearly it fit, because all these years later I’m still doing it

Hotty Toddy: What were you involved in while in college that you believe prepared you for after graduation?

Moore: Certainly being a reporter and editor at The Daily Mississippian. I was also an editor for the yearbook, and I was active in my fraternity and I had a good time, too. And seriously that prepares you and gives you that balance of serious learning and also enjoying yourself. You know that’s the key to having any longevity and maybe even a job, is that you have a great time doing it. At its best I don’t consider what I do as work, I consider it, and this may sound superficial, but it’s fun.

Hotty Toddy: What would you tell your freshman self?

Moore: I may have been intimidated when I stepped on the campus, not knowing what to expect. But I would tell him to be open to every experience possible because it prepares you for what you’re going to encounter in which we call the outside world. Be fearless.

Hotty Toddy: Be fearless sounds like a quote of something Taylor Swift would say.

Moore: (Laughs) Yes, but I haven’t been through as many relationships as her, and I don’t write songs about my failed relationships.

Hotty Toddy: What is your favorite Ole Miss memory?

Moore: Hmm, probably something that can’t be published (laughs). I think working on The Daily Mississippian because it was such a smart group of people. Every day we created something new, and then you could walk on campus and watch people read it and see their reactions.  That was one of the most fulfilling things that I did at Ole Miss.

Hotty Toddy: Give us a day in the life of your position?

Moore: Oh boy. My primary responsibility is directing the entertainment coverage for USA TODAY.  My official title is managing editor of the life section of USA TODAY. I work with reporters and other editors to originate story ideas and plan the way that we will tell them whether it is in a story written in the paper, or there is a video or it is an online interactive. There are lots of ways to tell stories and it’s always challenging and rewarding to find the best way to tell those. I also review movies; I do that once a week on the CBS station here in Washington very early in the morning.  I also review books, I have this new John Grisham novel that’s not coming out until October, but I have an advance copy, which I’m reading now and then I’ll review that. I also go on movie sets to report from there. Probably my favorite was going down to Greenwood when “The Help” was being shot, and I got to spend some time watching them film the movie and also talking with the actors and actresses who were in the film. It’s just always fascinating to see how those projects come together. I’ve watched TV series being filmed, and its so intriguing to see this swirl of activity and find out what’s coming out on the screen. So, I really enjoy that. I have covered the Olympics for USA TODAY.  The last time was in Vancouver and we, a videographer and I, created a video blog in which each day we went and did something different, which was outside the actual competition, but telling people sort of the social activities around the Olympics.  That was a new thing for me and it’s really interested me [using video] and I’ve been very keen on it ever since.

Hotty Toddy: What is the most important thing you have learned while in the industry?

Moore: It’s most important to surprise readers and to offer information in an entertaining way, because there are so many other outlets for information that you have got to create a voice that cuts through all the chatter. Probably the most challenging and the most important thing we do now is to create an identity that people trust and that they also will learn something from but will have a good time.

Hotty Toddy: Since you are the managing editor of USA TODAY’s Life Section, what is your current favorite movie, TV show, and book right now?

Moore: Gosh, you know, I don’t have longstanding favorites, because I get so wrapped up in what’s new. So, probably, I would say one of my favorite directors is Woody Allen. He puts out a movie almost every year and some of them are great; others of them are okay, but I would say he’s probably one of my favorites directors. Favorite authors? I’ll say John Grisham cause I interviewed him at the DeSoto County Courthouse where he practiced law — an interview for  “When a Time to Kill” was re-released.  And like I said, I’m reading his new novel now, so at the moment he is my favorite writer (laughs).  Favorite TV shows? I am a religious watcher of “Masterpiece Theater” because I love the show’s brilliant sensibility to drama and comedy. I think if I had to pick domestic shows,  I would say favorite comedy would be “Modern Family.” Favorite drama is probably “The Good Wife.”

Hotty Toddy: I just started watching that.  I really like it.

Moore: “The Good Wife?” She [Julianna Margulies] does an amazing job.  It’s not totally serious; there are humorous moments in it, but it’s very intriguing and you can relate to a lot of the insecurities that she has and the hard work that she has to do.  It’s just a great show.

Hotty Toddy: Any advice for soon-to-be grads of Ole Miss?

Moore: Find a thing that you enjoy doing; don’t take a job because you think it’s the profession that you should go into. Like in my case, I would be going to movies, watching television and reading books even if I was not paid to do it.  So, find something that you would enjoy doing without being paid and find out a way to get paid for it. (Laughs) Learn to be a multimedia journalist, to report, writes, take photographs, create videos and do interactive work online. The broader the skill, your multimedia skill, the more attractive you will be to perspective employers.


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