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Dean Will Norton Discusses Future of Journalism, Meek School

Photo by Robert Jordan
Rita Jean Murphree Howell and Rupert Howell with Dean Will Norton, left. The Howells are owners of the Panolian, Batesville, Miss., and former students in the Department of Journalism.

The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities. Steve said:

“Recently I had the pleasure to visit with an individual who is making a significant impact on Ole Miss and our one thousand plus Journalism and New Media students. Dean Will Norton, Jr. is now in his second assignment here in Oxford having just completed year five as Dean of The Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He was chair of the former Department of Journalism from 1977 to 1990. His insights into the world our graduates will enter offer helpful insights.”

HottyToddy.com — Dean, what sets The Meek School of Journalism and New Media apart from everyone else?

Dean Will Norton, Jr. — The kinds of students coming to Ole Miss are different from most schools I have visited. Their ability to communicate and to understand their sense of purpose is most unusual. If they don’t have these qualities when they arrive on campus, they have them when they leave.

HottyToddy.com — Tell us about the faculty.

Will, Laine and Susan, September 19, 2009
Will, Laine and Susan Norton.

Dean Will Norton, Jr. — We are as productive as any Journalism faculty in the nation. The credentials that our faculty collectively boasts would impress anyone! We are driven to publish, to teach and to serve.
HottyToddy.com — What attracted you to Ole Miss?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — The students I met, and a conversation in 1973 with Professor Jere Hoar. Professor Hoar described a small department with an incredible percentage of graduates in top positions throughout the nation. And this tradition continues. We have grads with the NY Times; USA Today; CBS; Fox News and a host of other major news agencies and integrated marketing communications organizations. Moreover, some of our graduates are among the top attorneys in our society.
HottyToddy.com — How do professors coming from larger municipal environments adapt here?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — It is very difficult for some. Coming from the Midwest it was also difficult for me at first. I have made many good friends here and marrying a young woman from Oxford nearly 35 years ago gained acceptance for me despite my crass northern traits.
HottyToddy.com — What are several normal career paths for our Journalism graduates?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — Included among these would be television; newspapers; magazines; public relations; and sports marketing and management. Branding is a big area wherein our graduates are filling positions in the leading cities throughout the nation.  And I should add that among our outstanding graduates are many successful lawyers.
HottyToddy.com  Does a degree from Ole Miss provide our graduates with a competitive edge?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — A broad definition of scholarship as set forth by Dr. Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation in the mid-1990s. Many media schools have difficulty balancing the practical and the theoretical. Our program is quite balanced for our students. We have quite a few faculty who are exceptional scholars and all are willing to work outside of the classroom with students to provide a competitive edge. We emphasize scholarship by exceptional faculty. That scholarship defines what faculty teach. Thus, the emphasis is on quality scholarship that informs students in the classroom
HottyToddy.com — What is our student enrollment this fall (in Journalism) and our capacity?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — We are in a building designed for 500 with about 1,000 students in pursuit of their majors. Because of this wonderful problem, our faculty are teaching in classrooms in five buildings in addition to our own. We do have a plan to make an addition to our primary building, and the need is becoming urgent.
HottyToddy.com — What type of student should consider entering The Meek School of Journalism and New Media?
Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean, and Will Norton after graduation last May
Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean, left, and Will Norton after graduation last May.

Dean Will Norton, Jr. — The Meek School is not just about journalism and new media. It is about writing and speaking on public issues. The ancient Greeks called it rhetoric and listed it among the original liberal arts. Clearly, every student should have a course or two in journalism and new media. That has always been true, but it is becoming more crucial in an era when new media are pervasive in our society. Those with skills in traditional and new media will be the ones who are able to thrive in our society.
HottyToddy.com- — With technology rapidly changing the way we once obtained the news, are careers in this profession diminishing?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — We now have an interactive profession where the audience responds and is an active participant in the media. The media is such an integral part of our society that media professions are more important than ever. However, a media professional is not likely to work for a major media corporation, buy stock and become a millionaire.  Media skills are now needed more widely in society. It is not just media professionals who need to be able to write, speak and do visuals well. I urge all students I talk with to pursue a major in the Meek School and a major elsewhere.
HottyToddy.com- — What does year one of the curriculum typically include?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — There is a introductory course in mass media. Then students take a multiple-platform writing course.  A considerable amount of writing is now occurring earlier. We take full advantage of this beautiful campus and setting here with regular assignments outside the classroom. I refer to this campus as a “Ritz Carlton Site.”
HottyToddy.com — Let’s talk about potential earnings.
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — The era of the corporate career with the golden parachute is over. It’s a much riskier world. The clever, creative person with an entrepreneurial drive will make it. Today, an individual is forming his own corporation. We are teaching and providing our students the skills and knowledge to excel in this changing global community.
HottyToddy.com — Is it preferable for Journalism students to master a foreign language?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — One of the advantages Ole Miss students have is the option to take Chinese and Arabic at the highest level. I am told the university’s Chinese program is second only to that at Princeton. All our majors must take two years of a foreign language.  The university’s five-year program provides the opportunity to study and work in another culture
HottyToddy.com — Turning the discussion back to you personally, how difficult was it for you to adjust to Oxford and Ole Miss after a 19-year-run at Nebraska?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — I was born in the Belgian Congo. My parents were missionaries. At age 8, we moved to Chicago. My background provided me the experience to adapt because I had lived in many areas of the world. In fact, I was in six different schools in my first six grades of school. After I had been at Ole Miss two years, (LOL) an elderly member of College Hill Presbyterian Church told me “I was almost getting to be one of them.” At that time, newcomers to the university were not assimilated into the community as readily as they may be now.
HottyToddy.com — Your background is something else!
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — I attended Wheaton College in suburban Chicago. I was awarded a M.A. from Indiana University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. I previously worked with at the Wheaton Daily Journal, The Chicago Tribune and am currently a partner in ownership of The South Reporter and Pigeon Roost News in Holly Springs and Byhalia.
HottyToddy.com. — Who is among our primary competition in attracting the best and the brightest?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — We aspire to compete with the elite schools at Northwestern, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona State and Nebraska.
HottyToddy.com — How does Ole Miss compare cost-wise in obtaining an undergraduate degree?
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — We’re fabulous! For an out-of-state student, one can come here for about $15,000 (annually) compared to $60,000 at Northwestern. Most universities are losing enrollment in Journalism but the number of majors in the Meek School has doubled during the last four years.
HottyToddy.com — Describe yourself using just one adjective.
Dean Will Norton, Jr. — “Truly committed”
Final Note: It’s next to impossible to describe Dean Norton in one paragraph, let alone one adjective. It’s easy to understand why Ole Miss is ‘soaring upwards’ with leadership and ambassadors like the Dean. My head was spinning after I left this interview thinking how wonderful it would be to have a child being educated in this environment. This faculty is a collection of all-stars who have been there and done it! The Dean is far too modest for his own good, but thank God he’s on our team!  

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