Sunday, January 29, 2023

An Inside Look at Excellence – POWERHOUSE by Ron Farrar

NOTE: Author Ron Farrar will read and sign his book, Powerhouse: The Meek School at Ole Miss, at Off-Square Books on Aug. 13 at 5 p,m. Click Here for more information.
The Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi produces some of the finest journalists in the country; and a new book, “Powerhouse: The Meek School at Ole Miss,” written by Ronald Farrar, explains how this worthy academic and professional program evolved from its meager beginnings in 1946 to a top tier school in its field.
Powerhouse dust jacketFarrar, a former chairman of Ole Miss Journalism from 1973-77, began his journalism career at the University of Arkansas, where he was editor of the campus paper. After serving in the Army, he worked for the Arkansas Gazette. At the University of Iowa and the University of Missouri, he discovered a love of teaching, and considers his acceptance of the Ole Miss chairmanship “one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Farrar’s signal achievement at Ole Miss was to oversee the accreditation process. In 1975, administrators from the University of Southern California, Northwestern and the University of Florida arrived for the arduous procedure. “They grilled each faculty member at length,” Farrar writes, “examined every piece of equipment we had, pored over our meager budget, then had hour-long sessions with two separate groups of students, probing for weaknesses and evaluating the skills and knowledge and morale of the students.” It was stressful, but accreditation was granted, because it seemed obvious the examiners “realized that, in spite of everything, the faculty was academically and professionally competent, and the students who came out of Ole Miss with a journalism degree were as well prepared as those from anywhere else.”
Quotes from former students about their favorite chairmen enliven the narrative and reveal interesting characteristics. Founder Gerald Forbes operated the department on a shoestring budget out of a closet-sized office; Sam Talbert wrote plays on the side; Jere Hoar was a short story writer and novelist. All were legends on campus, and as former reporters and editors brought valuable skills and experiences to the classroom.
From the beginning Ole Miss journalism students worked with The Mississippian staff for practical experience in publishing a newspaper and, later, broadcasting the news on radio and television. This hands-on training started with Sam Talbert in the 70s, chair of the department from 1956-1972, who pushed his students to get summer jobs with newspapers. The book showcases other important events and milestones at the Meek School including the creation of the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center, and Dr. Samir Husni’s Magazine Innovation Center.
Photos and anecdotes feature outstanding journalism graduates such as Larry Speakes, acting press spokesman for the

Dr. Ronald Farrar
Dr. Ronald Farrar

White House under President Ronald Reagan; Sidna Brower Mitchell, editor of The Mississippian nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial on James Meredith’s admission; and Charles Overby, former executive editor of the Clarion-Ledger and CEO of the Freedom Forum. A chapter is devoted to Ed Meek, founder/benefactor of the new journalism school.
Meek grew up in Charleston, Miss., graduated from Ole Miss and became Vice-Chancellor for Public Relations. He also developed several successful businesses, including the Tupelo Furniture Market, and eleven niche (trade) magazines including Mississippi Pharmacist and Oxford Magazine. Meek helped to achieve a goal of his mentor, department chair Dr. Sam Talbert, by co-founding the Society of Professional Journalists. A section of photographs is devoted to Meek’s coverage of the Ole Miss riot of 1962. As a student photographer for The Mississippian , he stayed up all night taking pictures of demonstrators attacking federal marshals, ending the next morning with an iconic portrait of Meredith sitting alone in a classroom, a haunting reminder of that time.
Farrar chronicles how the Meek School of Journalism and New Media has kept pace with a rapidly-changing journalism industry and focuses on preparing students for the expanding fields of online communications. The emphasis, as it has been from the beginning, is on learning a craft from the best teachers available and applying the techniques to producing a daily newspaper, radio show, nightly news program and yearbook. It’s a remarkable story, told with authority and humor, with the moral being that journalism at Ole Miss is fun or they wouldn’t be doing it.
Rebecca Lauck Cleary is a staff member at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture and a regular contributor to the Southern Register, the Ole Miss Alumni Review, and Invitation Oxford.

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