When Ed and Becky Meek made their major gift to the University to create the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, it was just the beginning of a long-term vision to provide support for the School. Meek is a former UM assistant vice chancellor for public relations and associate professor of journalism, and he and his wife, Becky, built several successful businesses.
As evidenced by a recent gift of 35 iPad Pros for faculty, camera equipment for student media financial support for faculty projects and a state-of-the-art, school-wide digital display communications system, the rest of that vision is starting to play out.
That vision was an alternative to putting funds into an endowment. They would use those same funds to form a for-profit company called New Media Lab LLC, whose profits would perpetually go to the Meek School. If the model of their previous entrepreneurial ventures played out, there would be a much bigger benefit to the school than through the traditional method.
Many folks who love Oxford and Ole Miss – both locally and around the world — are familiar with the news and information website HottyToddy.com, and many others are familiar with its sister magazine Experience Oxford. These two entities were formed as New Media Lab’s first for-profit companies — places where journalism and new media played out in the real world while providing internships for students to gain experience.
“The first few years were investment years for New Media Lab. The company lost money for three years, but when it started making money in the fourth, those profits went toward giving back to the school and hiring a new CEO to help carry the vision forward,” Dr. Meek said. Now, our new CEO, Allison Buchanan is charged with continuing to refine and build the two existing companies while developing new products, services and ventures that can be innovative and profitable.”
Buchanan, one of Ed Meek’s former students, has had a successful communications and business career both outside and inside of Mississippi.
“Our business enterprises at New Media Lab do not have to be media companies, but they do need to be good extensions of what we are already doing – businesses which can provide jobs and opportunities for students while making good business sense,” Buchanan said. For example, Ed and Becky did very well in the event and trade show business. Due to their expertise, we are looking at options to expand in that direction among many others.”
The Meek School of Journalism and New Media has seen phenomenal growth since it was transformed from the Department of Journalism into a School of Journalism and New Media with the Meeks’ support. Meek’s vision of creating an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) degree has been a big part of it. The Department of Journalism had 445 students in 2009. Today, the School has 1,322 students. In 2009 there were 22 graduate students. Today there are 53.
Will Norton, Jr., dean of the Meek School, becomes enthusiastic when speaking of the Meek’s gifts.
“This funding is giving us the ability to have a margin of excellence for many years to come. It’s just absolutely incredible that we have this entrepreneur who loves this school and who understands that we cannot depend on state funding that is in continuous decline,” Norton said. “We have top students from all over who would never have considered Ole Miss a few years ago. We can do things that schools with big budgets can do. That’s the value of HottyToddy.com and these other ventures.”
Norton added that the School has an excellent faculty that any school in the country would want to have.
“They are integral to providing our students with a top-notch education, even as our school handles rapid growth,” said Norton. “We also continue to attract talented and famous people who come in to teach one class as adjunct professors. Many of them work on a manuscript or document while here. As they publish these items, it promotes the Meek School through their work.”
During our interview, Assistant Dean Charlie Mitchell used his iPad Pro to look up additional statistics.
“As our reputation increases, we are attracting more and more excellent students. We have 48 prospective freshmen admitted to the Honors College who are interested in the Meek School compared to only seven just a few years ago,” said Mitchell. “Minority enrollment has gone from 75 to 207. The school’s average ACT has risen for six years straight, going from 22.4 to 24.4 compared with the University’s record 24.7 average.”
The faculty have use of the new HottyToddy.com/New Media Lab-engraved iPads as long as they are employed by the University. There are no restrictions otherwise. To be used to the fullest benefit, it was decided that faculty and staff needed to use them at home, when traveling or in the classroom.
Dr. Kathleen Wickham, associate professor of journalism at the Meek School, recently took her iPad Pro to France over spring break to pursue a research project about the French reporter who was killed on the Ole Miss campus during the riots at Ole Miss in 1962.
“It was useful because I didn’t have to take a laptop, and it was lighter. I used it for writing, photos, video and audio. I also used it for lectures I conducted at Rennes University while there,” she said.
The state-of-the-art Samsung digital display system is made up of a network of five, 55-inch displays and one very large 85-inch display which has yet to be installed as it awaits proper power hookups at Farley Hal’s main entrance. The system is controlled by a computer and software.
Mitchell said, “The arrangement of words, video, photos, graphics is only limited by the imagination of the operator. We will rely on creative students to help keep the system supplied with engaging and informative content. We are going from a spaghetti board (board with white letters you manually place into the grooves) to the most advanced digital system available.”
A portion of the New Media Lab gift went to the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center. Student media used the donation to purchase a new JVC camera for NewsWatch, the student-run daily, live television newscast.
“We had postponed purchasing more TV/video cameras last summer, and instead used that money to buy equipment to improve our students’ live shots during their show,” said Patricia Thompson, director of student media. “We were thrilled when New Media Lab offered to buy a camera and accessories for NewsWatch. The new JVC enables more of our student correspondents to get experience every day, to help them prepare for internships and jobs.”
There is no doubt that a school which prides itself in staying on the cutting edge of journalism and new media for the benefit of its students will have a long list of technology, equipment, resource and training needs every year. New Media Lab expects to be able to provide an increasingly larger amount of support every year to pick up where state funding leaves off and help provide that “margin of excellence” the Meek School is known for.
“We are delighted to have Allison Buchanan as CEO. She is UM journalism graduate with a great love of Ole Miss and an outstanding record of achievement, leadership and innovation,” Dr. Meek said. “We are confident she will build a company that will produce significant opportunities for enrichment of students and faculty, and significant financial support for years to come.”
Emily Newton is a staff writer at hottytoddy.com and the editor of Experience Oxford magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.