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UM Meek School's Lee 'Scoop' Ragland Utilizes Journalism Skills At GodwinGroup

“He has always had that gift of making people feel comfortable and getting them to talk.”

For Lee “Scoop” Ragland (’78), being able to work at “The Daily Mississippian” was one of best things about attending the University of Mississippi.
“’The Daily Mississippian’ provided me a unique experience of being a college student, working on a daily deadline and engaging with a cross-section of students,” Ragland said. “Working on ‘The Daily Mississippian’ definitely prepared me for working in print journalism, which I did for 19 years.”
Ragland started in sports at “The Clarion-Ledger” after graduation. He credits the Ole Miss journalism department with giving him the tools to be a proficient reporter straight out of college — though it was tough, he said. He attended one of Will Norton, Jr.’s first classes during his time at the university. Norton was a new instructor on campus at the time and is now dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
“Will Norton taught magazine editing, and his final exam took me seven hours — and I was the first one to leave,” said Ragland.
“But you learned in every one of his classes. Don’t even get me started on Advanced Reporting.”
Norton reflected on the Ragland he knew from his classes and said his talent for reporting was always there.
“Lee was an exceptionally knowledgeable sports reporter when he was in school,” Norton said. “He knew so much behind the scenes in the Southeastern Conference that he understood which angle to take on his stories.”
An Oxford native, Ragland got his start in journalism as a teenager working for The Oxford Eagle. That is also when he got his nickname, “Scoop.”
“A high school friend gave that to me in 1972 when I was writing for ‘The Oxford Eagle,’” Ragland said. “By the way, I was paid 10 cents an inch and I wrote some long game stories. The name stuck, and everyone still refers to me as Scoop. My full name is Gary Lee Ragland. I joke that if someone calls and asks for Scoop, it is a friend. If someone asks for Lee, it is my mother. If they ask for Gary, it is a telemarketer.”
“Clarion-Ledger” columnist and feature writer Billy Watkins worked with Ragland at both “The Daily Mississippian” and “The Clarion-Ledger.”
“He got the nickname ‘Scoop’ honestly. He would always chase a story,” Watkins said, referring to their college years. “He knew so many people, even at that age, that he could find sources to talk to him about almost any subject you could name. He has always had that gift of making people feel comfortable and getting them to talk.”
Ragland’s career at “The Clarion-Ledger” led him in 1997 to a new chapter at GodwinGroup, Mississippi’s oldest and largest communications agency. He was hired as a PR manager primarily to write annual reports. In 2003 he was named vice president and director of public relations. Ragland described his transition from news writing to public relations as “interesting.” He said that he quickly learned the differences between the two and applied his journalism skills to his new field.
“As a public relations professional, you have to provide strategic counseling,” Ragland said. “Some of our best work is never seen by the public. But I truly believe a benefit of my journalism background is that I understand what type of stories journalists are looking for and respect their deadlines. I don’t pitch stories that I know aren’t newsworthy. I think a mutual respect exists between journalists and myself.”
Some may think of public relations as just spreading business news through the media, but, according to Ragland, times have changed. He maintains that public relations should focus on brand and reputation management in addition to traditional public relations practices such as distributing press releases. He also stresses how important it is to have a target audience and really focus on whom the product or information is addressing.
“You have to realize that your audiences receive information and communicate through a variety of platforms,” Ragland said. “There is not a one size that fits all, and it is 24/7 and instantaneous. You help meet clients’ needs by placing them in front of the correct target audience.”
GodwinGroup provides services to a variety of clients and, Ragland said, involves itself in issues it believes are important. He is pleased by the response to a project he led for what was then Mississippi Valley Gas.
“(The campaign) basically educated audiences on common-sense safety steps to take,” Ragland said. “The campaign won several national awards, but more importantly, customers wrote the company telling them it prevented injuries and saved lives.”
Ragland also is proud of the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s “I’m Not Your Mama” campaign, which he headed. The work focused on preventing littering and featured former Mississippi first lady Pat Fordice.
“It also won several awards, but what was most gratifying is that we think it helped change behavior,” he said.
Ragland has had a long, successful career since he left newspapers. Watkins said he would not have predicted Ragland’s transition out of journalism, but it makes sense.
“Honestly, I always thought he would be a reporter and maybe become an editor,” Watkins said. “But then again I’m not surprised he went the agency route. It was another way to work with people, and he always seemed interested in the business world. If he wasn’t going to stay in newspapers, this was a logical fit for him. He’s smart and creative and will go the extra mile for a customer. And I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend. That’s the way he’s always been from the first time I met him.”

Hayley Ramagos is a 2016 integrated marketing communications graduate from Winona, Mississippi. Sydney Patterson is a junior, integrated marketing communications major from Alpharetta, Georgia.

The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).

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