More than 500 aspiring teenage writers, publishers and journalists from all corners of the state shared their work and learned from high-profile communicators last spring at the 72nd Mississippi Scholastic Press Association (MSPA) Statewide Spring Convention, hosted by the University of Mississippi.
Now MSPA Director R.J. Morgan hopes that the association’s recent $60,000 gift establishing the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association Endowment will ensure that these students and more like them will continue to enjoy robust annual conventions and other strategic support from MSPA for years to come.
“This endowment is a historic moment for us, and it comes at a critical time for both journalism and education in our country,” Morgan said. “We are hoping to build a financial foundation that will allow us to continue meeting the needs of our current members while better positioning us for long-term growth and success deep into the distant future.”
MSPA was founded in 1947 to support, promote and nurture journalism and marketing communications programs in the high school setting. It achieves its goals through workshops, competitions and conventions and by providing ongoing assistance and advice for teachers and students involved in producing their schools’ student publications.
With a current membership of 110 publications from 67 different schools, MSPA is open to any Mississippi school that has a newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine, online publication, broadcast and/or journalism or marketing class.
MSPA hosts two statewide student conventions each school year — at UM and the University of Southern Mississippi — and a three-day institute each summer for teachers who advise student publications.
“The conventions are great opportunities for Mississippi high school students to get a taste of life on a college campus,” said Morgan, an instructional associate professor in the UM School of Journalism and New Media. “They learn a lot while they’re here — practical ideas they can take home to improve their school publications.
“But the conventions also serve as a rallying point and pep rally for many students, because often they are not praised as highly as, for example, their football team or marching band,” he continued. “We want students to know this is something they should feel proud of, something they can hang their hat on.”
The spring convention’s Pam Hamilton Keynote Address was delivered by Ronnie Agnew, an Ole Miss alumnus and director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Agnew is a veteran of the newspaper and news industry, previously serving as the executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
Other past speakers include longtime anchor and reporter Howard Ballou of WLBT in Jackson, award-winning author Kiese Laymon, Mississippi Today’s Marshall Ramsey, and Lori Oglesbee-Petter, a nationally recognized newspaper and yearbook adviser who serves as an advocate for First Amendment rights.
At the convention, the MSPA awards student work in over 100 categories, including statewide publications of the year, Mississippi High School Journalist of the Year, the Orley Hood Award for Excellence in Sports Journalism and other portfolio-based All-Mississippi recognitions. Between the fall and spring conventions, more than 1,000 individual pieces of work were submitted for consideration.
“The awards are really what the kids get most excited about,” Morgan said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than working extremely hard behind the scenes on designing a yearbook, shooting a killer football hype video or chasing a juicy news story and then having your audience absolutely love it. But then to get recognized for that work at the state level? It just positively reinforces the skills they’ve learned and justifies a lot of long nights in the editing room.”
Will Norton, dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media, holds the MSPA’s work in high regard.
“One of the overarching goals of the University of Mississippi is extending excellence to the state’s communities through the programs we sponsor. The MSPA is the cream of the crop in this capacity, truly the best of the best,” said Norton. “I am truly proud of the work MSPA leaders are doing, investing in the youth of our state.”
The MSPA Endowment accepts gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, mail a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the endowment’s name in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
To support the School of Journalism and New Media, contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at 662-915-6678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bill Dabney and Justin Whitmore