Wednesday, October 16, 5:30 p.m. Looking Ahead to the Mississippi Elections Two veteran Mississippi political handlers, Austin Barbour, a Republican, and Brandon Jones, a Democrat, analyze the upcoming state elections, following up on their initial assessments in an Overby program last fall. They will be joined in the discussion by Overby and Wilkie.
Wednesday, October 30, 5:30 p.m. The Fight for Press Freedom David E. McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer for The New York Times who became a social media sensation with his response to the Trump campaign’s threat to sue the newspaper for libel, recounts his experiences at The Times during the most turbulent era for journalism in generations. McCraw, a vice president and assistant general counsel will talk about his new book, “Truth in Our Times,” and the struggle for press freedom in an age of alternative facts with Overby and Greg Brock, a retired Times editor who is now an Overby Fellow.
Wednesday, November 20, 5:30 p.m. Fannie Lou Hamer's America The screening of a documentary about one of the most powerful voices of the civil rights movement, Mississippi’s legendary sharecropper and activist, the late Fannie Lou Hamer, will be followed by a Q&A session with the film’s director, Joy Elaine Davenport. Mrs. Hamer’s testimony as a Mississippi freedom Democrat at the 1964 Democratic Convention stirred the nation.
An Analysis of the Upcoming Mississippi Elections
Political strategists Austin Barbour, a Republican, and Brandon Jones, a Democrat, will assess the upcoming Mississippi general election during an appearance at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m.
Barbour and Jones, both veterans in Mississippi politics, will be joined in the discussion by two former national political reporters, Charles Overby, chairman of the center, and Curtis Wilkie, the inaugural Overby fellow.
“These two experts will provide informed insights in a setting of civilized discussion,” Overby said.
Barbour, who held prominent roles in past Senate campaigns of Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, comes from a long line of Mississippi Republicans. His father, Jeppie Barbour, was one of the first members of the Mississippi Republican Party to serve as a mayor when he was elected to the post in Yazoo City nearly 50 years ago. Former Gov. Haley Barbour is Austin’s uncle.
Barbour is managing partner of the Clearwater Group, a regional public affairs firm in Jackson, and also a partner in Strategic Partners Media, a national advertising group based in Annapolis, Md.
Jones, a former member of the state House of Representatives and co-founder of the Mississippi Democratic Trust, is an attorney with Baria-Jones, a law firm with offices in Jackson and Bay St. Louis. (David Baria, his law partner and the minority leader of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lost to Wicker in last year’s Senate race.) Jones has also worked as an adviser for Democratic candidates in a number of state and local campaigns in Mississippi.
The Overby Center featured Jones and Barbour last fall when they analyzed the runoff in a special election between Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican appointed to fill Cochran’s seat, and Mike Espy, a Democrat.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will be in the auditorium of the Overby Center on the Ole Miss campus. A reception will follow the program. Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the auditorium.
Veteran journalists spar over Trump's relationship with press
Peter Boyer(center) with Charles Overby(l) and Curtis Wilkie(r)
Journalist Peter J. Boyer and Overby Center Fellow Curtis Wilkie had a heated discussion on Trump’s relationship with the press Wednesday night at the Overby Center.
Boyer, who attended Ole Miss before graduating from UCLA, has worked for publications such as the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He jointly teaches a class with Wilkie on that same topic as the night’s discussion for the Honors College. The two are close friends.
It did not take long, though, for the discussion to get tense. Boyer argued that Trump has used the press, and that his interactions with the press have all been calculated.
“He has plainly broken the norms that are considered presidential,” Boyer said. “He has baited important institutions like the press to his benefit. It’s important to have a media in America that is a fair presenter of facts. In the Trump era, they have surrendered that position.”
Wilkie retorted that the media is no less fair now than in any other era, and said that a certain level of scrutiny comes with being the president.
“Errors happen all the time, and journalists correct those errors,” Wilkie said. “The situation between the press and any president is, by its nature, going to be adversarial. The press is not there to be public relations agents for any administration. There’s never been a president that didn’t have certain problems with the press, and complained. I think, by-and-large, the coverage of President Trump is fair, and it’s tough.”
The two discussed The New York Times and Washington Post frequently writing about about Trump and his “lies.”
“When I was writing for The Boston Globe about (President) Reagan, we wouldn’t use the word ‘lie.’ We would say that he made something like a ‘questionable statement,’” Wilkie explained.
Boyer pressed Wilkie on this, to which Wilkie arrived at the point that when Trump attacks the press, there is an inclination for the press to defend itself.
“Are you supposed to just sit there and take it? No, you’re going to fight back.”
Boyer argued that this was a concession; the media, in fighting back on Trump’s attacks, has taken on an adversarial role against him.
“Now there’s a concession that the media has become the opposition party,” Boyer said.
The two compared the media’s treatment of President Trump versus that of former President Obama. Boyer stated that while Obama was treated more fairly by the press, Obama also took more serious actions against it. Boyer alluded to claims that the Obama administration tapped former Fox News colleague James Rosen’s parents’ phones in 2012.
“President Obama, who did not draw an equal amount of criticism as President Trump does, put actual journalists’ lives in danger,” Boyer said. “He wiretapped my colleague’s phone. That was actual danger. I don’t think Trump calling the press the ‘enemy of the people’ is an existential threat, although it is offensive.”
Boyer explained that he does not believe that the media will ever return to the state it was before Trump.
“Yes, the moment a Democrat is elected, we will return to journalistic norms,” Boyer said, “but no, it won’t matter. We will have expanded our credibility. The New York Times won’t command the same authority.”
The two also expressed their disdain for the decline of local newspapers.
“One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the ill health of the local newspaper. They reflect the interest of local communities as opposed to the nonsense on the Eastern Seaboard,” Boyer said.
Wilkie said that local newspapers that carry national news via the Associated Press wire are giving local Americans the same news they would get from national papers like The New York Times.
“The AP is trying to report as accurately as they can,” Wilkie said. “Local newspapers that include AP wire for their news will feature the same news as the national papers.”
Charles Overby asked the two to give Trump a piece of advice.
Walter E. Hussman(r) discusses the future of newspapers and journalism with Charles Overby(l)
The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics kicked off its fall 2019 schedule Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium with an interview between Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center, and Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Hussman is a third generation newspaperman who grew up in Camden, Arkansas and received his Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill and his MBA from Columbia.
“For years I’ve been saying that Walter Hussman is the smartest publisher in the country,” Overby said. “We all know newspapers are engaged in a life struggle for existence, but Walter Hussman has been engaged in that struggle for many decades because he has taken the role of David vs. Goliath so many different times.”
One such struggle Hussman faced was the introduction of the world wide web in the late ‘90s. It completely changed the way that people interacted with others and how news was delivered. Digital ads erupted and, according to Hussman, various news outlets started giving away their content for free – including his newspaper in 1999.
Hussman said he had various Little Rock community members approach him, stating how much they enjoyed reading his newspapers online for no cost when they use to subscribe to his paper.
“I thought to myself, ‘What on earth are we doing here?’” Hussman said. “We were competing with other newspapers and we would do anything to get any subscribers, I mean blood, sweat and tears for every subscriber and we were just giving it away.”
After analyzing the revenues the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was making with digital ads, Hussman quickly realized that digital advertising was not working, and decided to charge for content. This was in 2001, and there was only one other newspaper using this same strategy – The Wall Street Journal.
“People said we had our heads in the sand and that we didn’t understand the digital revolution,” Hussman said. “It’s amazing that in 10 years, our paper in Little Rock did not lose any circulation at all.”
As prices of printing, distributing and delivery began to rise steadily in the business, Hussman found himself in a predicament. He knew there had to be a better solution than to cut his staff in half to produce the same amount of content.
“That’s when I decided that I didn’t want to publish a newspaper like that and didn’t think the people of Arkansas wanted to read a newspaper like that, so we had to come up with some other idea,” he said. “I knew I loved reading the newspaper on the iPad—not our website but an exact replica of our newspaper. I had readers tell me, ‘I love reading that replica of your newspaper on our iPad.’”
After hearing this from various readers, he and his team headed to Blytheville, a town that had 200 subscribers and only one carrier. They decided to go door-to-door and ask subscribers if they would rather read their paper on an iPad or in print.
“That was the wrong question to ask,” Hussman said.” “Everyone said ‘No! I want to read it in print!’ Well, then we went back and decided we would just tell them we aren’t going to print and deliver up there anymore because it’s too expensive.”
Instead, his team told subscribers that if they went to AT&T and purchased a new cell phone, they would receive a $350 iPad for $99. Then, after subscribers downloaded 50 editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the paper would send subscribers a check in the mail for $50. Out of the 200 subscribers Hussman had in Blytheville, he had four that actually took up the offer.
After one last try, Hussman and his team went back to the drawing board before accepting defeat.
“This time, we are going to go back up there and throw the kitchen sink at them,” Hussman said. “Instead of giving them a $350 iPad, we’re going to give them an $800 iPad.”
It was simple system. As long as individuals subscribed to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, they would receive an iPad for free. On top of that, he told the staff that they were going to “smother” people with customer service.
“We are going to sit down with every subscriber individually and show them how to use (the iPad), show them how to read the paper,” he said.
Hussman’s innovative techniques have completely changed the way that the Arkansas Democrat Gazette delivers news and how subscribers interact with it. The paper now has interactive features such as videos, interviews, pictures and even a feature that will read articles aloud to readers to bring the headlines to life.
“My biggest takeaway from last night is that when you look fear in the face and don’t back down, that alone will take you to greater heights,” said Karsyn King, an Overby attendee and Ole Miss senior. “Change is uncomfortable, but that probably means you’re doing something right.”
According to Hussman, the paper has converted over 20,000 subscribers and he thinks that by the end of the year the rest will go digital, too.
Announcing the Fall Schedule of Programs at the Overby Center
The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi has announced its fall lineup of programs focusing on the future of journalism, politics and the upcoming election in Mississippi.
“This fall’s programs offer great conversations with and about nationally recognized experts,” said Charles Overby, chairman of the center. “The audience will also have an opportunity to join these conversations.”
Each event will take place in the Overby Center Auditorium at 555 Grove Loop. The programs are free and open to the public, and parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the auditorium. The schedule includes:
Thursday, September 5, 5:30 p.m. — PLOTTING THE FUTURE OF NEWSPAPERS & JOURNALISM
Walter E. Hussman Jr., a third-generation newspaperman who is the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, will discuss the future of news media and discuss his strategy of giving iPads to subscribers and other innovations to keep newspapers vibrant in the community. Hussman, who is president of his own media company, WEHCO, will talk with Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center.
Wednesday, October 2, 5:30 p.m. —THE BATTLE BETWEEN TRUMP & THE PRESS
Peter J. Boyer, a veteran political journalist and an Ole Miss alumnus who has extensively covered the evolution of American politics and analyzed the intersection of politics and the press, returns to campus for a conversation with Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie about the nasty relationship between the President and the news media.
Wednesday, October 16, 5:30 p.m. — LOOKING AHEAD TO THE MISSISSIPPI ELECTIONS
Two veteran Mississippi political handlers, Austin Barbour, a Republican, and Brandon Jones, a Democrat, analyze the upcoming state elections, following up on their initial assessments in an Overby program last fall. They will be joined in the discussion by Overby and Wilkie.
Wednesday, October 30, 5:30 p.m. — THE FIGHT FOR PRESS FREEDOM
David E. McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer for The New York Times who became a social media sensation with his response to the Trump campaign’s threat to sue the newspaper for libel, recounts his experiences at The Times during the most turbulent era for journalism in generations. McCraw, a vice president and assistant general counsel will talk about his new book, “Truth in Our Times,” and the struggle for press freedom in an age of alternative facts with Overby and Greg Brock, a retired Times editor who is now an Overby Fellow.
Wednesday, November 20, 5:30 p.m. — FANNIE LOU HAMER’S AMERICA
The screening of a documentary about one of the most powerful voices of the civil rights movement, Mississippi’s legendary sharecropper and activist, the late Fannie Lou Hamer, will be followed by a Q&A session with the film’s director, Joy Elaine Davenport. Mrs. Hamer’s testimony as a Mississippi freedom Democrat at the 1964 Democratic Convention stirred the nation.
ABOUT THE OVERBY CENTER
The Overby Center for Southern Journalism & Politics’ mission is to create better understanding of the media, politicians and the role of the First Amendment in our democracy. The Center is funded through a $5 million grant from the Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to educating people about the importance of a free press and the First Amendment.
The Overby Center features programs, multimedia displays and writings which examine the complex relationships between the media and politicians - past, present and future. The Overby Center pays special attention to Southern perspectives.
Adjacent to the newly renovated journalism department facility at Farley Hall, the Overby Center is a new building that features 16,000 square feet of conference space. It includes a 225-seat auditorium, a multipurpose conference room that will accommodate 100 people for seminars and dinners, and a boardroom seating up to 24 people.
The center has state-of-the-art technology and video throughout the building, including a news wall with nine large-screen TV monitors for showing live news programs and current front pages from 12 Southern states.
The center is named for Charles L. Overby, editor of the Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss from 1967-1968. Overby was the CEO of the Freedom Forum and Newseum until his retirement in 2012.