Overby Center in the News

Veteran Religion Journalist Terry Mattingly Named Senior Fellow
at Ole Miss Overby Center

Veteran journalist Terry Mattingly, known for his 31 years of work as a national religion columnist, has been named a senior fellow at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi.

His appointment, effective Jan. 1, 2020, was announced by Charles Overby, chairman of the center.

“I have followed Terry’s work for many years and consider him the premier religion columnist in the country,” Overby said. “He is a keen observer of how religion affects politics and public policy, and he will add another voice and perspective for our programs dealing with First Amendment freedoms.”

He writes a daily blog, GetReligion.org, which for 17 years has offered a daily critique of mainstream media coverage of religion news and trends. With his appointment as a senior fellow, that blog will now be based at the Overby Center. The blog also includes essays by Richard Ostling and other veteran religion-beat professionals. Ostling was nationally recognized for his religion reporting at Time Magazine and The Associated Press.

Mattingly also will continue to write his weekly “On Religion” column for the Universal syndicate, which distributes the column to about 300 newsrooms in North America.

“It’s impossible to do journalism about the American South, or anywhere else, without talking about the role that religion plays in the lives of millions of Americans,” Mattingly said. “I am honored to get to work with Charles Overby and the fine team at the Overby Center and the university.”

There are two other senior fellows with distinguished journalism careers at the Overby Center. Curtis Wilkie, longtime political reporter for the Boston Globe, has been a fellow since the Center opened 12 years ago. Greg Brock, who was an editor at The New York Times and Washington Post, became a senior fellow last year. Both Wilkie and Brock are graduates of Ole Miss.

Mattingly grew up in Texas and graduated from Baylor University with a double degree in journalism and history. He then earned an M.A. at Baylor’s Church-State Studies program, with classes in theology, history, political science and law. He has an M.S. in journalism and mass communications from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

Mattingly has worked as a reporter and religion columnist at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte News in North Carolina.

During his academic career, he taught at Denver Seminary, Milligan College and Palm Beach Atlantic University before founding the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. In 2015, the program moved to The King’s College in New York City, where it joined the McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute, led by veteran journalist Paul Glader.

The School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi is one of 40 college and university partners of the New York City Journalism Semester in journalism program.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America

“We Only Wanted To Use Her Voice.”

Fannie Lou Hamer's America Screening at the Overby Center

A new documentary, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” had its first public screening on Wednesday at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. The hour-long film traces the life of the Mississippi civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper turned activist.

After the film, the director and editor, Joy Elaine Davenport, talked about her decade-long efforts to make the film, and explained why she chose to use just the voice of Hamer and not a traditional documentary narrator. “The soul of the movie is what you saw,” Davenport said. “We only wanted to use her voice." She said she wanted the story of Hamer's life to come from her and not be filtered through the eyes and voices of others.

Besides public appearances and personal interviews that Hamer gave, the documentary also includes previously recorded songs and rare artifacts spanning many years.

“There are so many wonderful tidbits of her life and I'd love to have them all included in the film,” Davenport said. “This is a collage in the making.”

Material for the film, which was conceived by Hamer's great niece and the film's producer, Monica Land, was compiled by Land, along with a team of renowned historians and civil rights scholars. While the documentary traces the story of Hamer’s life, it also reflects timely issues such as injustice and poverty in the Mississippi Delta, police brutality and oppressive reactions to black voter registration.

“I've been talking to TV representatives to get this on air before the 2020 election,” Davenport said of the film, which still must go through final stages of production.. “That is my goal.”

The youngest of 20 children born to sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, Hamer lived a life of hardship from the beginning. At the age of six, she was working alongside her family in the cotton fields. But she rose to become one of the notable voices of the civil rights movement. “When I liberate myself, I liberate others,” Hamer said. “If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.”

“Journalism is An Art,
Not A Science”

The top newsroom lawyer for The New York Times, and author of the book “Truth in Our Times,”David E. McCraw was at the Overby Center on Wednesday discussing his book and the conflict between the press and the current presidential administration.

“Journalists get a lot of credit for standing up to the government,” McCraw said. He gained national attention in 2016 when he responded to the Trump campaign after it accused The New York Times of libel, and threatened a lawsuit over the paper’s article about two women who accused Trump of touching them inappropriately. McCraw countered, saying, “Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

“It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices,” McCraw wrote to Trump’s lawyers. “We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

McCraw, on Wednesday, was joined by Greg Brock, an Overby fellow, who worked closely with him at The Times for many years. The talk was moderated by Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center.

In that coversation McCraw spoke of how he had dissented with New York's “arrogant leaders” and even sued Obamacare.“Journalists get a lot of credit for standing up to the government,” McCraw said. “They should.”

He talked about how it is important that mainstream media gets the stories as right. He said that journalism succeeds when the media is believed and that it was his opinion that this should be the motto journalist should have.

In an Op-Ed article for The New York Times, McCraw wrote, “I have an old-school vision of the First Amendment: That journalists should tell stories straight, that readers can be trusted and that out of that process we as a country will get it right more often than not. Libel lawyers don’t serve as the fairness police. If anything, they are more like fact cops.”

McCraw's book offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the newspaper and recalls the challenging legal obstacles he encountered on some of the most notable stories published during his tenure.

McCraw, an Illinois-native, said he became interested in journalism while in high school when he heard Peter Arnett, who was covering the Vietnam War, speak. McCraw has worked at The New York Times since 2002 and holds the position of assistant general counsel and vice president.

“Journalism is an art not a science,” McCraw said. “Whether we get it right is up to debate and many judgements.”

A Bipartisan Take on the
Upcoming Mississippi General Elections

    By Gavin Norton

Austin Barbour and Brandon Jones at the Overby Center

(l-r)Charles Overby, Austin Barbour, Brandon Jones, Curtis Wilkie

Two veteran political strategists in Mississippi, Republican Austin Barbour and Democrat Brandon Jones, presented a spirited analysis of the upcoming Mississippi gubernatorial election during a discussion at the Overby Center on Wednesday night.

Barbour and Jones were joined by two former national political reporters, Charles Overby, chairman of the center, and Curtis Wilkie, the inaugural Overby fellow.

Both Barbour and Jones agreed that the race between Republican Tate Reeves, the lieutenant governor, and Democrat Jim Hood, the attorney general, could go either way.

Although Barbour acknowledged that the race is close, he believes Reeves will win. “Republicans will vote down party lines,” he said. “I’m confident he’s the favorite.” Jones said that polling he has seen indicates that Hood has a slight edge at the moment, but he could see that changing in the last few weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election.

One challenge that both men see for Hood is whether African-American voters, the base of the Democratic Party, will turn out. “African-American enthusiasm is not where it needs to be for Hood,” Jones said.

Jones believes that one factor that could drive up Democratic turnout – particularly among blacks – is President Trump’s support of Reeves. The president recently tweeted his endorsement and is likely to make at least one visit to Mississippi on behalf of Reeves.

“Trump drives enthusiasm,” Jones said. He argued that Trump could do more good for Hood because the president’s support could remind Democrats of what Mississippi under Reeves could look like.

While Barbour agreed with Jones’s turnout assessment, he pointed out what he sees as a much bigger problems for the Democrats on a long-term basis. He pointed out that in 2003, 190,000 people voted in the Republican primary and 517,000 voted in the Democratic primary. By 2019, Republican turnout in the primaries had doubled to 383,000, while the number of Democratic primary voters had dropped to 302,000 people – down more than 200,000.

“That is problematic,” Barbour said.

Veteran journalists spar over Trump's relationship with press

    By Mason Scioneaux for The Daily Mississippian

Journalist Peter J. Boyer with Charles Overby and Curtis Wilkie

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.

“Tell the truth,” Wilkie said.

Boyer said, “Lose the Twitter account, dude.”

Saving His Newspaper, One iPad at a Time

By Ashton Logan for HottyToddy.com

Walter E. Hussman discusses the future of newspapers and journalism with Charles Overby
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.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette Core Values
“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:

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.

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.


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.

Overby Center Auditorium

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