The Media and the Death Penalty in Arkansas

The world watched as Arkansas attempted a rapid series of executions. University of Central Arkansas Communication students spoke to media witnesses. Here’s what they learned…

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The State of Arkansas attempted to execute eight men in an 11-day span in April 2017. The rapid pace, brought on by the imminent expiration of the lethal injection drugs, drew national and international attention to a correctional facility along a rural highway near a town of 523 people.

This semester, beginning four months later, I taught a special topic course on public relations, the press and public affairs at the University of Central Arkansas. We chose the executions as our local issue to examine, looking at the relationship between journalists, government institutions, and advocacy groups in framing and disseminating information to the public.

One of our goals was to communicate what we learned to the larger campus community. As I began to schedule possible guests, they were requesting the same dates. And so we decided to bring four broadcast journalists on the same day and hold a public forum. To my knowledge, it marks the first time since the executions that those witnessing and reporting on them have come together to speak about those experiences.

On Wednesday, November 15, we welcomed three witnesses – one from each of the TV news groups in Little Rock – and one public radio reporter who reported heavily on open-information struggles between media and the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The event was entirely prepared and implemented by students in the class. Their PR know-how secured a location and resources for the event, as well as promoted it on campus and to the surrounding community (here’s their news release; you’ll see some of the other materials below). Meanwhile, they used their journalistic skills to research the executions and the major players involved.

On the day of the forum, students handled everything from seating and administering extra credit to streaming, facilitating media covering the event, and moderating our panel.

It’s a proud day for a professor when all I have to do is invite the crowd to give them a hearty round of applause at the end of a job well done.

You can watch the archive of our Facebook Live stream here:

Thanks to some dedicated live tweeters, we have quite a collection of highlights from the event. Enjoy… Continue reading “The Media and the Death Penalty in Arkansas”

The grad student tax is an attack on higher education. Let’s try to stop it.

Grad student tax burdens could quadruple. What that means, why it’s happening, and what we can do about it.

The tax plan being debated in the halls of Congress is going to greatly limit access to graduate education. The version passed by the House counts as income the tuition waivers received by grad students on fellowships or assistantships (that’s just about everyone not in law or med school). The result is a huge tax increase for students making next-to-nothing.

Here’s how it works: most graduate students teach and/or do research for the university in exchange for a small living stipend and not having to pay tuition. While some in the hard sciences get more, those stipends typically hover just above the poverty line for a full-time workload (ask anyone who works in these alleged “20-hour a week” positions that are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act). Tuition waivers are far more valuable, wiping away an expense that would be double to triple the income earned from the stipend. That’s not income grad students ever see, nor is it a tax deduction they have to claim; it’s just an expense they don’t have to pay. But taxing that as income can take a potentially catastrophic chunk out of the actual stipend money a student has to live on.

I ran the numbers on my graduate education. Here’s how the changes in the House tax bill would’ve increased my tax burden by counting my tuition waiver as income (pre-deductions for simplicity):

Master’s: Tax rate increases from 10% to 32% of actual income
Doctorate: Tax rate increases from 12% to 50% (!) of actual income

I was fortunate. I got a Master’s degree in-state and lived rent-free with family. With those discounts and a few part-time jobs, I made it work. And maybe, under the new plan, I could still float that.

But a Ph.D. with 50% of my actual income going to taxes? I literally couldn’t have afforded rent in a dirt cheap college town.

I could not have become an educator.

And lots of other would-be graduate students in lots of other fields would not be able to reach their aspirations because Uncle Sam priced them out of it.

Many graduate programs are the purest remaining pursuits of knowledge & creativity. They don’t end in high-paying jobs that make shouldering years of debt feasible.

Arts, humanities & social sciences, particularly, are going to get crushed by this.

Of course, STEM folks are saying it’s going to kill STEM too. And, honestly, that’s a more compelling argument to Washington, because it more directly threatens economic growth.

I think these programmatic statements have a lot to do with the silos we live in as graduate students and the precision with which we learn to make claims. We talk about our disciplines because they are the ones we know and have experienced.

Let’s be clear: This threatens all of us.

Let’s be clear again: Our fate rests in the hands of Senate Republicans.

Continue reading “The grad student tax is an attack on higher education. Let’s try to stop it.”

Trust in a fake news world

“Fake news” defined an election, and continues to play a prominent role in the presidency of the candidate that most benefited from all of its forms. Gather a bunch of journalism educators together, and it’s no surprise we’re going to want to talk about it. That’s what happened in Chicago at the 2017 annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Continue reading “Trust in a fake news world”

Teaching media literacy in a world of active shooters

I teach in a world of active shooters.

Whenever I teach a university-core communication course, I always include a bit of media literacy, even if it’s a speech/interpersonal-oriented class. If this will be the only exposure non-majors receive to the discipline, I believe one of the most practical skills I can teach them is how to be wise consumers and distributors of information.

This is how that played out in a classroom in Arkansas.

Continue reading “Teaching media literacy in a world of active shooters”

Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy

There will never be a n*gger at SAE
There will never be a n*gger at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
But he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a n*gger at SAE

Some ignorant frat guys from the University of Oklahoma sang this on a bus. It was filmed and shared online. Within 24 hours, the university severed ties with the fraternity and shut down their campus house. Within 36 hours, two students appearing to lead the song had been expelled.

They deserve it. The existence of this line of thinking, much less the existence of a welcoming audience for such a message, makes me angry.

They deserve it. But they cannot be expelled, because it runs counter to the purpose of institutions of higher education and foundational American beliefs about expression.

Continue reading “Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy”

A brief update as we turn the calendar

Friends, colleagues, and happenstance Googlers,

I warned you this may happen.

Indeed, life as a doctoral student quickly overtook side projects like this blog. There’s a reason the home page describes me as “an on-again off-again blogger.”

My first semester at Alabama went well. Papers were written, books were read… statistics were even largely understood. I enjoyed my first experience in a large-lecture setting, teaching a 220-or-so student Intro to Mass Com course. I hope to one day write about the social media and technological implementations into the curriculum. The student experience seemed to be quite positive. The most common complaint on my evaluations was that the class met at 8 a.m. Allow me to second.

The 2012 presidential election provided a wealth of research opportunities. As conferences and (cross your fingers) publications arise, you can check here for summaries that aren’t near as tedious as the full papers.

Otherwise, the blog is likely to remain quiet during this time. As always, you can follow me on Twitter, where I do still find time to comment on all manner of thing, 140 characters at a time. I do enjoy writing for those of you who enjoy reading. Hopefully, we will reconvene soon.

A new season begins

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1

The past few months have been good for the blog. Summer provided a good bit of free time and some fun topics to write about. It also provided some much needed time with those closest to me. I was talking to a fellow friend displaced by higher education a few nights ago. We agreed – you never truly appreciate family and friends until you have left them. So I am thankful I received a season at home.

Now, it’s time to turn the page.

At the beginning of the month, I moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Next week, I begin my work as a Doctoral Assistant in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. Daunting as it may be, I am looking forward to immersion in the Ph.D. process. I like the future it promises; the possibilities now only imagined. With prayer I take this step, mindful that “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

But that has very little to do with the blog.

I am writing you to let you know I will not be writing you. At least as frequently. Or, at least not in as much depth. I hope to still share the occasional thought on more prominent events. That or bore you with stories about my research.

Best wishes for your next season. May we meet again soon.