Ole Miss Students Learn Audience Biz
“Hotty Toddy” has long currency in Oxford, Miss. as a football cheer and tribal greeting for those with ties to the University of Mississippi, but now it’s also a vehicle for the school’s journalism students to get their work in front of over 100,000 readers each month.
That’s thanks to a partnership between Ole Miss, as the school is much more widely known, and HottyToddy.com, a community and culture-oriented website founded and funded by Ed Meek, namesake of its J-school, The Meek School of Journalism and New Media, and fervent lover of all things Oxford.
The students: There are 972 undergraduates in Ole Miss’ program pursuing either a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism or a Bachelor of Science in Integrated Marketing Communication. About 40 graduate students are also pursuing Master’s degrees in the same areas. The ratio of male to female students is 29% to 71%.
The school’s journalism track has two emphases, news-editorial and broadcast, along with two specializations, public relations and magazines. Integrated marketing communication features specializations in media sales and management or magazines and management (with a built-in business minor).
The faculty: There are 25 full-time faculty and six to 10 adjuncts, depending on the semester.
Student media: The school’s newspaper is The Daily Mississippian along with The DM Online, its website. Campus television is NewsWatch 99 and Rebel Radio is the school’s FM station.
Contact information: www.meek.olemiss.edu; contact Charles D. Mitchell, assistant dean and assistant professor, at 662-915-7146 or email@example.com.
What is HottyToddy.com, exactly?
The website was founded in November 2012 by Meek, a trade magazine publisher/trade show producer who parlayed his success in that field to give back to Ole Miss’ journalism program. Meek also spent more than 30 years as vice chair of public relations for the university and launched the site largely as a vehicle for local journalism students to hone their skills.
With four full-time editorial staffers as well as four salespeople, this ad-driven publication also pledges to turn all of its profits over to scholarship funds for the J-school, Wallace adds.
How does the site intersect with instruction?
Students in the Journalism Innovation course alternate their time between lectures, in-class projects and time working on the site, where their content might include everything from school board coverage to seasonal photo slideshows of Oxford or football-related listicles (football being akin to local religion).
“It’s an amazing experience for the students because their work gets instant reaction from audiences,” says Debora Rae Wenger, associate professor and director of undergraduate journalism. “They were competing with each other for who got more likes and hits.”
That kind of real-world competition also fosters relevant ethical discussions, she adds. “Everyone wants to be the top audience generator, and that gives us an opportunity to talk about if that can go too far,” Wenger says.
And, that audience can get seriously large quickly. Wenger notes that many of the stronger-performing stories garner in the 4,000 to 5,000 page-view range according to Google Analytics and some viral hits can jump dramatically steeper, such as this story about county line beer runs.
The practical relationship with the site also prompts class discussions about analytics and collaborations across different sides of the news business to create new revenue streams, including native advertising.
“They’re getting an understanding most importantly on the business side of journalism, understanding how the whole audience/advertising/content interaction works,” Wenger says. “They’re not just writing stories in a vacuum and wondering how many people have read them.”
Why should a digitally minded newsroom hire Ole Miss graduates?
“We’re pushing our students to think differently about audience, digital tools and delivery systems,” Wenger says. “Rather than view technological change as a burden, we’re trying to focus on what’s possible in the digital realm. In our Journalism Innovation class in particular, we’re ensuring that our graduates have begun thinking about the business side of the profession and how to ethically support the profit imperative of most news organizations.”