Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Graduate journalism students win research awards

When Tim Steere, a community journalism graduate student, was an undergraduate student in history at West Virginia University, he often started his research by looking at newspapers.

During his history of journalism class, Steere wrote a research paper discussing a topic close to home: press coverage of coal mining disasters in West Virginia.

Steere and five other students went with their professor, Diane Bragg, to the American Journalism Historians Association Southeast Symposium and took home one of the team’s two honors: second place in Best Graduate Student Papers.

“The relationship between history and journalism is quite special. If you think about it, in many cases journalists are the ones who write history. I think the concept of storytelling is at the core of both history and journalism,” he said. “Journalism often lends itself to historical inquiry. At the same time, journalists need to know their history to fully grasp the nature of the story they are creating.”

(See also “The Crimson White wins several college journalism awards“)

Steere said to truly understand the nature of coal mining disasters one has to take into account “a myriad of factors,” from absentee land-ownership — much of West Virginia is owned by out-of-state companies — to payment by fined companies – only a fraction of fines are usually paid.

“The more obvious value of extended research papers is the comprehensiveness and depth that comes naturally with these sorts of studies. You simply cannot tell a story and discuss its historical significance in 1,000 or 2,000 word snippets,” he said. “Also, in order to make a lasting, meaningful argument, you need to not only back your position with the relevant facts, but you need to give your readers a thorough understanding of the subject matter, thus, an extended study is truly the best way to do so.”

Bragg, an associate professor of journalism, said a sentence in a newspaper article could reflect information that fills a page in a research paper. In an academic setting, she said, papers and research are an important part of journalism and the ability to find and verify sources is a central tenet of both disciplines.

“That’s a skill that a historian has to have and a reporter has to have,” she said.

Even long-form journalism, she said, can be useful and valuable to reporters and readers.

“I think we sell our readers short these days if we think they just won’t read something that has to jump to another page,” she said.

In addition, Bragg said familiarity with the history of one’s field is important for all fields of study.

“It helps to know who came before, the stakes that were made, the successes,” she said. “It informs your ability to do your job.”

Journalists may also be particularly interested to learn about predecessors at the Alabama Insane Hospital, now Bryce Hospital, which had a patient-run newspaper. This newspaper, The Meteor, was the subject of Ryan Phillips’ work, another community journalism graduate student, who took home first place in Best Graduate Student Papers.

“This newspaper gave the patients a voice along with serving as a means of therapy, so the implications are far reaching,” Phillips said. “Everyone in the community seemed to rally behind it, and, in comparison to periodicals of the day, actually isn’t that bad of a read.”

(See also “Old Bryce area haunted attraction for students“)

Like Steere, Phillips tackled a subject close to home – a Tuscaloosa native, Phillips has family members, including his grandmother, who worked at Bryce. He first heard about the paper four years ago and set out to find who its editor was.

“Despite being slightly studied, the identity of the patient-editor has never been found or released, so I set out and discovered that the editor was an educated man by the name of Joseph Alexander Goree, who was born into a planter family in Perry County and even attended Brown University,” he said. “For unknown reasons he was committed and died at the hospital in 1896 and is buried in a numbered grave on the property.”

He said the story started as a personal pursuit and though his presentation stemmed from a research paper, he really treated it as a journalist seeking an answer.

“As a journalist, I enjoyed the research with this project more than any previous story I had covered, simply because there was an answer waiting to be found that no one else had uncovered. Fortunately, I was helped tremendously by historian Steve Davis of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, which led me to the conclusion of my research,” he said. “When I actually found the name of the editor of the paper for the first time, my hands were shaking and my heart immediately began to race. To me, that is what it is about.”

And while his paper produced an answer for a personal question, Phillips said students at the University should take cues from their own predecessors and pay attention to this particular piece of history.

“I researched and wrote the academic article mainly for me, my family and my grade but knew how much this would mean to people who had been affected in some way by the hospital,” he said. “Students at the University during the time of this newspaper supported it, so students now should definitely be aware that it existed just a stone’s throw from campus.”

(See also “Bryce property possibilities slowly being realized“)

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