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Construction, renovation projects transforming Ole Miss facilities

Oxford — Two construction and renovation projects, one funded by a private entity, the other largely made possible by student-earned money and the utilization of on-campus architects, designers and construction crews, are transforming journalism and student media at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).

A $5-million grant from the Freedom Forum is paying for the renovation and expansion of the Department of Journalism, according to Dr. Samir Husni, acting chair of the department.
Half of the grant will be used for an endowment to support programs and the other half for the renovation of Farley Hall, where the journalism department is located. The $2.5 million for renovation will be matched with $2.5 million from private, university and state funds.
Work on Farley Hall will begin next year.

At the opening of this school year, the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center moved into its new home and into “the age of media convergence,” according to Ralph Braseth, student media director.

The state-of-the-art facility in Bishop Hall will be home to the Daily Mississippian (DM), Rebel Radio 92.1, Channel 12 NewsWatch, the Ole Miss annual, Oxford Health and Fitness magazine and the DM online.

Student media is mostly self-sustaining, Braseth said. “We get some tuition money but 60% of our money comes from advertising in student media, particularly the Daily Mississippian.”

Braseth said that if any money remains after a year’s expenses are met, “We sock it away” — it goes into a reserve account. Money from the reserve account was the main source of funding for the construction.

The convergence of print, broadcast and online programs will allow the different OM publications and organizations to work closely together, Braseth added.

The Overby Center will be named for Charles Overby, chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum, who was Daily Mississippian editor while he attended Ole Miss from 1964 to 1968 and who was executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger when the Jackson newspaper won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage and support of the landmark Education Reform Act.
The Freedom Forum, originally sponsored by Gannett newspapers and now a separate entity, is nonpartisan and dedicated to free speech, free press and free spirit for all people.

The grant to create the Overby Center, “is a fitting tribute to a great journalist,” according to Allen H. Neuharth, who the founded the Freedom Forum. “It also provides a unique platform for his alma mater to take the lead role in the study of Southern journalism and politics.”

“This renovation and expansion is important because we’re running out of space and smart classrooms,” according to Husni. “This is a major move from the 20th to the 21st century. It will reflect these changes and create an excellent level of education.”

Smart classrooms are those with laptops, wireless internet and all the necessary technology.
Ole Miss intends to have the best journalism department in the Southeast, Husni said. “We have the soul now. What we need is the body.”

He added that it was important to give full credit to chancellor Robert Khayat, who met with Overby over an extended period of time. “We owe this center to the vision and persistence of the chancellor. Even if it takes five years, once he is committed to a project, he will see it through. He loves Ole Miss.”

The new facility’s full name is the Charles Overby Center for Journalism and Politics. In addition to the resources of the journalism department, it will bring together aspects of the law school and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“There is an inherent conflict between policy makers and journalists,” Overby said. “I hope that the center will bring these two groups together to focus on the human side of issues. The best chance for a debate is face to face.”

Construction will take some 18 to 24 months. During this time, the journalism department will move into Lester Hall, a former men’s dormitory that has been renovated for such a purpose.

One of the fastest-growing department’s on campus, the journalism department has some 540 majors, 15 full-time faculty members and 10 adjunct instructors.

Jim Eley of Jackson’s Eley Associates is Farley Hall’s architect.

The media center, which is named for S. Gale Denley, founder and director of the center and associate professor of journalism from 1963 to 1996, cost $550,000 to $600,000, according to Braseth.

In addition to the costs for construction and furnishings, there is some $200,000 in new technology. This includes 25 Apple iMac computers, 20 Apple Power Mac G5 computers, laptops, a mainframe server and portable equipment.
There is also new software, some upgrading for the radio and television areas and a new electrical grid.

The new facility, which Braseth said is a “showcase, where people walk in and say, ‘Wow,’” was formerly a storage area for other campus entities, such as the library.

“Our biggest concern is to provide students with experience that will help them get not just jobs, but better jobs. Students can specialize in one area but we want them to be comfortable with all areas, because these graduates are in high demand.”

Braseth said that the media center’s working toward convergence means gathering everything on a multi-medium platform — print, broadcast and Internet.
“We want the best combination of media to tell the story.”

The first taste of what was to come at Ole Miss occurred three-and-a-half years ago when Braseth visited the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, Braseth, other staff members and students visited media centers at the University of North Carolina, the American Press Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Newsplex at the University of South Carolina, which is considered the prototype.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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