71st SRPI

Pictured from the left: Dr. Marc Smith, Co-founder and director of Social Media Research Foundation; Dr. Chuck Wallington, Executive Vice President and Chief of Marketing and Communications Officer for Cone Health; Nakia Stephens, Award-winning screenwriter and independent filmmaker 

An HBCU prides itself on the traditions and accomplishments it provides for the students and the community. Savannah State University is filled with many opportunities for students to succeed in their prospective careers post-graduation. The department of Journalism and Mass Communications hosted their 71st Southern Regional Press Institute on Thursday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 25 with various academic sessions. SRPI is a conference for students to connect with professionals in the multimedia, public relations, and journalism career fields. 

The theme of this year’s conference was “The New Order: World of News and Communication Post COVID and George Floyd.” The theme emphasized the impact the COVID pandemic and the murder and trial of George Floyd had on many journalists, reporters and filmmakers. The event kicked off virtually for the second time on Thursday at 9:00 am with keynote speaker, Co-founder and Director of The Social Media Research Foundation, Dr. Marc Smith.

Dr. Marc Smith discussed the interest of individuals using computers to communicate with each other. His foundation is nonprofit and based in California, where his team makes a piece of software that is intended to help non-programmer's voice an opinion that is useful about social media. Dr. Smith is also a sociologist and uses sociology to dissect social media into smaller perspectives. His workshop focuses on how social media can be viewed through a sociology standpoint and use that standpoint to improve how we use and produce social media. 

“We want to make it possible for non-programmer’s to get to social media datasets and tell stories about them that are empirically grounded. That have quantifiable objective bases, that can be validated by other people, something you can share with somebody and say ‘test my result,” stated Dr. Marc Smith about the basis of his foundation. 

The sessions started on Thursday and ended on Friday, there were eight sessions that centered around multimedia, journalism, and public relations: 

Session I: “Race, Covid, and Reporting: A Snapshot on How These Events Changed How We Anchor and Report” with Amber Grigley, new anchor and reporter at WKRG 5-News; Asha Gilbert, online content producer at USA Today; Sydnee Little, executive producer at WWSB; Dawn Baker, anchor at WTOC; Greg Coy, anchor and reporter at WJCL; Edward Moody, anchor and reporter at WSAV; and Wanda Lloyd, retired newspaper editor.

Session II: “Organizational Consciousness: Discussing PR Tactics During Racial and Heath Crisis” with Jasmine Sam-Jackson, Ph.D, public relations director at FrontRow Public Relations, LLC; Ronald T. Jones Sheilds II, Communications Specialist at Clayton County public schools; Catalina Garcia-Quick, President at First City Public Relations; and Dr. Serajul Bhuiyan, professor at SSU. 

Session III: “Challenges and Opportunities for Reporters Post Covid” with Brandy Simpkins, freelance journalist; Xavier McKnight, senior producer at ABC WWSB-TV; Briana Collier, Communications Specialist at city of Richmond Hill; and Dr. Vicki Brown, assistant professor at SSU. 

Session IV: “Status of the Film Industry Post-Covid” with Beth Nelson, executive director at Southern Regional Film Commission; Arzoo Raina, assistant at CW and Warner Brothers; and Mr. Will Martin, WTRT-TV director at SSU. 

Session V: “What is TikTok and Why Should PR Pros Care?” with Preshus January, owner and social media manager at Lets P Creative PR, LLC; Dr. Theo Plothe, Ph.D., assistant professor at SSU; and Jasmine Sam-Jackson, Ph.D, public relations director at FrontRow Public Relations, LLC.

Session VI: “Print and The Role of Georgia-Based New Outlets in The Reporting of Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder Trial” with Tanya Milton, vice president and advertising, director at The Savannah Tribune; Raisa Habersham, watchdog and investigative reporter for The Savannah Morning News

Session VII: “LinkedIn: Tools to Advance Yourself Professionally” with Frank Mendelson, acquisitions editor and faculty at SSU; Robin Sherman, principle editorial and design services; and Mr. Jason Johnson, adjunct instructor at SSU. 

Session VIII: “Keynote Speaker: Dr. Chuck Wallington, Executive VP and Chief MMarketing Communications Office for Cone Health, Greensboro, NC” 

Session IX: “Tips for entry-level Jobs - A Take from Recent Graduates (Student Panel - Webex)” with Asha Gilbert, online content producer at USA Today; Xavier McKnight, senior producer at ABC WWSB-TV; Arzoo Raina, assistant at CW and Warner Brothers; Neisha Rogers, founder and producer of Freed Minds Productions; and Arabia Turner, public relations intern at BRAVE Public Relations.

Session X: “Journalism, Social Media and Grass-Root Movements” with Dr. Theo Plothe, Ph.D., assistant professor at SSU; Bria Bolden, multimedia journalist at WTOC-TV; Lee Ivory, president of Ivory Communications; and Krystal Hart, public relations consultant and copywriter at Sparrow Communications. 

Session XI: “Producing Content Remotely” with Asha Gilbert, online content producer at USA Today; Wanda Lloyd, retired newspaper editor; Neisha Rogers, founder and producer of Freed Minds Productions; Shantez Herrington, media technician; Chavis Carter, lecturer and TV studio assistant at NCU; and Adam Van Brimmer, opinion content editor at Savannah Morning News. 

Session XII: “Covering the Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder Trial (Student Panel)” with Mr. Jason Johnson, adjunct instructor at SSU; Eden Turner, student at SSU; Kalel Akins, student at SSU; and Reanna Haynes, student at SSU.

In Session XIII, with Nakia Stephens as the keynote speaker, ignited a crowd full of proud faculty and staff and mesmerized students. Stephens was born and raised in Atlanta, GA but is a SSU Alumna as well as a former student of the JMC department. She is currently an award-winning Screenwriter and Independent Filmmaker.

Nakia Stephens has accomplished so many things within her lifetime such as Cream x Coffee and being featured in RollingOut Magazine. The panel was an inspiration for JMC students and a reflection of Savannah State’s slogan, “You can get anywhere from here!” 

The 71st SRPI conference concluded with students networking with SSU alumni, professionals, and international colleagues. Mr. Kareem McMichael, online and content manager at SSU, directed the conference for the consecutive time, breaking barriers by creating a networking and refreshing virtual environment for students and professionals.

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