When he bought a bankrupt newspaper in a bankrupt town in 1936, community organizer George McLean envisioned a newspaper that would build the character of its readers and generate jobs for North Mississippi.
From the Mclean era forward, the Journal has been an agent of community development in Tupelo, encouraging industry, promoting highway construction, prioritizing education – distinctive in today’s fractured media landscape.
What sets the Journal apart from other newspapers is the focus of this Web documentary, produced by the master’s students at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as media history seminar project.
“George McLean had great wisdom and a focus on the well being of the community,” said Will Norton, Jr., Dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “He invested in development of Tupelo and established a foundation to use the profits of the newspaper to meet needs in the community.”
The idea for our project came from former employees who told me that the Journal was unlike any other newspaper they had worked for -- a paper which placed a premium on building the character of its readers.
The students followed the Journal’s bright path, showing show the paper assisted in the city’s economic and educational success, interviewing editors, reporters, long-time employees and readers in the process.
“It should be a public utility that enables a community to function in an informed way,” said Norton, explaining the paper’s expansive role and the task of students in understanding it.
As their instructor, I traveled with my students to Tupelo over a dozen times, lugging cameras, microphones and tripods, capturing in segments the multimedia story we wanted to tell. The voices you hear in this documentary are those of the community.
We found the Journal’s past in its present, in the quality schools and cutting-edge industries the paper helped to promote through community engagement, a practice now known as civic journalism, which had been the Journal’s mission for decades.
Ed Meek, entrepreneur and major donor for whom the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media is named, recalled having been mentored by George McLean on trips to Tupelo with journalism professor and department chair Samuel Talbert in the early 1960s.
“George McLean saw the newspaper as a vehicle to bring about that unity,” said Meek, who founded the Tupelo Furniture Market in the late 1980s. “He believed in the press as a check on government but also as a force to build the community. It’s given Tupelo an unusual strength.”
What sets the Journal apart from other newspapers is the focus of this Web documentary, produced by master’s students at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as their media history seminar project.
Darrel Jordan, Chief Engineer for the Meek School and who is working on his graduate degree, co-produced the project. Student videographers were Andrew Abernathy, Callie Blackwell, Cory Cox, Graham Knox, Nathan Gregory, Lindsay Jordan, Danielle Ligato, Chris Marshall, Austin Monroe, Jace Ponder, Nicole Sheriff, David Thigpen, Ryan Whittington and Lauren Zimmerman.