An Unlikely Road from Ole Miss


In the staircase of the Student Union at the University of Mississippi, there were was a brief excerpt from a poem, the Heart of Ole Miss. And part of that excerpt was this – “The University gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure…”
 
Last month marked 23 years since that diploma was given and my tenure there terminated. Ole Miss did what it good for me and set me free. For those two decades and change, I’ve been proud to be an alumnus of the University of Mississippi.
 
So it was incredibly heartwarming and validating this year to have the Ole Miss Alumni Association look back on those years and say, hey, we’re proud of you, too.
 
 
When I was an undergrad at The University of Mississippi
, I never dreamed the direction my career would take me. My ambitions were that at this point in my life, I’d be a weekly newspaper publisher. To say that helping to put tiny spaceships on giant rockets sending people to the moon was not on the map would be understatement.
 
And yet, those years in the journalism school at Ole Miss were the foundation for everything since. Reporting and writing professors like Joe Atkins and Robin Street taught not just the basic knowledge of the craft of journalism; they taught something far more valuable – how to become knowledgeable. A journalist had to be able to go into any unfamiliar situation and quickly gain the ability to communicate competently about it. Like schools or courts or county government. Or rockets.
 
In my younger days, I dreamed of winning the Silver Em award, the highest recognition Ole Miss gives its alumni for their accomplishments in careers in journalism. My career has long since taken me in a direction that doesn’t lead to a Silver Em, and I joke that I, instead, want the award for least-likely career for an Ole Miss journalism grad.
 
And that’s kind of what this article is.
 
The funny thing was, when they contacted me, I actually had the most recent issue of the Review on my desk, because I was about to write and tell them they should publish a feature about Chris Cianciola, the deputy program manager for NASA’s Space Launch System, which ain’t half bad for an Ole Miss engineering alum. (There’s a lot lot of Mississippi State alums on the SLS program and not a lot of us Ole Miss folks, and I love that all the State grads answer to a UM alum.) When they contacted me about an article, I immediately told them I was flattered, but they’d really rather write about Chris. They took down his name for a future article, but said they really wanted to write about my unlikely story.
 
And, I gotta say, they did a pretty decent job with it. Nobody’s ever written my story like this before, and I’m not displeased with the result.
 
“The University gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure, but one never graduates from Ole Miss.” – Frank Everett, UM BA’32, BL’34

Pages From The Past


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I came across an old-ish newspaper in a pile of papers recently.

Old-ish being relative. I have stacks of newspapers that date back decades; this one was only from August.

It took me a second to realize why I’d kept it; none of the big stories meant anything. Was it just one I forgot to read? (Or, perhaps, forgot to throw away?)

And then I saw it, a small bit about a German exchange student coming back to visit Indianola. The piece was in the “Pages From The Past” section — it was a story originally published in The Enterprise-Tocsin ten years earlier.

It was a story I had written. Saskia Kriester had come to Indianola as an exchange student a few years earlier, and had been placed with a family that stole from her. So that she wouldn’t have to be sent back, the city court clerk and her husband took her in for the rest of the year. A few years later, she came back to the U.S. on a visit and spent some time with her hosts. I covered the entire saga for The Enterprise-Tocsin, all those years ago.

I saved the issue with the 10-year recap because it was the last time I would appear there for a very long time. The story about the return visit was one of the last things I wrote for The E-T before leaving newspapers to come work at Marshall.

My career with The Enterprise-Tocsin spanned six years. When I left, it was only four years before my first stories started appearing in Pages From The Past. They popped up intermittently over the next six years, and disappeared again in August. Theoretically, I’ll start showing up again in nine more years, when my first stories start appearing in the 25-years-ago section. If they still publish Pages From The Past then. If, to be honest, they still publish then.

It’s strange to me that part of my life is now more than a decade ago. It seemed like such a long time, like such a defining thing when I was there. Now it’s a footnote. It shows up on my resumé and LinkedIn, and every once and a while I have to write a bio for something long enough to include “a former newspaper editor.” But it seems like a different life now.

There are a few remnants. I still use reporter’s pads as my notebooks. I love getting to put on my Mississippi journalist hat for “Mud & Magnolias” magazine.

But it’s been a long time since I left a newsprint stain on something I’ve touched. And, as silly as it is, on some days, I find that fact a little sad.

One More Byline


I’d not spoken the words in almost a decade.

“I’m David Hitt, and I’m a reporter…”

But they flowed just as nicely as they ever had.

Just to be safe, I’ll not tell the whole story yet. It’s always better not to announce what story you’re working on until it’s in print, so for the moment I’ll hang on to what exactly I was writing and who I was writing it for.

I will say it involved spending a day in Mississippi, which just made the whole thing that much better.

For those that don’t know, many many moons ago, I was a newspaperman. I was a Mississippi weekly newspaper editor at one point, and in those days thought I would go to my grave as a Mississippi newspaper publisher. NASA intervened, and the ink gradually left my veins. Or, at least, my fingerprints stopped being permanently smudged with newsprint ink.

As best as I recall, I’ve only written for one (non-book) print publication in the last decade, and I didn’t do any original reporting for it. And while my writing for NASA and the books involved at times extensive research and interviews, they weren’t quite journalism in the way I’d had been used to.

But over a month ago, I was talking to a friend while visiting Mississippi, and my friend mentioned knowing someone who might be looking for a freelance writer for an upcoming project. My information was passed along, and jumped at the opportunity when it was offered.

Earlier this week, I submitted my first news feature for a print publication in almost 10 years.

Making it even better, while some of the work was done remotely, I spent a day in Mississippi last week doing research. I explored a town. I interviewed people. I introduced myself as a reporter.

I carried my reporter’s notebook and pen.

I was happy. It felt right.

Really, it was amazing how easy and right it felt. A decade is a pretty good chunk of time, and yet it was natural. If there was any rust there, I wasn’t aware of it. To be honest, I don’t know that I wasn’t better at it last week than I was 10 years ago — the old skills were still there, enhanced by a decade’s worth of greater confidence and better narrative awareness. And working again in Mississippi, even for a day — I felt like a Mississippian again, even just for a day. I’m pretty sure my accent changed while I was there. It still fit.

The article was a one-off thing, and I’m not sure if there will be more opportunities from the same group. I really hope there will be.

There may be a little more ink left in the veins after all.