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Hampton Journalists Successful, Yet Critical of Their Alma Mater

Hampton Journalists Successful, Yet Critical of Their Alma Mater

Daarel Burnette, a 2006 Hampton University graduate, began working as an education reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal within days of graduation — an impressive step for someone fresh out of college. In 2003, Burnette wrote an in-depth story in The Hampton Script about health violations in the university’s cafeteria, setting off a widely publicized censorship dispute between the paper and university officials.

Talia Buford, a 2005 Hampton grad, is a reporter at the Providence (R.I.) Journal. Buford was editor of the Script when Burnette’s story appeared. She stood up to the administrators, who confiscated thousands of copies of the issue (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Dec. 4, 2003).

Bravetta Hassell, who will be a Hampton senior this fall, is a summer intern at The Washington Post. She served as editor of the Script for one semester last year but says she quit after being told not to run a story — ironically, about the cafeteria.

Marvin T. Anderson, a summer intern at the Detroit Free Press and the incoming editor of the Script, says he expects problems.

Anderson’s top goal is to get the Script back online after administrators ordered the Web site shut down in 2004. “It’s very difficult. I feel like I’m getting a runaround from the administration. I met with somebody, and they told me to send them a template so they could approve it.”

Hassell says frustration over administrative oversight led her to give up her position as editor. “I was told by one of our advisers not to run a story about the cafeteria,” she says about the situation, which nearly paralleled Burnette’s 2003 incident. “I backed down. It was just a story about students not being able to take food out of the cafeteria. Hampton finds the most mundane stories investigative.”

The adviser, one of three assigned to the paper, did not return phone calls seeking comment, but Yuri Rodgers Milligan, director of university relations and one of the Script’s other advisers, says she knew nothing about the incident. “The policies and procedures manual states that there is no censorship of the Script,” Milligan says. “Nothing is censored or cleared.”

As for problems putting the newspaper online, Milligan says,
“The policies and procedures manual does not address the online component. It needs to be revised.”

She points out that all of these students have benefited from scholarships and internships offered by Hampton’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism, headed by veteran broadcast commentator Tony Brown. The students praise the internship programs, which allow them to work with Scripps Howard’s news service in Washington, D.C., and its newspapers throughout the country.

“The partnership with Scripps Howard proved invaluable to me — as I was able to secure my first two internships through the company,” Buford says. “The teachers, students, lessons and experiences I had while at Hampton are a great part of the reason I have a good job in my field today.”

She also says the difficulties with administrators helped her reporting skills. “The stories I wrote for the Script that dealt with the administration did give me a primer on some of the complications I’d meet in the real world with sources. They taught me how to ask better questions and how to get around uncooperative sources to find the paper trail.”

Hassell, who also participated in the Scripps Howard internship program and had an academic scholarship, questions whether her work as editor caused her to lose the scholarship. She says her GPA dipped to 3.298, slightly below the 3.3 needed to maintain the scholarship. “They didn’t round off the numbers,” she says. Furthermore, she says the university “didn’t inform me until the end of June, when it was too late to apply for other scholarships.” Hassell is appealing the decision.

Burnette criticizes the journalism school “for not being academically stable and having administrators who have a shallow understanding of journalism.

“I think HU is a great laboratory for journalism training,” he says. “Hostile administrators can teach a student patience. Hampton’s lack of understanding of journalism helped me understand journalism.”

— Pearl Stewart

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