Category: CIS News

Brantley and Grace to Host NPR Investigative Podcast ‘White Lies’

Chip Brantley (left) and Andrew Beck Grace (right) host White Lies, an investigative podcast out May 14, that exposes the lies that kept James Reeb’s murder from being solved for 50 years. Photo credit: Fernando Decillis/NPR

Seven-part serialized investigative podcast, hosted by native Alabamians Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace, available May 14.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019; Washington D.C. — In 1965, Reverend James Reeb — a Unitarian minister and civil-rights activist — was killed during the voting rights movement in Selma. After three men were tried and acquitted for his murder, the city’s white community buried the truth. More than 50 years later, two native Alabamians return to Selma to uncover the truth about who killed James Reeb, and to delve into the systems of oppression and violence that allowed it to happen.

In White Lies, a narrative podcast available May 14, co-hosts Andrew Beck Grace and Chip Brantley expose the lies that kept the murder from being solved and uncover a story about guilt, memory, and justice that says as much about America today as it does about the past. In a place where a legacy of impunity and silence conspires against them, Brantley and Grace scour Selma for living witnesses, guided by an unredacted copy of an old FBI file. They meet people who know the truth about the murder but have lied for decades — until now.

“Working with the NPR investigative team, Chip and Andy’s reporting answers questions about James Reeb’s death that have lingered for over half a century,” said Anya Grundmann, SVP of Programming and Audience Development. “This is a deeply told story about a piece of our history that contains hard and unexpected truths that still reverberate today.”

Hear a trailer now on Apple Podcasts, NPR One, Pocket Casts, or wherever podcasts are available. New episodes of White Lies will publish each Tuesday for the next seven weeks.

Photo credit: Fernando Decillis/NPR

“The story of Jim Reeb’s murder occupies a strange place in our country’s history,” said Andrew Beck Grace. “As we reported this story and discovered the lies that had been crafted to hide the truth about his murder, we saw a chance to correct this narrative. And as white southerners, we felt we had a responsibility to do that.”

“We set out to make a dynamic and responsible piece of crime reporting, and it’s been a dream to have the support of NPR’s investigative team,” said Chip Brantley.

Chip Brantley is the author of The Perfect Fruit (Bloomsbury), and his work has appeared in Slate, the Oxford American, and The New York Times, among others. A senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Alabama, Brantley is a former director of TV development for Dogstar Films and the creative producer of Whitman, Alabama, an experimental documentary that was a 2018 Emmy finalist in the New Approaches in Documentary category. Brantley lives in Birmingham.

Andrew Beck Grace is nonfiction filmmaker whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and PBS’s Independent Lens. His award-winning film Eating Alabama premiered at SXSW, aired nationally on PBS, and was awarded Best Documentary by the James Beard Foundation. Grace’s interactive documentary, After the Storm, was a co-production of PBS’s Independent Lens and The Washington Post. It has been exhibited internationally and was nominated for an Emmy in New Approaches to Documentary. Grace teaches nonfiction filmmaking and journalism at the University of Alabama.

NPR podcasts receive 31.8 million weekly downloads across all shows (Source: Splunk, NPR Podcast Logs). According to the Podtrac industry ranker, NPR is the leading publisher of podcasts.

Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace are faculty members in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media, housed in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. To learn more about C&IS, visit

Holle Award winners Sonia Farmer (left) and Alex Cherry

2019 Holle Award Winners Announced

Holle Award winners Sonia Farmer (left) and Alex Cherry at Honors Day 2019
Holle Award winners Sonia Farmer (left) and Alex Cherry at Honors Day 2019

The College of Communication and Information Sciences has announced the winners of the 2019 Holle Awards for Excellence and Creativity in Communication.

The awards are designed to celebrate and reward student achievement in the areas of book arts, filmmaking, media writing, public speaking and screenwriting. The awards also feature a $10,000 prize.

  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Book Arts is awarded to University of Iowa MFA student Sonia Farmer for her piece, “A True & Exact History,” a boxed set of unbound poetic fragments with no ascribed sequencing created in response to a seventeenth century description of the English Caribbean, Richard Ligon’s “A True and Exact History of Barbadoes.”
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Filmmaking is awarded to New York University student Raven Jackson for “Nettles,” a film about stinging moments in the lives of different girls and women.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing is awarded to The University of Alabama’s Rebecca Griesbach, a senior from Tuscaloosa. Her submission led one judge to remark, “Greisbach makes her mark in deeper research and explanatory journalism.  Both the piece on international enrollment and Sumter County schools shows the work of a reporter who is willing to invest the time and effort needed to explain complex problems, opportunities and solutions.”
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Public Speaking is awarded to The University of Alabama’s Senna House, a freshman from Hoover, Alabama. Her speech about concussion protocols in football and the health problems associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) sought to change public perception in support of measures the National Football League is taking to protect players from CTE. In her speech, House used a water bottle to demonstrate the effects of CTE on the brains of football players.

    The 2019 Holle Award for Public Speaking finalists
    The 2019 Holle Award for Public Speaking finalists
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting is awarded to The University of Alabama’s Alex Cherry for her work, “The Ties That Bind.” Cherry is a senior from Maryville, Tennessee. This script was praised by judges for its originality, imagery and precision.

“The 2019 Holle Award winners are some of the most gifted students we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Mark Nelson, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “These students from around the country excel in communication and creativity, two things Brigadier General Everett Holle believed in and supported through his generosity in funding these awards.”

The Holle Awards are named for the 1950 graduate of The University of Alabama who served as an announcer, director, writer and producer during his 40-year career at NBC 13. Holle was a member of the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ board of visitors where he passionately invested in the success of University of Alabama students for years.

The Hardest Working Person in the Room

In 2019, PRWeek named Alana Doyle the Public Relations Student of the Year. But what you may not know is that four years earlier Doyle didn’t even know what public relations was.

Doyle came to The University of Alabama from Scottsdale, Arizona in search of something new, something different. As someone who loved public speaking, she knew she wanted to do something in the field of communication; she just didn’t know what that was. As chance would have it, her work study placed her in the advertising and public relations department’s main office. She did not know it then, but that twist of fate would change her life forever.

“As a freshman undesignated communication student, I felt like I was learning many wide-range communication skills, but none of them honed me in on a specific role,” said Doyle. “After deciding on PR, I fell in love with the program, the faculty and the unique competitive/supportive student culture where everyone is genuinely excited about one another’s success.”

According to Doyle, everyone in the advertising and public relations office soon became her family. She bounced ideas for school projects off of the staff members in the office, Lisa Myrick and Darlene Smith. She asked department chair, Joseph Phelps, to proof emails and look over her work. In fact, Dr. Phelps would be the second person she notified that she had been selected as a finalist for the honor from PRWeek.

“When I found out I had been selected as a top-five finalist for the PRWeek student of the year, I called my dad and then I called Dr. Phelps,” said Doyle. “Of course, then I called my mom and everyone else, but as someone who really watched me and helped me grow, I had to let him know right away.”

When she was building her PRWeek campaign submission, Doyle wanted as much insight as she could get. She turned to her PR family to help her prepare. Like all good families do, they supported her. She asked Tracy Sims to proof her campaign for potential AP Style errors, shared her creative concepts with Susan Daria and asked former PRWeek student of the year, Maret Montanari, to look it over, as well. Then, having been selected as a finalist for such a prestigious, national award, one thing remained: the final pitch.

“Mark Barry helped me prepare for the final two-minute pitch,” said Doyle. “He gave me several tips, but then he told me this, ‘The person who prepares the most is going to be the one who wins.’ So, I said okay. I’m going to be that person. I may not be the smartest or most involved person in the room, but I can definitely be the hardest working.”

In the five days before her final pitch, Doyle wrote down as many questions as she could think of and asked her friends to grill her with brutal criticism and harsh questioning, all in preparation to respond to whatever feedback she received. She pored over her presentation, again and again, until it was perfect.

And all of her hard work paid off. Not only was she honored as the nation’s top PR student, she’s also already secured a job. After graduation, Doyle will move to New York as a Media Coordinator for Ketchum’s global media network. The young woman who years before asked her colleagues to explain what public relations was, will be working for one of its biggest names in one of the country’s largest cities. As she takes on the next challenge, she leaves her University of Alabama PR family behind, but she will take all of what she’s learned from them to New York, along with all of their support.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama develops global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about C&IS, visit

The University of Alabama AdTeam

UA AdTeam Wins District Competition

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) AdTeam won first place in District 7 of the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). 2019 marks the ninth time that UA has won its district and the 25th consecutive year that UA has finished in the top four. UA student Katelyn Owens also won best presenter for District 7.

“I’m super proud of the work that this team did,” said Jay Waters, instructor in the department of advertising and public relations at UA and NSAC AdTeam adviser. Other faculty members assisting the 20 members of the team include advertising and public relations faculty Janet Walker and Mark Barry, as well as Gray Lloyd and Amy Martin from UA’s Digital Media Center.

The client for this year’s NSAC was Wienershnitzel, and the team was charged with elevating consumers’ opinions of hot dogs to create additional sales.

Next for AdTeam is the semi-final round, where the its members will compete against the approximately 20 other district winners around the country to determine who will be among the eight teams selected for the national title in Hollywood, FL this June.

“They all met all their deadlines, they kept an open mind throughout the process and they built a campaign that works because they were led by the data to a solution that creatively addressed the client’s problem,” Waters said. “It’s not just the quality of their work, which was exceptional, but professionalism they exhibited throughout the last six months.”

District 7 of the American Advertising Federation includes the states of Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana. The other teams that competed in District 7 were: Louisiana State University, the University of Mississippi, Samford University, the University of Memphis, Middle Tennessee State University, East Tennessee State University and Loyola University New Orleans.

The department of advertising and public relations is a part of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. To learn more about C&IS, please visit

Jenai Richards: Writ in Crimson Flame

When Jenai Richards was 10 months old, her mother noticed that she was behind on some developmental milestones typical for babies her age, and the trend continued for years. At three years old, Richards was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.¹ The specialist informed her mother that Richards would never have a normal primary or secondary education, that she would struggle socially and would forever be dependent.

Defying the odds, Jenai Richards will walk across the stage in Coleman Coliseum next Saturday a proud graduate of the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama.

But her path to graduation was not easy. Without the care and devotion of her mother and father constantly motivating her, refusing to allow her to settle, Richards story might have ended as predicted.

“My mother saw something in me, and nobody was ever going to tell her that her child wasn’t going to amount to anything—she wasn’t going for that,” said Richards. “She was like, ‘Alright, bet.’”

Richards worked relentlessly and overcame tremendous obstacles. As a child, she underwent years of speech occupational therapy four times a week with an in-home therapist. There she learned how to do every-day physical tasks such as holding a pencil and more complicated, expressive things like articulating her personal wants and needs.

In contrast to the traits which generally accompany autism, Richards has no issue talking with others and being social. Instead, her struggles are focusing, articulating her emotions, using her hands and adjusting to new routines. Astonishingly, her degree is in communication studies, a program which teaches students to think critically, express and advocate ideas effectively, and to understand and appreciate the diversity of human communication practices. In many ways, her college experience is everything that could have spelled disaster.

But she didn’t just make it through college; she thrived. Richards took an active role with the University’s division of student life. She served as a peer leader for First Year Experience, a member of the CAMP 1831 A-Team and volunteered her time and energy with both UA Dance Marathon and the Center for Service and Leadership when she wasn’t in class.

Richards also worked for three years in the Ferguson Center as an administrative office assistant, where she had to focus, use social skills and operate with a comprehensive knowledge of the University. According to Richards’ mother, for someone on the autism spectrum to learn the layout of the University well enough to direct others in an articulate manner and represent the University in a professional way, is an exceptional feat in and of itself.

After graduation, Richards will relocate to Nashville, where she has already secured employment with Dell as an account manager. She will begin with the June 2019 Sales Academy Class, a thirteen-week training program, and will have access to a mentor to guide in her professional development. This is proof that all her motivation and hard work has paid off.

“Every year of my college experience [my mom] had such high expectations for me, because she didn’t want me to be overcome by self-doubt,” said Richards. “There were low points for me, but ultimately she instilled a flame in me and she’s never let me blow it out.”

When she walks at graduation next Saturday, Richards defiantly accomplishes so much of what many people told her, her father and her mother she never could.

“Everything that was in my way as a challenge, I either found an alternate route or I hurdled it,” said Richards. “You’re told that there’s this list of things you need to be successful, and I didn’t have any of the things typically on that list, and yet here we are.”

The flame is burning brighter than ever.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama develops global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about C&IS, visit

¹According to, Asperger syndrome is a diagnosis on the autism spectrum which generally involves difficulty with social interactions, restricted interests, desire for sameness and distinctive strengths. It is distinguished from other forms of autism by the presence of typical to strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability. In 2013, Asperger syndrome became part of the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5).

Ribbon Cutting SEC

C&IS Approves SEC Proposal for Microwave

SEC vice president, Alyssa McGee, cuts the ribbon for the microwave in the Hub.

When C&IS student, Alyssa McGee heard a request for a microwave from a fellow student, she didn’t wait around; she acted. As vice president of the C&IS Student Executive Council (SEC), she knew her student organization was in the perfect position to help.

“After I heard these requests being voiced by students in the College, I drafted a proposal to present before the council,” said Alyssa McGee, Vice President of SEC. “Through this process, we received valuable feedback and suggestions from other members. It really was a team effort”

McGee then presented the proposal to Dr. Sara Hartley, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and external relations at C&IS. Hartley took the request before the Dean, who approved the SEC’s purchase of a microwave oven to be housed in the Hub (Reese Phifer 103).

In addition to the benefit for students who wish to save money by bringing food from home, the accommodation also answers a more specific need.

“Many students dietary restrictions limit their options on campus,” said McGee. “One student told me her allergies kept her from eating in the dining halls, from the food trucks and from the restaurants at the Ferguson Center. Now she can warm and eat food from home.”

The microwave proposal is the first-ever proposal from the SEC, but according to McGee it won’t be the last.

The Student Executive Council is a student leadership organization in the College of Communication and Information Sciences that promotes collaboration across C&IS student organizations, current students, faculty, staff and administration. They accomplish this mission by developing and maintaining strong relationships with the C&IS departments to assist in identifying and implementing opportunities within the College, building strong relationships with faculty and staff and making sure they know how to direct student related issues to the SEC, raising internal funds to support the C&IS Student Organization Fund by creating and maintaining college fundraisers, and overseeing student organization funding requests.

SLIS Graduate Student Jillian Sico

Graduate Student Spotlight: Jillian Sico

This story is one in a continuing series of C&IS graduate student spotlights. These spotlights give insight into the academic and professional lives of master’s and Ph.D. students as they advance knowledge in their respective fields of communication and information sciences. The questions serve to highlight the many aspects of the graduate student experience as well provide guidance for prospective students. To nominate a current C&IS student or graduate for a spotlight, email Cole Lanier at

Jillian Sico, a current graduate student in the MFA Book Arts program, discusses switching careers at age 34, her proudest moments and greatest challenges. When not studying in Gorgas Library, Sico can be found outside: hiking, camping and collecting plants. With the help of another graduate student, Sico started a community garden plot in Tuscaloosa where they grow papermaking and dye plants. Here is what she has to say about her experience in C&IS:

Tell us about your experience in graduate school.

I came to the MFA Book Arts program after earning an MA in Anthropology at UGA and working for several years in the non profit world. Being in the Book Arts program at UA has allowed me to pursue my dream of a second career in art, while also doing academic research on papermaking and book arts traditions. I feel very privileged to be here learning new creative skills, including letterpress printing, papermaking and bookbinding.

What are some of the highlights during your time in graduate school? 

I was excited to be supported by SLIS, the Graduate School, and Capstone International Center to do research on papermaking and book arts in Mexico last summer. Last fall, I made an artist book edition about amate, a traditional type of bark paper from Mexico, using paper made from mulberry bark I harvested here in Tuscaloosa. I was incredibly honored (and surprised!) to receive the C&IS and University-wide award for Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student this spring, as well as the SLIS Faculty Scholar Award and the Raymond F. McLain Book Arts Award.

What are your plans after graduation? How does this degree fit into your life plans?

I hope to teach university-level and workshop classes in book arts and papermaking, continue to research papermaking, and make artist books. I would also like to do some community outreach, especially related to papermaking. I really feel I have found my calling in book arts, so I hope I can make a successful career out of it.

What has been your greatest challenge?

The creative process is always inherently challenging, especially after being removed from it for so many years.

What is your favorite part about the program?

I love making artist book editions, especially ones that involve handmade paper, writing and some form of research. The Book Arts faculty, Anna Embree and Sarah Bryant, are also amazing artists and people who have been incredibly supportive; I feel lucky to know them.

What advice do you have to students about to enter graduate school?

Try not to overbook yourself, but be very proactive about finding opportunities both within and outside the University. Be open to new ideas, but make sure to keep to your ideals, values and vision.

Why did you choose UA for your graduate studies?

UA has one of the best, most well-regarded and oldest Book Arts programs in the country. I was already living in the Southeast and glad I could stay in this region while studying what I love.

If you would like to learn more about Jillian’s graduate experience, you can follow her on Instagram at @jillianmarys.


APR News Director Pat Duggins and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.

Alabama Public Radio Wins Two Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards

APR News Director Pat Duggins and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.
APR News Director Pat Duggins (center) and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The industry group Radio Television Digital News Association today named Alabama Public Radio (APR) the winner of two of its regional Edward R. Murrow Awards. APR news won best documentary for “The King of Alabama,” which examined Alabama’s role as one of the key battlegrounds in Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s crusade for civil rights. News Director Pat Duggins also won best feature for his story “Make It Like a Butterfly,” which focuses on Dr. King’s barber, and how trimming King’s trademark moustache gave barber Nelson Malden a unique vantage point on civil rights history in Montgomery in the mid 1950’s.

The “King of Alabama” features reporting from APR’s international journalist exchange program participant Ousmane Sagara from Mali, who reported on his nation feels about Dr. King fifty years after his death. Sagara combined those observations with his own during his time in the APR newsroom, covering Alabama’s fight for civil rights. Duggins and Sagara used Facebook messenger to coordinate field production of the story from Mali. Former APR student intern Allison Mollenkamp also covered how Alabama is one of only two states that celebrates Robert E. Lee day on the same Monday in January as the national holiday for Dr. King.

“Ousmane and Allison played huge roles in the success of this documentary,” Duggins said. “Their stories about the impact of Dr. King in the West African nation of Mali, and the racial divides that are still present in the U.S., are both poignant and uplifting.”

APR now goes onto to compete nationally in both categories.

Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.

Dr. Miriam Sweeney speaks at the Harvard Kennedy School.

SLIS Professor Discusses Latina AI at Harvard Kennedy School

The following is copied from the personal site of Dr. Miriam Sweeney, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies, a department of the College of Communication and Information Sciences:

I had a wonderful time presenting with my research partner Melissa Villa-Nicholas on one of our projects about Latina AI at the Harvard Kennedy School on March 25th. Our talk focused on “Emma”, the Latina virtual assistant used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as a part of their e-government services. This presentation explores the cultural affordances of Latina identity as a strategic design choice in the Emma interface that extends citizenship and nation-building projects for the state, while masking underlying information and data gathering capabilities.

​We were privileged to have Dana Chisnell, co-director of the Center for Civic Design, serve as a moderator for our talk.  We felt very welcome, thanks largely to all of the hard work and planning of Vanessa Rhinesmith, the Associate Director of digitalHKS. Thank you to everyone who came and talked with us about the politics and surveillance implications of digital technologies designed to gather information about Latinx communities.

*Watch for our paper, “Designing the ‘good citizen’ through Latina identity in USCIS’s virtual assistant ‘Emma'”, in Feminist Media Studies forthcoming this summer 2019.

Amy Fincher, of Firaxis Studios, Speaks on Leadership and Game Development

On Wednesday, April 17, Amy Fincher, of Firaxis Studios, spoke on leadership and game development, the role of communication studies and her leadership on the Civilization games to a group of C&IS students. She also gave a tailored talk to Dr. Britt class later that day. Fincher brings over a decade of expertise in development for one of the most celebrated video game series. As a producer, she bridges the gap between educating students on games and collaborating with faculty on research.

Fincher’s professional background in the industry presented a natural opportunity to share her expertise with students. She also spoke with students in Dr. Steve Holiday’s advertising course and Dr. Coral Marshall’s sports writing class — all of which have components that relate to mass media and video games. Fincher came to C&IS through a longtime friendship with Dr. Britt as they both share a love for video games and working with students.

“The opportunity for students to learn from professionals in the field is important for their professional development, as it presents potential networking opportunities and chances to receive critiques on their resumes and portfolios,” said Dr. Britt. “Individuals with experience like Amy provide a wonderful learning opportunity for students.”

Fincher’s talks and Q&A sessions provided a springboard for students to further discuss their questions about the industry from a respected professional. To learn more about C&IS, visit