Melissa Dixon

Editor’s note: JEA mentee Melissa Dixon was one of the advisers featured in an article titled “Advisers Under Pressure,” in the Spring 2011 issue of the SPLC Report, published by the Student Press Law Center. The story dealt with the challenge media advisers and their staffs experience in trying to report on the events of the school when some of those events aren’t always positive for the school or, in Dixon’s situation, a sports coach. Dixon is the newspaper and yearbook adviser at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala. I asked Melissa to share the background on the story.

Q: How did you get involved with the JEA mentoring program?
Dixon: I’ve been a yearbook adviser for 12 years. This year, I was a first-year newspaper adviser. That’s how I met Marie Parsons. I was at the Alabama Scholastic Press Association‘s fall convention in September, and the director introduced us. Marie already had two women she was working with as mentees, but eagerly took me as well, especially when she learned of my situation. The newspaper program had declines over the past several years, so the program was given to me to turn the paper around. Marie found the idea intriguing. She’s been great to work with.

Members of the yearbook staff work in the journalism lab, equipped with nine computers. Photo by Kayla Patak

Q: How do you plan for your journalism classes compared to your English classes?
Dixon: It’s very different. Even though I’m held accountable for my English classes, my colleagues really have no clue what goes on in my classroom. However, the publications are very accessible and affect the entire school. So I’m always mindful of what we do in the journalism lab, halls, places where we are photographing, etc.

I think that process makes me a better teacher overall, too. I’m so passionate about my publications, and my staffers are because I am. I try to act the same with English. If I’m in love with my subject, I teach it in such a way that hopefully makes it interesting. My kids won’t always love everything we do, but they don’t drag themselves into my room dreading to be there either.

Q: Tell us about the story that was covered in SPLC Report.
Dixon: We were having a nightmare time getting the freshman boys’ basketball scores and pretty much exhausted every means possible. I did eventually get a parent to at least tell me the win/loss status. However, a few days later, the head coach of the varsity team came to my room, which he’s never done before, and asked me not to print the scores. Even though it wasn’t his team, he said that the other coaches had gotten some awful complaints from the parents about the losing season and he just didn’t want the win/loss record printed. This coach and his wife are friends of mine, so it put me on the spot. I told him that we printed the football scores (they won only two games), but that didn’t make much of a difference to him. He even said it would be a huge favor to him. I told him fine. No problem.

However, that same day, an adviser from another school encountered the same problem and wrote about it on the JEA listserv, and I responded what I had done. Actually, it wasn’t a big deal to me. However, I was raked over the coals by other advisers about how I was intentionally hiding a historical record and shame on me. Really, some of the comments were a bit harsh. I didn’t take the personally, but then I realized they were all correct. So I printed the won/loss record and told the coach days later that the pages for the yearbook had already been sent. A writer from the Student Press Law Center heard about my story and contacted me.

I like the JEA listserv. I’ve gotten some great advice and encouragement from others’ postings.


JEA mentors Wayne and Georgia Dunn (Ohio) also were included in the SPLC story. The Dunns discussed how they help advisers learn about First Amendment rights but also know that the advisers face the balance of “covering the school while also trying to avoid trouble.”

Mentoring Monday is a feature on the JEA Mentoring blog. We  feature photos and stories about the JEA mentors, their mentees and the high school journalism students. Please send your photos, captions and stories to 2jdodd (at) gmail (dot) com.