It’s the students, stupid.

Originally published on on Aug. 18, 2012.

Every once in awhile, people involved in higher education have to be reminded exactly why they’re here. It’s easy to get consumed by necessary academic elements like research, budgets, policies and administration. But at the center of every academic institution are students.

Last week’s series of events at The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper of the University of Georgia, could’ve been completely avoided if the students were kept in the center. However, in working to maintain a quality newspaper while making the money necessary to keep the nonprofit publication afloat, the newspaper’s board of directors — comprised mainly of Red & Black veterans from decades past — strayed away from the core of its institution.

Significant decisions were made about the student newspaper’s staff, its editorial philosophy and the direction of the product without input from the students. When the student editors returned from their summer break, they found a very different newspaper from the one that they were hired last semester to run.

It’s hard to believe that the powers-that-be at The Red & Black didn’t expect a negative reaction from the students. They likely thought most would be mad, and some would even quit, but in the end they would be left with a core group of competent students who would ultimately succumb to the changes.

What they underestimated is the courage of editor-in-chief Polina Marinova, managing editor Julia Carpenter, news editor Adina Solomon, variety editor Tiffany Stevens, sports editor Nicolas Fouriezos, multimedia editor Lindsey Cook, photo editor Cory Schmelter and chief photographer Cody Schmelter. These eight students would stand up for their principles, unite for their cause and launch their own product. And they certainly didn’t anticipate the nearly unanimous support the students would receive after walking out on The Red & Black.

Calling themselves “The Red & Dead” and launching their own website, Twitter feed and Facebook page, within hours the renegade editors found themselves with thousands of supporters from the campus community, alumni and the journalism field itself. But outside of a few official statements, they displayed incredible maturity, mostly keeping quiet in the hopes of finding a compromise with The Red & Black.

Less than 24 hours after the walkout, the students were invited to meet with newspaper administrators to discuss the situation. It appeared the administrators at The Red & Black were finally willing to admit their mistake and once again put students at the center of their publication. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. After the board refused to budge, the editors held firm and walked out, again. But this time, they went public with their story with one simple tweet: “We are taking all requests for interviews …” While The Red & Black board continued to isolate the student editors, hours later journalism outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News and The Huffington Post were putting them at the center of the story.

The support became overwhelming, and the stats prove it. They gained more than 4,500 Twitter followers in just two days (compared to the nearly 15,000 followers The Red & Black amassed over several years). The “likes” on their Facebook page matched the number of “likes” on the Red & Black’s page. And they started publishing original news and feature stories on their website, which surpassed more than 100,000 hits.

Alumni offered to help finance a new campus newspaper. Advertisers said they would pull ads from The Red & Black. Journalism professors said they would encourage students to write for this new forum. No longer could the students be put off to the side. Either The Red & Black put these students back in control of their paper, or they compete against them for readers and advertisers. And if the first two days of competition offered any foresight, the century-old newspaper didn’t stand a chance.

In a Friday meeting, with more than 100 supporters cramming the lobby and entrance of The Red & Black, the board gave the students everything they wanted. With the overwhelming public support, the editors would’ve likely had any demand met. But they held firm, as they did all along. All they wanted was editorial control, student representation on the Red & Black board and the person responsible for the chaos gone. Essentially, they wanted to wrestle back control of their student newspaper. And the board succumbed, finally putting students back at the center of the paper, as they should’ve been all along.

My 3 Sons: Hide (the remote and watch daddy) Go Seek

Originally published on on July 2, 2012.Image

Being a parent has given me a renewed perspective about material possessions. Things I used to treasure are now secondary to the happiness of my three sons. But baby Matthew is challenging that perspective when it comes to the single most important item to me in the house: the master remote control.

Like most families, our entertainment system comprises of multiple remotes — five to be exact — but of course it’s the one we need most that he has mistaken for his favorite toy.  Leave it anywhere in his reach, and it’s button-pushing time. He has no respect for the importance of what’s on TV.

For instance, I’m watching a rare, nationally televised game of my beloved White Sox. It’s late in the game, Sox are down by one with one man on base, my favorite player Paul Konerko steps up to the plate, swings and smashes the ball deep and … Spongebob is making Krabby Patties. Matthew looks at me with a grin, holding the remote, and runs to the kitchen laughing. How does an 18-month-old even know how to do that?

He knows the importance of the remote to daddy. Whenever I’m watching TV, he seeks out the remote. He doesn’t do this when his mom or brothers are watching TV, only me. And he isn’t fooled when I try to give him a different remote, he wants to control the master remote.

If I place it out of his reach or give him a stern, “No, no,” he transforms to his “adorable puppy dog” routine as he buries his face in my lap, whimpers and gently cries. This puts me in an awkward position — it’s not like he’s trying to touch a hot stove or run across the street — so I acquiesce and give him the remote so he can change channels, reprogram our settings or order a movie (all of which he’s done).

The worst is when he hides the remote. Somehow this always happens right before I want to watch something. His favorite hiding places include his toy box, under the couch, in the one unlocked kitchen cabinet, the bathroom, in one of his toy houses, under our telephone stand, in the fireplace and in the VCR.

Interrogating him is useless because he can’t talk — every answer is his favorite word, “Duh!” — which only makes me feel more stupid. Guiding him to show me where he put it only leads me on a wild goose chase, quite literally, as he misinterprets my frustration as playfulness and thinks I’m chasing him. And displaying any level of anger brings out “adorable puppy dog,” which makes me feel like a heel.

Eventually the remote will show up. In the meantime, I think I’ll just read a book.

Rock of Ages: A Good Time, and Nothing Else

Originally published July 1, 2012 on IMDB.

As a child of the ’80s and as a teenager who wanted to hit the Sunset Strip and become a rock star (but my parents wouldn’t let me), I eagerly anticipated the release of Rock of Ages. I saw the Tony Award nominated musical on Broadway, and was impressed with the seamless way classic rock anthems were worked into a true hair metal storyline as traditional stage rules were forsaken (for instance, breaking the fourth wall) for comedic purposes.

After reading several critic and user reviews mostly bashing the movie, recognizing that musicals transformed on screen are typically disappointing, and watching box offices tallies certify Rock of Ages as a bomb, I had low expectations going into the movie. Perhaps it’s because of these low expectations that I actually enjoyed Rock of Ages.

You will know if you will enjoy Rock of Ages at the opening sequence as Dancing With The Stars alum Julianna Hough — playing Sherrie Christian, an aspiring singer from Oklahoma who hits Hollywood seeking fame — breaks out into Sister Christian on the bus ride to Los Angeles as fellow passengers sing backup. Just like the music and style from the era, this scene is pure cheese, as is the rest of the movie. If the first five minutes are too cheesy to you, then you will not enjoy the rest of the movie. However, if you can accept the garish nature of the scene and find yourself internally singing along, then you’ll likely enjoy the flick.

The story follows Christian and fellow aspiring singer Drew Boley (played by newcomer Diego Boneta) as they chase their rock and roll dreams while working at the fictionally legendary Bourbon Room club on the famed Sunset Strip. Meanwhile, the club, owned by Dennis Dupree and managed by Lonny (comic relief roles played by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, respectively), is under attack by the mayor and his wife (played by Bryan Cranston and and Catherine Zeta-Jones) in an attempt to clean up the strip and save children from the evils of rock music. At the center of their spite is mega-rock star diva Stacey Jaxx, played flawlessly by Tom Cruise.

The movie takes some liberties with the musical’s storyline, but for the most part is a fair representation. The introduction of Zeta-Jones’ character as the mayor’s wife was the biggest deviation from the musical, rendering Cranston’s mayoral character useless in the movie. For the most part, the star-studded cast pulls off solid and humorous performances, especially Tom Cruise as the bigger-than-life rock god. Baldwin and Brand form a humorous team in their ridiculous outfits. And Paul Giametti and Mary J. Blige play their roles as a sleazy rock manager and strip club owner surprisingly well. The major disappointment was Zeta-Jones, who is ridiculously over-the-top even in a movie where everything is big.

The music is phenomenal — but only if you enjoy songs from the hair metal/arena rock era. It was surprising to see the actors, mostly not known for their singing, pull off strong performances of 80s rock anthems, particularly Cruise’s rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Baldwin and Brand’s humorous duet of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the many duets by Boneta and Hough, such as a heartfelt mash-up of Extreme’s “More Than Words” and Warrant’s “Heaven.” And the most of the cast joins in on performances of Poison’s “Nothing But A Good Time” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The Bourbon Room is introduced in an ensemble performance of Poison’s “Nothing But A Good Time.” Featuring big rock, big hair and a big cast, for those who are fans of this era of excess, Rock of Ages is indeed a good time, but nothing else.

Courage is Theme among Peabody Winners

Originally published on the Grady College website, May 21, 2012.

Sir Patrick Stewart talks with UGA President Michael Adams at the 71st annual Peabody Awards. Photo/Joe Dennis.

New York City received a taste of Athens, Ga., yesterday as more than 500 journalists, producers and actors gathered at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria for the 71st annual Peabody Awards.

“This is the signature event for UGA,” said Peabody Awards show executive producer Jody Danneman, a 1988 alum of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and owner of Atlanta Image Arts. “Nothing at the University has the international reach of the Peabody’s.”

Indeed, included among popular 2012 award winners like Jeopardy!, CNN Heroes and Parks and Recreation are international programs like Hong Kong’s TVB Jade Channel and South Africa’s Intersexions.

“There is one criteria for a Peabody Award — excellence,” said Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb. “And it has to be a unanimous decision by the judges.”

Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb speaks with two-time winner Stephen Colbert. With 15 judges comprised of media executives, renowned journalists and media critics, garnering a unanimous decision on “excellence” is difficult. This year, more than 1,000 entries were whittled down to 38 Peabody Awards. Photo/Joe Dennis.

Two-time Peabody Award winner Sir Patrick Stewart served as master of ceremonies of Monday’s event, announcing the winners in a two-hour ceremony in which acceptance speeches were strictly limited to roughly 30 seconds.

“Each year the list of winners is noticed by everyone in the industry,” Stewart said at the Ceremony. “What strikes me about this year’s winners is the boldness and courage of the programs and their makers.”

Courage was the theme among many award winners, including Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Awakening, Loud Mouth Films and Limited’s “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” and BBC’s “Somalia: Land of Anarchy.”

In accepting a Peabody for CNN’s coverage of the Middle East revolutions, news show host Anderson Cooper paid tribute to journalists around the world. “To all those risking their lives to give a voice to others, thank you,” he said.

Peabody’s reach stretches beyond the seriousness of journalism. This year’s winners included pop culture fares inch as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Showtime’s Homeland and NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

“It’s nice to win a Peabody,” said Parks and Recreation executive producer Michael Schur. “But it’s great to hear my name called out by Capt. Jean Luc Picard.”

Accepting the Peabody for The Colbert Report, recognizing segments on his legal Super Pac, “Americans for a better tomorrow, tomorrow,” Colbert thanked his staff, network and lawyers, and offered hope for the future.

“This is our second Peabody, and growing up I always dreamed of winning three of these,” Colbert said. “We’re almost there.”

To view a full list of winners, visit

Danneman Adds Sizzle to Peabody Awards

Grady alum Jody Danneman (l) goes through a run-of-show with 2012 host Sir Patrick Stewart prior to the Peabody Awards ceremony. Photo/Joe Dennis.

The 71st annual Peabody Awards recognized 38 programs for excellence in electronic media on Monday, May 21, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. More than 500 attendees, including Peabody award recipients Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler and Alex Trebek, joined host Sir Patrick Stewart in a production that rivals other major media awards ceremonies.

“It’s actually orchestrated a little better,” said Joe Urschel, chair of the Peabody Board. “It has to run on a very tight schedule and is plotted out very precisely.”

Grady alumnus Jody Danneman (ABJ ‘88) is the master behind the plot. Through his production company, Atlanta Image Arts, Danneman has been the executive producer of the Peabody Awards since 1999.

Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb (l) and Grady alumnus Jody Danneman. Photo/Joe Dennis.

Danneman’s relationship with the Peabody’s began in the late 1980s with late Grady professors and Peabody directors Dr. Worth McDougald and Barry Sherman. “I had classes with them and they were mentors,” Danneman said. “As a TV geek, I was always fascinated by award shows, so I was always hanging around the Peabody’s.”

After graduating in 1988, Danneman kept in touch with Sherman throughout his professional career, and his chance to do something professionally with the Peabody Awards came in 1993 and again in 1996 when he worked as a staff producer for Atlanta Video Production Center. After launching Atlanta Image Arts in 1997, Danneman took over as executive producer of the Peabody Awards in 1999, and has been producing the ceremony ever since.

“This is a tent-pole project (for Atlanta Image Arts),” Danneman said. “It is the most prestigious, the most recognized and is the production that we have the most passion about.”

Although the actual ceremony takes just two hours, Danneman’s crew works on the Peabody’s for much of the year. The crew arrives in New York City on Thursday and works 14-hour days leading up to the Ceremony, but the work begins much earlier in Atlanta. “This is in production for us 10 months out of the year,” Danneman said. “And it’s ‘all hands on deck.’ Everyone in the company is involved.”

His company begins consultation with Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb in September for conceptual design and creative direction, and wraps up with editing the actual Peabody Awards production in June.

“From my point of view, Jody brings peace of mind,” Newcomb said. “I rely on Jody and his staff to make sure the day goes exactly the way it’s supposed to.”

Danneman offers some last-minute instructions to an Atlanta Image Arts co-worker.

“Our goal is to have an event that leaders in the industry will see that we do the same level of work that they do,” he said. “And we pull it off, and it’s largely because of Jody and his company.”

Danneman likes to staff his company with fellow Grady alumni, including associate producer Shannon Sullivan ‘10, who began working with Danneman as an intern.

“Jody is an excellent mentor,” Sullivan said. “He takes a lot of people under his wing and has definitely given me the tools I need to get to where I want to be.”

Danneman said he likes to hire Grady alums because he knows the quality of the education they received, and because he feels a duty to help those who are following in his footsteps.

Celebrity sightings are the norm at the ceremony. Pictured (l-r) are Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler, Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, all Peabody winners. Photo/Joe Dennis.

“When I was looking for an internship, a Grady alum helped me out. I was very fortunate,” he said. “So I try to do the same thing.”

Danneman’s involvement with his alma mater goes far beyond the Peabody Awards and Atlanta Image Arts. Danneman also produces the College’s annual fellowship gala, serves as the chair of the Alumni Board and mentors current students. For his efforts, in 2009 Danneman was recognized with the Dean’s Medal for service to the Grady College.

“Jody is our artistic impresario,” Dean Cully Clark said. “He makes the Peabody’s sizzle and pop, and his commitment to the College is invaluable. He is the best.”