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UAB’s Jackie Alexander is Named College Media Association’s First Black Female President

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By Shannon Thomason
UAB News

Jackie Alexander, director of University of Alabama at Birmingham Student Media, is College Media Association’s first president of color.

As president, Alexander says her focus is ensuring the organization’s strength and vitality and furthering its mission: educating and training college media advisers. She was sworn in at the annual College Media Association’s fall convention in November 2023.

UAB Student Media was nominated in several categories in the association’s national Pinnacle Awards. Some students were able to attend the event in Atlanta and witnessed their director’s groundbreaking inauguration. All three organizations, Kaleidoscope, Aura and UABtv, were recognized with top awards in the competition, which had more than 4,000 entries.

Alexander has been a member of the College Media Association since 2012, when she transitioned into college media advising from a background in print journalism, as an education reporter. Alexander became Student Media director at UAB in 2018.

In 2020, a friend and past president of CMA remarked on her involvement and urged her to run for the board. Alexander at first demurred, but the friend stressed the need for more young people to run for leadership roles in the organization, so she ran — and won. She has been working and learning from the immediate past president, while serving on the board as president-elect in 2021. She stepped into the presidency Nov. 1, 2023, as CMA goes into its 70th year with more than 500 members across the country and including Canada.

A Student Media director’s job is to provide advice, guidance and institutional knowledge.

In Student Media, students are not just members of a student club or organization leaders, but are running media businesses, she says. As such, they must provide feedback on the budget, write business proposals, make their own hiring and firing decisions, and “all the way down to editorial, they have control. But at the end of the day, they are making some big calls,” Alexander said.

UAB Student Media is the home of UAB’s student-run media outlets. They include Kaleidoscope, an award-winning news outlet and magazine; Aura, a much-heralded literary arts magazine; and UABtv, which has original, web-based video programming. UAB students operate all media. The content and opinions are solely those of the student writers, producers, editors, deejays and other staff, and do not reflect those of the university, administrators or adviser.

Aura produces a digital issue in the fall and a print issue in the spring. In between, they partner and do poetry slams and art nights, work with Muse, a student-led organization that aims to provide all UAB students with the opportunity to support or participate in an artistic, creative community regardless of major, and present workshops in the spring semester. Kaleidoscope’s show “Blazin’ Bites” is a local UAB take on “Hot Ones.” For UABtv, a student worked on a modern true crime version of the Hades and Persephone story. One did a podcast about being a millennial today, while another did a video series on anime.

Students are supported in their training through connections to the right resources, like the Poynter Institute. Media professionals come to campus for “talent talks” about their career journey and transferable skills. Students may talk with Alexander about Associated Press style or the production calendar, but also about what challenges they may have, from food or financial insecurity to family challenges.

“One of the things we really focus on is ensuring our students know that the work they do at UAB Student Media goes well beyond journalism,” Alexander said. “We focus heavily on those transferable skills.”

She says students now are creating their own opportunities.

“I have interviewed and hired students who already have their own nonprofits, their own LLCs, their own businesses before they even graduate from UAB,” Alexander said. “And I am so incredibly proud and humbled to work with them because I was not doing that in my undergrad career. They are so incredibly smart and so driven and so entrepreneurial.”

On the media landscape, she sees college journalists really stepping up.

“They are breaking news that no college student should ever have to break about people in power,” Alexander said. “They are really holding their world accountable, and their world is often their university.”

She sees partnerships between universities and local newspapers to save and preserve community news that provide great avenues for students.

“With newspapers disappearing at a rapid rate, the pipeline for journalists and student journalists of color to get into the professional media landscape continues to contract,” she said. “How do we prepare our students and make sure we are creating a better world for them to join after graduation?”

Alexander says she is not looking to turn out 100 more journalists.

“I’m trying to make sure we have people after graduation who are gainfully employed in the field of their choosing, in the job of their choosing, in a way that they can contribute back to our world,” Alexander said. “Whether that is being a storyteller or being in medicine, I want them to graduate as better people than when we first met. I want them to learn and grow holistically, to understand the world and contribute to the world in a positive way.”