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Professor Otis Sanford, retiring this semester, reflects on his 12 years in JRSM Department

After 12 years as the Chair of Excellence in the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, Professor Otis Sanford will retire from the University of Memphis at the end of the spring 2023 semester.

Reflecting on his time with the department, Sanford said his focus was always on teaching students about the importance of journalism.

“To me, it’s all about the students,” Sanford said. “That’s the thing I think I cherish most about the job.”

One memory stands out. There was one student Sanford remembered being a bright young man who needed mentoring and direction. He took a few classes with Sanford throughout his time in the department. When that student got to graduation, he came to Sanford’s office a few days before the ceremony to tell him that he really appreciated the impact that Sanford had on him.

Sanford also had an impact on the broader university community. Throughout his time on campus, he established the annual Norm Brewer Lecture Series and organized many other speakers and panels for UofM students and the greater Memphis community.

Through regular newspaper columns and TV and radio appearances, Sanford also connected the greater community to Memphis’ history and politics. In 2017, he wrote the book, “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics.”

JRSM Department Chair David Arant said that for several years before he hired Sanford as chair in 2010 the chair of excellence position was a one-year visiting professor position that had limited impact on the department. With Sanford, Arant reestablished the chair of excellence as a long-term position with the expectation that the chair would make a greater contribution to the university and the Memphis community.

Before Sanford joined the department, Arant knew Sanford well after working extensively together on The Teen Appeal, the citywide, high school newspaper partnership of the department and The Commercial Appeal.

Upon joining the department, Arant assigned Sanford the critical role of teaching the required Introduction to Media class, which serves as a major recruitment tool for the department.

“I wanted to offer the students a welcoming front door into the department so I continued to assign Sanford to teach the class,” Arant said.

With his rich and deep knowledge of journalism and his experience and connections in the field, Sanford offered his students an inside look into the media professions.

Arant said that it’s difficult finding someone to fill the many roles that Sanford plays in the department.

Sanford’s one parting message to students is that there is still a future in journalism — however you choose to describe it.

“You have to have passion in order to be successful in this job,” Sanford said. “You have to want to do it, and you have to want to constantly get better every day.”

Sanford said he was not the same journalist he was in 1975. He is a better journalist today because he was able to learn along the way.

“It’s all about learning and growing, taking risks, accepting challenges, and being singularly committed to doing the best job that you can do as a journalist,” Sanford said.

Sanford has more than 40 years of experience in the journalism field. Since earning his journalism degree from the University of Mississippi in 1975, Sanford worked at The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), The Commercial AppealThe Pittsburg PressThe Detroit Free Press, back to The Commercial Appeal, and finally the University of Memphis.

– Haley Hale

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