A University of Mississippi professor with a passion for journalism said aspiring reporters will gain many memorable life experiences during their first reporting jobs.
Mark Dolan, Ph.D., an associate professor of journalism in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, earned his doctorate in journalism and mass communications from the University of South Carolina in 2003. His teaching interests include new media, narrative journalism, photography and media law.
He has worked with students on features packages for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun Herald (2006) and, most recently, on a web documentary. His research areas include new media, cultural studies and literary journalism.
“I stepped into journalism through the writers I was reading,” he said. “They were novelists and non-fiction writers who had been newspaper writers, who had been journalists. It was clear there wasn’t any one course that was going to teach us to do that (become journalists). I started because it was a way to get published and practice my writing while also getting paid for it.”
Dolan’s work has appeared in the music issue of Southern Cultures, published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, and he is writing a book about blues in the black press to be published by the University Press of Mississippi.
He has written for several daily newspapers, including the Savannah Morning News, the Naples Daily News and The (S.C.) State. Highlights from his newspaper work include interviews with novelists Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie.
“I had a long series of interviews and in-depth stories that I was publishing in a newspaper down in Florida that were interviews with American writers,” he said.
While working on his doctorate, he taught classes on the University of South Carolina campus. After earning his Ph.D., he wrote for The Savannah Morning News, Naples Daily News and The State.
At the time, Dolan said he believed working at newspapers was the only way to become a skilled journalist, and he encourages students to do the same. “Go work for a newspaper company,” he said. “That’s a good way to get your name out there.”
He describes jobs like this as incubators for a aspiring journalists. He said the stories one covers in these beginner jobs create “life experiences” you can’t get anywhere else.
Although Dolan describes himself as “quite shy,” he has an alter ego when interviewing others or lecturing. “I’ve always felt comfortable in front of a classroom,” he said.
When he is in control of the interview or classroom, he is comfortable. When the opposite happens, he feels a bit nervous.
Dolan said it’s important to be inquisitive. “Be endlessly curious about the world,” he said. “If you’re not curious, then I just don’t know how you could do it. If you don’t love it, it won’t work.”
He urges aspiring journalists to keep working. “Keep working until the point that it’s so important to you,” he said. “Like it’s such a big part of who you are, that you don’t want to lose the work, and you’ll do anything to keep working. To work is to thrive, and to not work is to not live.”
At first, Dolan said working in journalism may seem like a “bunch of plates spinning in the air.” Once one learns to balance those plates, “…doors start opening.” That’s the advice he offers all students.
University of Mississippi junior Mary Katherine Wither, 21, said Dolan has been supportive. “He has always been there for me, and I can only imagine all the others he has helped. He was my adviser for a while, and, you know, sometimes you avoid meeting with advisers, but Dr. Dolan always seemed genuinely curious about my goals.”
With a shy smile and an open door, Dolan pushes his students to excel. “You can contact me,” he said. “We are all here to help you. That’s what we are for.”
He has written letters of recommendation for many students, two of whom are on their way to Columbia University and New York University in the fall.
Dolan never sugar coats journalism and the business. He recognizes it is a competitive field and assures aspiring journalists they will get rejected at some point, but that it’s OK. “Just keep going,” he said, positive that if one has the drive, passion and love for journalism, they will flourish.